By Nick Taylor
If you’re reading this blog, then it’s too late. I’ve done something drastic. It will change my life and the lives of those around me. It will affect my family life, the way I interact with my children and my wife. It will bring release to a stressful situation. And it took every fibre of my being to do it.
I deleted Candy Crush from my phone.
I know. I deserve a medal. How will I spend my toilet time now? What will I do when my wife is watching her TV show that I have no interest in? What about when my children ask me to play with them but I’m tired? Everything’s going to change and I hope I can cope with it. Pray for me.
You see, addiction takes many forms and guises and it’s subtle - it sneaks up on you posing as a friendly and fun time-waster for your train journeys, lunch breaks or during a particularly boring church service. But before you know it, Candy Crush has more of your attention than your wife. Your kids. Your job. Your God. Is it taboo - what if I stood up at church and told everyone of my affliction? Is there a self-help group for those addicted to Candy Crush?
I’m not really young anymore, but I think I’m one of the least mature older-young people I know, which is an advantage when trying to connect with our youth groups. I am easily distracted, easily tempted and I get addicted to things in a flash. Remind you of anyone in your youth group? So what can we do to understand how the minds of our young people work and how can we help them?
The biggest problem we have when dealing with addiction is admitting there’s a problem in the first place. I started putting money in fruit machines aged 16 at my local pub. By 18 I was blowing half my student loan at casinos and arcades at university. By 34 I had spent over £40,000 racking up credit card debts and loans, throwing away inheritance and savings on those darned machines, either physically or online. But ask me at any point through that 18 year journey if I had a problem, and it would have been a firm “no” until I was about 32. I knew I had a problem, but if I admitted it, it would become real and I’d have to do something about it. I’d have to change and change equalled hard work, sacrifice, admission of brokenness. No thanks!
So if our young people won’t just saunter up to you and say “Hey, I think I’m addicted to class A drugs” then what do we need to be on the lookout for? Often, it’s the secrecy, the lies, preferring to be alone, change of moods and the change of values that will give it away. I lied to my wife numerous times to get away for a gamble. I gambled in secret so no-one could confront me on it. After a heavy loss, I wouldn’t want to speak to anyone because my mood was so low. And I had no idea of the value of money - it just became tokens to me.
We need to encourage a lifestyle and attitude of openness and accountability, but it will only be effective if it’s led by the young person, not you! John 1:5 says that the darkness cannot comprehend the light - satan hates truth and honesty and if we can model that to our young people then we set a precedent for them to follow suit. We need the light of truth and openness, of vulnerability and submission to cast out the darkness of lies, deceit and individualism.
Johann Hari tells of a famous experiment carried out on lab rats that showed the power of addiction when some of their water was laced with cocaine. He then goes on to explain that there was a later test carried out where the rats were kept in community, with a ‘fun’ cage to live in (ramps, multi-coloured balls, interaction with other rats etc) and the same option was given to them, cocaine-laced water or normal water. The experiment showed that the rats who had the better environment shunned the cocaine water. People often think the opposite of addiction is sobriety, but I prefer this experiment’s outcome;the opposite of addiction is community. You can read more about this experiment here.
So instead of waiting for a problem to surface, because often it will be far too late to be healed when and if it ever does, let’s nip it in the bud by encouraging an open lifestyle of regularly talking about real-life with each other, showing our young people that we care about them outside of church or of youth club, modelling honesty and vulnerability and paying attention to them. I gambled as a way to escape the stresses of life. Our young people have many things to cause them to stress - family issues like divorce or abuse, friendship problems, exams, puberty, relationship worries, faith questions - and how they deal with that might be the difference between turning to drugs, gambling, self-harm, alcohol or being alone in a room for hours playing computer games. All are destructive. All can be avoided by having a community of people that love and include, care and share, and just like Jesus, doesn’t judge or condemn.
When the disabled man was lowered into the room where Jesus was preaching in Luke 5, it wasn’t because the man who needed healing did anything. It was his friends, his community that went out of their way to show love and support. Who can we lower before Jesus today? Which young person needs you to pay them some attention? What changes can you introduce to encourage a more honest and open lifestyle in your group? Make it start with you - be the opposite of addiction today - be community.
As for me, I may have been healed from gambling by the grace of God and I cling to the promise from Joel 2 that all will be restored, but I’m still looking for that Candy Crush Anonymous group.