Luke 22:15 “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer.” I have read this verse many times over the course of my life and even most recently as we always enter into a time of communion with men who attend the Gateway to Freedom Weekend Workshop due to their struggle with sex addiction.
Every Sunday, as we close out each weekend, we gather to receive communion, or as it is known in some circles, The Lord’s Supper. In that verse above, Jesus shares how much He longed to be with His disciples – friends – knowing what he must suffer over the course of the next 24 hours. Feeling the stress of this upcoming ordeal, I’m sure was now very real to Him. Not that it wasn’t real to Him early on in His ministry, but Jesus always told people not to say anything about the miracles He had performed because “it wasn’t yet His time.” He could discern the times and the seasons in which He walked. He followed His Father’s leading in his very private and very public life. I sometimes wonder if He thought about those similar words at the Wedding of Cana in which His mother, Mary, "coerced" Him into changing the water to wine. He told her that His time had not come. But now, at this meal, as he was dipping bread into the wine, He knew the culmination of His time was imminent. How fitting to start His years of earthly ministry over wine and end it the same way.
Jesus had spent the last three years of His life pouring into mainly 12 men, who would sometimes get it and sometimes not. He had a class of about 72 as a rabbi but a smaller entourage of students who were following His lead closely. And three of those with whom He dove deeper – Peter, James, and John. And it shows. Aside from the Apostle Paul, whose names are attributed to most of the writings in the New Testament?
So, suffice it to say, Jesus had built solid relationships these men as He shared the deep revelations of the eternal realm with them and now, we see him facing his biggest challenge to date. They don’t know it, but the balance of history hangs -literally - on this next event that Jesus will need to be physically and emotionally ready for. But before He submits Himself willingly to this, all He wants is to share His last moments of freedom (if you want to call it that) with the ones He truly loves. He doesn’t want the self-assurance that they are going to do everything right once he leaves. He doesn't want to quiz them on all of His commands and celestial policies. He just wants to sit down and enjoy a last meal with a group of guys who He had spent the last three years coming to cherish. He even stripped down to his undergarments to wash their feet. His last moments alive were spent serving his beloved friends and showing them what true love and intimacy between mankind are to look like.
As I read that verse a couple of times and thought about how much Jesus not only wanted that time, but needed that time for the heaviness in His soul, I thought also that this verse has a deeper principle. We need our friends before we suffer. Not the suffering we are talking about here, though. Let me explain.
When you are working to recover from addiction, one of the chief priorities in your life is to have a support network of people who can help keep you accountable for your behaviors. Not just in some benign way, but an invested way; an authentic way. Where there is real relationship building. Trust. Safety. Vulnerability on both sides. And real intimacy. Yes, intimacy between brothers in a holy way is necessary. That’s what the feet washing showed them. Jesus shared that kind of “holy closeness” with these men. I believe it is the chief reason they could face their martyrdom years later. Yes, they saw the healings. Yes, they saw him raise the dead. Yes, they saw him deliver people from demon possession. And yes, some saw Him transfigured on the mountaintop when Moses and Elijah came to prepare Him for His journey to the Cross. (Ok, let me just say, that so would have rocked!) But they also found Him to be the very embodiment of God who loved them deeply to their core. They probably felt their connection to their Creator. I mean it was through Christ that all things were created, and all things hold together. (I don’t want to overly mystify it all but I’m sure there had to be these moments where they touched that glorious realm of God's haven.) But these men found not only forgiveness for their sins in general, some found forgiveness of sins after they hurt him deeply as a friend. That feeling of love is what allowed them to face their death and not shrink back and renounce their faith when they faced their suffering. I bet each of them, as they faced their deaths, wished they could have had a few moments of connection, but many of them faced death alone.
Having relationships like that in place as you work to recover from addiction gives you the peace of mind that you can call upon them before YOU suffer…from relapse. Knowing that people like that are there - from a counselor to an accountability group to true close friends can give you hope, peace and confidence as you face the struggle that accompanies addiction recovery. Proverbs 27:9 "Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel."
The key words “before I suffer” are what stood out to me. We need to rely on these relationships and continually keep them active and alive so that as Christ longed to connect with His friends before He suffered - for a righteous cause - how much more do we need to cherish and connect with those relationships as we face the potential suffering of a relapse? If you have struggled with an addiction, you know the ups and downs, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” You know the shame, guilt, and self-hatred when you “mess up.” You know the feeling of just wanting to run away because the pain is too great and the failure is so tragic. You know the feeling of hurting the ones you love and opening their wounds after some healing had begun. You know the crushing weight in your soul as you lose hope that you will ever make it to the other side. Having those types of relationships can be the difference between whether or not you end up feeling all of that or making it through to the next day with another day of sobriety under your belt. And as all addicts know, one day of sobriety for us is different than a typical 24-hour period for the next guy. We can sometimes live 10 lifetimes in a day as we feel it is never going to end.
Do you have such trusted relationships in your life? Awesome! Do you call upon them in your hour of need just like Jesus did in His? Phenomenal! Do you sometimes feel like you are a burden to them? Like you’re just so needy and they don’t really want the hassle? I’m sorry. It can feel that way. I understand completely. I am one who doesn’t like to call on others when I am emotionally needy. I sit quiet in my room and pray. Sometimes I’ll send a prayer request out to people I think will actually pray but oftentimes I feel like I’m a bother. They have better things to do than to let Debby Downer spoil their day. But the truth is, although shame tells you no one could possibly love you or care abut you, the opposite is true. Your true friends and family deeply want to see you well. They may not know what to do, but even a quick check in with them or they with you can keep you feeling loved, affirmed, and encouraged. The reality is this: "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection."
If you answered NO above, that you do not have those relationships, I want to encourage you to find them. If you are struggling with destructive behavior patterns with substance abuse, sex addiction, anger, depression, or other compulsive behavior that just won’t bend, please find a support group. Share your struggles with the people who know what you are walking through. You have to know you are not alone and your struggles, although they may feel somewhat unique to you, in principle they are not as unique as you think. MANY will FULLY understand what you are describing to them. Tell your family. Tell others who you know have some type of investment in your life like a church pastor or leader. Bring your struggle into the light where shame, guilt, fear, loneliness, and lies cannot survive. All of that hides in the darkness where you end up living so no one will see you or know the truth. Healing only happens when you bring all of your brokenness into the light. That’s where God dwells. Regardless of any response by humanity, by people who can’t understand or won't, or people who will be offended DOES NOT MATTER. God knows you. God sees you. And here’s a little secret just between you and me, ok? God saw you and all your behavior before you were even born, and He still sent Christ to the Cross to cover all you are walking through right now and will walk through. He didn’t say “I’m taking all the sins of the world upon myself and paying the final price for them except for YOU.” No!!! You!! Yes you!!! were worth the Cross and every ounce of agony Christ went through to bring salvation from sin to the world. And you are still worth all of the effort Heaven is pouring into you right now to pull you into complete freedom.
So, before you suffer from any more relapses, with whom do YOU long to connect to help pull you back from the brink? They ARE out there. Ask God to lead you to them and them to you. HE WILL!
(and probably already is).