Modern Day Mary Magdalene (Nov-Dec 1999)

By Matt Dabbs

by Marnie C. Ferree
November – December, 1999

No days in all of human history could be any darker than the soul-blackness of those hour when, behind a massive stone, a shroud covered the body of a lifeless savior. All possibilities were over. All terrors magnified. All hope extinguished. In every way, it was finished. How the heart of Mary Magdalene must have ached as she walked in that burial garden, confused and desolate that apparently even the body of her dear friend was gone. The demons that once had filled her threatened now to return. Where could she go? What would she do? Who could heal her now? In response, the scripture says simply, “Mary wept.” She knew of not other option.

When this woman had reached the bottom of her blackest pit, there the Savior sought her. He saw her broken in the garden, and he went to meet her. Mary didn’t comprehend at first the significance of his appearance. She didn’t recognize this “gardener” as the risen Lord she was seeking. She was aware only of her powerlessness. Her complete inability to help herself. But at the point of her deepest need, when the pain of continued hoping was so great she could not endure it, Jesus called her name.

“Mary!”

At that moment her eyes were opened to the possibility of a resurrected life. Mary not only claimed hope that morning for herself; she boldly shared with others the good news about the risen Lord.

Two thousand years later our situations really are not substantially different. At some point or another, we all will be faced with the death of our dreams. We will stand broken and weeping in the dark night of the soul. We will have come to the end of ourselves and have no idea about where to turn.

Mary Magdalene was a woman with a shameful past. Most scholars agree she would have been considered wicked by the judges of her day. She likely would have been shunned. Whether because of events and circumstances beyond her control, such as the demons that had possessed her, or because of her own poor choices, Mary had noting to commend her to the Lord. Yet it was to this kind of fallen woman that the risen Son of God first appeared! Into the darkness of her sinful past, into the confusion of her present, and into the hopelessness of her future, the resurrected Lord flooded the brilliant light of life and grace!

Like Marry, I, too, am a woman with a shameful past. I also have been torn by the demons within. Ones with names like “abuse” and “abandonment” and (worse) “addiction.” I know what it’s like to stand weeping in despair without any hope of comfort or rescue. But like Mary Magdalene, I too have encountered a Savior!

A life-giving Lord found me at the dark tomb of my shame. The demons I struggled with were too awful to acknowledge, even to myself. But Jesus knew my need, and he called my name.

Eight years after what I considered my personal “resurrection” experience, I believe that like Mary, my eyes have been opened to the light of some important truths. I know first that God loves me, even when I am overtaken in sin. This knowledge has moved beyond the intellect into the certainty of my heart. Not only do I know I am loved; today I feel the depth of God’s love. That surety has been a marvellous gift. When I was at the lowest point of my addiction and had hidden my face from God, in love he still pursued me.

Second, I see that I am not alone. Countless others secretly weep before the tomb of addiction. Others nightly pray for strength to resist its powerful pull, and find they cannot. Addicts everywhere experience unmanageable lives. To keep the secret of the struggle is to remain buried in bondage. In telling the truth about my pain, I have been set free.

Today I see the Bible isn’t silent when it comes to addiction. Hundreds of verses, particularly in the Psalms, are cries for deliverance from brokenness. I’ve found great comfort as I’ve applied those confessions and pleas to my own pain. Some of the greatest Bible writers, including David and Paul, speak about their struggles. Romans 7 is a passage that clearly is applicable to any addict’s experience:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.

“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.

“Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

“What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:15, 18b-20, 24).

Addiction seems to be as little understood now as Mary Magdalene’s demons were in her day. Especially within religious circles, addicts are often viewed simply as moral failures who lack sufficient willpower to do the right thing. Many scoff at the “disease” concept of addiction. While addiction unquestionably involves sinful behavior, to stop with this explanation alone is to miss other critical factors that are involved. Addiction is a multifaceted problem that affects a person in every aspect: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and interpersonally. Addiction is both a sin and a disease. It’s not an either/or issue.

Addictions can take as many forms as the human experience will allow. There are the readily identifiable addictions to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. More socially accepted kinds include tobacco, caffeine, shopping, exercising, watching TV, or surfing the Net. Addictions sanctioned by the church (and even encouraged) including working and religious service. The common denominator among the various forms is an attempt to alter one’s mood and escape painful feelings by using substances or behaviors in an unhealthy way. No matter the flavor, an addictive behavior is compulsive, obsessive, and continues in spite of adverse consequences. Addictions usually are also progressive, such that more and more chemical or behavior is required to achieve the same high.

The most shameful of addictions is perhaps sexual addiction. Knowledge and research about sex addiction is relatively new. Indeed, the whole field is probably at the point where alcoholism was 30 or 4 years ago. Yet most experts in addiction believe sex addiction is growing faster than any other kind. Between six and ten percent of the adult U.S. population is thought to be sexually addicted. Of that number, almost half are women. Certainly, Christians are not exempt. In fact, some addictionists insist there is a higher incidence within the church than in the general population.

The power of the Internet has made pornography accessible with only a few simple mouse clicks. Pornography is often the gateway into other sexually addictive behavior, and the Internet is the “crack cocaine” of this drug: easily available, cheap, and highly addictive. One thousand new pornographic sites are launched every day. In addition to pornography and masturbation, many sexual addicts are also involved in other forms of acting out such as affairs, prostitution, massage parlors and strip clubs, anonymous and cybersex, and exhibitionism and voyeurism.

The consequences of sexual addiction are profound. Problems in the areas of health, work, finances, and relationships are typical. Addicts are frequently depressed, and some have seriously considered suicide. The same of their secret sin causes many to avoid seeking a meaningful relationship with God. A black isolation colors the addict’s world.

One of the most surprising truths I see today is that sex addiction isn’t really about sex at all. As one addict cried, “Why is this called ‘sex addiction’? I hate that label! Don’t people understand it’s not about sex? Sex is just what I have to give to get what I really want, which is love and touch and nurture and affirmation.”

Because of the abandonment addicts experienced in their childhoods, whether through divorce or death or the simple lack of nurturing from emotionally healthy parents, sex addicts will do anything to get what feels like human connection. To be abandoned again is an addict’s worst fear. That terror of abandonment is surely some of what Mary Magdalene felt as she wept at Jesus’ tomb.

The vast majority of sex addicts are untreated sexual trauma survivors. Because of the abuse most suffered in their childhoods, addicts formulated some key false beliefs that contribute to their addiction. They believe they are horrible people and deserve blame for what happened to them. They doubt anyone could love them if they were truly known, including all their secrets. Because 81% are incest survivors, addicts are terribly confused about sex and “love.” Childhood and adolescent abuse experiences get played out repeatedly in adult exploitive relationships. Talk about being possessed by demons!

Like Mary Magdalene, for every addict there will come a time when it appears everything is over. A dark despair will stretch across the soul’s horizon, and it will seem doubtful that dawn will ever come. That moment can be the beginning. It can be the time of awakening to one’s utter powerlessness to overcome addiction. It can be the dawning of a healing journey of surrender, sobriety, and a sanctified life. It can be an encounter with the resurrection power of Rabboni!

The next step is similar to the one Mary Magdalene took that Easter Sunday morning: The addict must connect with other “disciples” who also “have seen the Lord.” He must share his story with other sexaholics who are practicing sobriety. She must ask for support and accountability from other addicts who are farther down the road of recovery. He can seek counseling for his wounds of abuse and abandonment that fuel the addiction. She can learn how to get her needs met in healthier ways. Each must choose to talk in honesty and surrender, one day at a time. Staying in step with the risen Savior is key.

The Bible doesn’t share the rest of the story about Mary Magdalene. But I’m convinced she was forever changed by her encounter with the Lord that resurrection morning. She had experienced the paradox of darkness to light, of death to life. And she had the courage to tell others her story.

In like fashion, addicts today can receive the resurrection power of a renewed life. In the blackness before sunrise, they can call for the Savior. He will answer them and is faithful to provide the help and healing that is needed. There is hope for life after death, including resurrection from the grave of addiction.

I know. It happened to me.

The following books, Web sites, and 12 Step groups may be helpful.

Books:

faithful and True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World, Mark Laaser, Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. ISBN 0-310-20836.

Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction and the Healing Power of Jesus, Russell Willingham, Bob Davies, Intervarsity Press, 1999. ISBN 0830817913.

Addicted to Love, Stepehn Arterburn, Servant Publications, 1991. ISBN 0-89283-802-7.

Don’t Call It Love, Patrick Carnes, The Gentle Press, 1991. ISBN 0-553-351-38-9.

Serenity: A Companion for 12 Step Recovery, Robert Hernfelt & Richard Fowler, Thomas Nelson, 1990, ISBN 0-8407-1542-0.

Web sites:

www.casr.org
Christian Alliance for Sexual Recovery
Mark Laaser, Ph.D., Executive Director; workshos for addicts, spouses, couples, adolescents, and families; training for professionals; support group referrals.
(888) HELPHOPE: (888) 435-7467

www.healingforwomen.com
Woodmont Hills Counseling Ministry
Marnie Ferree, M.A., LMFT, Ministry Leader; workshops for female sex addicts.
(615) 269-6220

www.pureintimacy.org
Focus on the Fmaily informational site about pornography and sex addiction.

www.themeadows.org
The Meadows
Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., Director; secular treatment center for addicts, spouses, and families; training for professionals
(800) TheMeadows: (800) 632-3697

www.sierratucson.com
Sierra Tucson
Secular treatment center for addicts, spouses, and families.
(800) 842-4487

12 Step Groups:

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) P.O. Box 11910 nashville, TN 37222-1910
(615) 331-6230
www.sa.org

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) P.O. Box 70949 Houston, TX 77270
(713) 869-4902
www.sexaa.org

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) P.O. BOx 119 New Town Branch, MA 02258
(617) 332-1845
www.slaafws.org

Alcoholics Anonymous AA World Services, Inc. P.O. Box rt9 New York, NY 10163
www.alcoholics-anonymous.org

Al-Anon Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
1600 Corporate Landing Pkwy. Virginia Beach, VA 23454-5617

Wineskins Magazine

Marnie C. Ferree

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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