Making Change

You may be surprised to know the Bible is all about what we now call “addiction”. The Bible just has different words for it. “Slavery”, “idolatry”, “transgression”, “trespass” and “sin” are some of the Bible words for behaviour we can’t stop once we start. But with God all things are possible. That includes the complete change in personality required to recover from heavy addictions. The Christian Church got its start when many thousands witnessed such a profound change in Jesus’ followers and were willing to go to great lengths to do likewise. Sometimes He even delivers us without being asked. The Lord surprised Paul (then called “Saul”) with a miracle (Acts 9:3-20) on the road to Damascus which delivered him from his addiction to religious legalism. At this point Paul began to influence others who perceived that huge change in him. This article is about how God can use you to help make a change in others.

Making change
Addicts of all kinds are notorious for continuing to destroy themselves no matter who tries to help them straighten out. Parents, loved ones, counsellors, psychotherapists, even whole rehabs fail again and again. As I wrote in the previous issue of this magazine, the first half of my life was filled with failure. Once the Lord had got me clean and sober however, I was more effective than normal folk in influencing other addicts. On hearing of my recovery, people with drug problems would often make a decision to seek a lifestyle change. Normal people, good Christians, could try and try, but they would fail where my story worked to inspire addicts to turn to God and recover – sometimes when least expected. It happened in my own family even before I knew Jesus as my saviour.

I became a Christian late in life, baptised in 1980 at age fifty. Before then, I had just repented of my alcohol and drug use by attending 12-Step meetings. The Lord will honour sincere repentance in anyone, even a loud-mouth atheist like I was. All I did was humble myself, become more open-minded, join with others, and ask sincerely – even though I didn’t yet know exactly Whom I was asking. God then removed my compulsion to drink and use drugs. In 1976, eight months clean and sober, I migrated from the USA to Victoria Australia to work for the State Welfare Department.

Meanwhile throughout the late 1980s one of my adult offspring was hanging out in a notorious drug district in California with beatnik and hippy artists who had “tuned in, turned on and dropped out”.

I rarely visited the USA and so I was astonished when my offspring phoned Australia to say, “I’ve been clean and sober for two years, attending 12-Step meetings”.

I asked, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

The answer: “You’re such a blab-mouth, Daddy. I didn’t want everyone in America to know. It’s OK to tell your friends in Australia but I’d rather be anonymous around here.”

I got the point but asked, “Why 12 Step programs?”

“I knew they worked. I could tell by your voice over the phone.”

Although I was concerned about my child’s lifestyle, I was living halfway around the world. We communicated briefly by phone – not enough time for me to persuade even if I’d tried.
Could I have been more influential had I been able to interact, discuss, reason, plead, nag or manipulate? Obviously not. I believe a principle was at work.

The ex-factor
Eventually I called it the “ex-factor”: when they believe I’m changing, they begin to change. In telling my family story above, I omitted gender because it doesn’t matter. Likewise, age is not important, nor intelligence, nor even severity of addiction. The ex-factor can influence anyone to change for the better. Notice that belief is necessary. Belief in Jesus is required for salvation but mere belief in change can sometimes suffice for abstinence from drugs and alcohol. However, despite the adage, seeing is not necessarily believing: the ex-factor may need to be attested to, highlighted, uplifted, reinforced. My ex-wife, the children’s mother, played a vital role in this. Although our marriage was destroyed by my drinking and drug abuse, she ultimately forgave me and strongly supported my recovery. Her endorsement gave my story credibility and persuasive power.

My offspring got sober, quit the hippy drug crowd and went to work, quickly rising to become a sales manager and eventually a vice president of a computer company. Then a successful marriage gained me a gorgeous grandchild. Another unbelievable bonus: although that old hippy crowd are mostly dead and gone, one of its leaders got drug-free along with my offspring. Whenever I visit the USA, I take a walk with this amazing artist who is now physically fit, clear-headed and more productive than ever.

Notice that the Lord’s grace extends to those who do not (yet) know Jesus as saviour. Some get healed first and saved second. Others remain dry through repentance alone. In any case, through God’s common grace, they are far better off abstinent from drugs and alcohol.

What you used to be like compared with what you are like now: how much you’ve changed – that’s the vital tactic which always triggers a reaction of some kind, positive or negative, avowed or denied, expressed or repressed. It leaves no one unaffected, and quite often it works!

Disclaimer
Don’t get me wrong. Neither you nor I can cause another person to straighten out. No one except Jesus Himself can get an addict off drugs. Only God can make change in another person. However, you and I can facilitate a social situation in which a person may admit to wanting change. We can humble ourselves and gather in a small group. Seeking help is actually a form of prayer.

Triad
A three-role social “triad” is best, consisting of a) those with the problem b) those that never had the problem c) those that formerly had the problem but now do not. Such a triad is the best way to expose the person with the problem to the ex-factor. The social roles are loaded two to one for change: ex-problem and non-problem outweigh the problem. Sometimes the problem person gets upset and walks out, but often the problem person begins to change into an ex-problem person. Whether the triad breaks up or rehabilitates depends on how much the problem person identifies with the ex-problem person and on how strongly the non-problem person supports the ex. The Bible teaches (Revelation 12:11) we overcome Satan through the power of our testimony (ex-factor) and the blood of Jesus.

Even a weak ex-factor ruins an addict’s complacency. It can elicit anger, denial and avoidance or even an explosive reaction. Years ago, I knew a strung-out junkie girl who kept telling me how much she loathed Weightwatchers. When asked why, she would not answer coherently. This girl was on mega doses of amphetamines, dangerously thin, irritable, angry and paranoid about the famous slimming program. Eventually I learned that her mother had joined Weightwatchers and was maintaining a healthy body-mass index.

Why was the drug-addict daughter so hateful and obsessed? Her mother had clearly improved. Daughter hated Weightwatchers because it represented major life-change. And it was working for mom! If a mother could lose weight without drugs then a daughter could lose drugs. She couldn’t get it out of her mind.

Unconsciously most addicts want to change. They just want to keep using drugs while they do so. This means the strongest rejection often comes just prior to acceptance. Getting high on any drug depends on continuing to believe there’s no good reason to quit that drug. Losing that belief is the first step in actually quitting. Because quitting is painful, addicts continue to shut out all evidence of the possibility of positive change. However, if A can quit, then maybe B should do likewise. Having become clean, sober, happy, joyous and free, I bring addicts down from their highs just by entering the room. I don’t have to say a word. Sometimes I think my mission in life is bringing addicts down – where the decision to seek help is at least possible.

Lack of the ex-factor explains why so many devoted parents are powerless to help their own children, why they’re helpless to instil common sense in rebellious offspring. The parents are righteous but static – no change. Well intentioned friends can be trustworthy, loving, patient, loyal, peaceful and selfless but because they are perceived as always having been that way, they have zero influence.

1. Ex-sinners have more impact than same-old saints.
2. Never give advice. Pass on what worked for you.
3. I must give God the glory and my spouse the credit. I just take the privilege. (That idea comes from Joyce Meyer on TV.)
4. We will generally fail to influence anyone who can’t see clearly that we ourselves have been influenced.
5. Change is painful and people resist it. People also try to resist perceiving change in others. For this reason the ex-factor sometimes elicits extreme negative reactions.
6. A parent can never direct a wayward son or daughter toward a personality change unless the parent is perceived as having undergone a personality change.
7. The main reason they’re not listening to you is because you have zero ex-factor.
8. You will be convinced of these truths only when you are aware of how I became convinced of them (my ex-factor).

Gang-war cure
Back in the 1960s, the “delinquency era” before the Beatles, street-gang warfare with knives and zip-guns was Manhattan’s most infamous problem. I was a non-Christian humanist trying to do good works, an academic psychologist with a grant from the Ford Foundation to study teenage crime. My method: pay gang members two-dollars per hour as research subjects to talk into my brand new German-made, reel-to-reel, tape recorder. Because I recorded the boys every day, I was among the first to know that the gang-war fad was fading out. The media were slower to catch on: newspapers and TV kept featuring “delinquency”. Long after the actual fighting had ceased, books continued to be published, movies filmed, even an opera West Side Story, about teen gang warfare. When the public became satiated, focus shifted from the gangs to the people studying them. I was invited as guest on an all-night radio program.

“Long John” Nebel, the show’s host, had a loyal following listening nightly to discus¬sions of off-beat phenomena (UFOs), odd-ball health procedures (colonic irrigation) and social problems (delinquency). I insisted the gang leaders sit in the studio with me. I didn’t want to talk about them behind their backs. I was positioned at a microphone across from Long John. Big Chino, Angelo and Wilson, sat in respectful silence at the far end of the room. The studio sound-proofing eliminated street noise and seemed to reduce anxiety in the boys.

However, Long John began with agitprop. Introducing me as “a very young ivory tower academic”, he doubted my experience, hence my ability to solve real problems. “What in the world, young Doctor leads you to think you could possess a cure for crime and delinquency? How can you possibly believe you possess solutions to gang war?”

Thank God (in whom I did not yet believe) I made the right reply. I said “No, but they do”. Three Latin teenagers now smiled benignly lifting open arms and harmless hands in gestures of peace and goodwill. This was the ex-factor with a capitol EX. Big Chino, Angelo and Wilson personified the answer to his question. Long John instantly did a “double-take” and spent the rest of the night interviewing the boys with a passion.

The dialogue itself was somewhat disappointing. The boys’ solution was to get-out-of-town to places with swimming pools and dance floors – but even on the radio at that moment, dialogue was not the point. Who the boys were in contrast to what they had been was what mattered. As a result, Long John’s interest in their personal details was insatiable. He interviewed them non-stop throughout the night finishing in the morning with a plea for money for bus rides up-State. I recall he grossed over fifty dollars, a reasonable sum for early hours in the early sixties.

Personification
The most powerful ex-factor is changed presence expressed in looks, words and deeds. Sometimes you just know that a person has been transformed. In the radio studio the ex-factor was high enough so that what was said hardly mattered.

Conclusion
So to make change in someone’s life, stop trying to make the change. Instead try prayer behaviour: humbly seek people who have changed and ask them how it happened. Take advice rather than give it. Gather in a triad. Submit to obvious change in your own life. Observe what God does. Give Him thanks.

How do I know all this? How can I be so sure? Answer: because of my own personality change, bottom to top, bad to good, tail to head. Before being transformed by Lord Jesus, I was totally powerless to influence anyone. While being changed by Him, I influenced others without knowing. After changing me, He used me to make change in others. That’s the ex-factor. It’s a fact.