I’m away this week, taking a break from blogging to spend time with family. Today I get to welcome my new friend, Heather Kopp, who writes beautifully and candidly about her struggle with alcohol in a powerful book called Sober Mercies. We’re giving away a copy today. Here’s Heather.
Like many of you, I grew up hearing about the cross-shaped hole in everyone’s soul that can only be filled by Jesus.
And guess what? It worked! After I became a Christian in my teens, I felt joyous and fulfilled—for maybe a week.
I couldn’t understand it. And what I heard in church convinced me that I should feel fulfilled. How could my soul thirst for more when I had a “river of life” flowing out of me?
Since I did thirst for more, I decided I just wasn’t spiritual enough. I wasn’t trying hard enough. Eventually, alcohol helped me numb that hollow ache, and I stopped caring so much.
Soon, though, I spiraled into alcoholism. For the next twelve years, I lived a kind of double life. By day I wrote Christians books on topics like marriage and prayer, while by night I got drunk from a secret stash in my closet.
One day, I came upon an article about the hungry ghosts of Buddhist religion in Asia. Followers believe that people who are too greedy or envious in this life become “hungry ghosts” in the next. Their eternal fate is to wander the afterlife feeling ravenous, but unable to satisfy their appetites.
When I learned that hungry ghosts are often associated with addiction or eating disorders, I thought, Yep, that’s exactly how it is with me. No matter how much I drink, it’s never enough.
After I finally got into recovery six years ago, I completely turned my life back over to God. But even as spiritual clarity returned, so did the nagging emptiness.
I couldn’t understand it. Would I ever feel whole and fulfilled?
Then one day, I ran across Gerald May’s book, The Awakened Heart: Living Beyond Addiction, where I read:
“We were never meant to be completely fulfilled; We were meant to taste it, to long for it, and to grow toward it… The secret to living life as it was meant to be is… to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness instead of trying to fill it up.”
His words startled me. Could it be true? Could it be that what I needed most wasn’t something to fill that inner empty space, but the courage to leave it empty?
I began to experiment. When I felt discontent, instead of reaching for a distraction, I sat in a chair, lit a candle, and tried to welcome my emptiness. After a while, I realized this sensation didn’t hurt so much as it felt like God was gently tugging on my soul.
In the months that followed, the more I was willing to claim this longing for God, the more that inner ache began to seem like evidence of God’s presence instead of his absence. It got easier not to stuff, numb, or flee these feelings.
In this way, I think our compulsions can serve a higher purpose. They remind us of our ravenous appetite for spiritual sustenance. They remind us that we are desperate for nothing so much as we are desperate for God.
Unlike hungry ghosts of Buddhism, when we think we want a drink or a drug (fill in your own blank here), we can know that what we really crave is more of what we already have.
If we love God, we have been given the Holy Ghost. And while His presence within does makes us yearn for even more of him, it’s also proof of the promise that one day we will know him completely—and his fullness will be ours.
Heather Kopp is the author Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk (Hatchette/Jericho). She’s blogs at HeatherKopp.com and at The Huffington Post. She and her husband Dave have five grown kids and live in Colorado. @HeatherLKopp
I’m excited to give away a copy of Sober Mercies today; if you are interested in winning a copy of the book, leave a comment telling us why. Thank you! e.