His name was Ed. He was wearing an old Tommy Hilfiger jersey shirt over a plaid flannel shirt and a Budweiser Select ball cap. His face showed that at its last shave, he had worn a goatee. But his last shave had to have been over a week ago. His eyes were brown and welled up with tears from time to time. He was missing one bottom tooth. And he was homeless. Not only was he homeless, but he was a heroin addict. I met him last Friday at a “Soup Kitchen” in St. Louis. Discipleship had taken its annual mission trip there for this year and we had worked in a variety of places: a children’s home (for a rough group of kids), two different schools (for an even rougher group of kids), and the soup kitchen. There were 21 of us in total. A group of students had worked all year planning the trip, another group fundraising for it, and all of us praying for it. And now we were in the midst of the trip. We had just completed a “Homeless Walk,” where we had spent two hours trying to understand the homeless situation in downtown St. Louis. We walked (in the rain, as it had been raining the whole week we were there) for four miles from place to place, a church where they were allowed to pray, “Hobo Park” where they could take a nap, a library where they could read or search the internet, a couple of shelters where they could sleep for the night, and back to the church, where they could grab their next meal. We were pretty miserable from the two hours that we spent in the cold and rain, and then had the opportunity to eat with some of the men, women and children with whom we now felt solidarity. I followed two of my students to a table near the back of the room where they sat down beside a man who nodded and said hi when we sat down.
Ed confessed to us his heroin addiction early in our conversation and then told us that he would be entering a treatment program for his addiction that afternoon. He told us that he had a ride coming to pick him up after lunch was over. As we talked, he shared with us that he had not always been a drug addict. He had formerly been a window washer for high rise buildings and had been able to work anywhere he wanted. At one point, he even told use that he “was not like the rest of these homeless guys.” He said that he had only been homeless for a week and that he had now hit rock bottom. He spoke with clarity, not appearing to be high at the moment. He expressed his regret, sadness, and anger at his addiction. And thankfully, he had hope. He had hope that he would break out of his darkness, but not a naïve, unfounded hope.
“Five years ago, I would have been the one here helping out with this program, telling these guys that they can break out of addiction,” he said. You see, he had been “clean” several different times, once for more than two years. But, slowly, temptation had arisen for him, one time in the form of a client who offered him drugs, sending him into the downward spiral of addiction, once again. This time, he said that it had partially been because of his girlfriend, Stephanie. They were both addicts who had been clean when they met, but “were not good for each other,” as he said. She had entered the hospital that morning for her attempt at rehabilitation. But he painfully told me that they had broken up that morning when she went to rehab. He wants to be clean and he knows that he can’t be clean and stay connected to her. Now, I was hopeful. He might have a chance, I internally reasoned. I asked him why he had been able to stop doing drugs before and he said, “God. I know that God is the only thing stronger than heroin. I just hope that he can break the addiction in me this time, too, and for good.” At one point, he even said, “You don’t know how hard it is for me to stay sitting here. Everything in me wants to just get up right now and go outside and find drugs.” Thankfully, not quite everything. I believe that there is a glimmer of God’s grace that is holding on to him in the midst of his darkness.
I have to say, I don’t understand the downward spiral of addiction. I hear it has dark claws that hold on to the heart and mind of those that submit. I think of Frodo in Lord of the Rings and the weakness that results for him when he “uses” the ring to “hide.” The final scenes of the last movie of the trilogy illustrate the bitter conflict of addiction, as best I can ascertain. The darkness that enfolds a person when they are in sin, that is something that we can all identify with, I suppose. The apostle Paul said it this way: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). He goes on to say, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24). Truly, only the power of God can set any of us free from our inclination to sin. And thankfully Ed knows that, too. Unfortunately, admitting you have a problem is only the first step.
Ed will have many steps to take in getting free from his addiction. And unfortunately he will have to take the hardest of those steps by himself. He will need every possible grace of God in order to make it. I asked him how long his rehab would be. He said 12 weeks to 6 months, but hoped that it would be 6 months long. He really wants to make it this time and the longer he would have, the better his chance would be. As he spoke, I forcefully felt the urge to pray for him, not just that day, but until his treatment was over. I tried to shove it away…intercession is hard work! But, the urge would not leave me. I offered it to him. “Ed, would it be okay with you for me to pray with you for the next 6 months, while you’re in rehab?” Those brown eyes, now rimmed in red, welled up with tears as he said, “Oh please! And would you pray for Stephanie, too?” He went on to say that he knew that he needed every support that he could possibly get in order to break free from his addiction.
His ride came right on time to pick him up. He gathered his things and said over his shoulder, “Thanks for your prayers.” His next 6 months will be the hardest of his life. He will have to let his body get rid of the drugs. He will have to resist the urges to “stop” the pain by getting more drugs. And he will have to learn how to forgive himself and others who have contributed to his addiction. I do believe that he’s learned the lesson of sacrifice in obedience. He yielded his relationship with his girlfriend in an attempt to make it this time. But, even still, I don’t know if he’ll make it. I want to believe that he will. I want Ed to draw strength knowing that someone is praying for him in Kansas. I want him to turn his life around and begin a ministry of reaching out to drug addicts to show them the way of life in Christ. I want all that to happen, but I will never know, even if it does happen. The task of the Christian is to be faithful, even when one doesn’t see results. Even so, I pray that this time, Ed can make it. May it be so, Lord, may it be so.
Lord, be with Ed and Stephanie. Surround them with your love and grace. Bring people into their lives that have compassion and care for them. Remove the darkness that addiction brings to them. Shine in your healing light. Let them know that they are worth loving, even in their darkest moments.