The First Step: Two important verses in the Book of Mormon

July 27, 2006

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable

The truth about addiction is, initially, painful. It isn’t something that we can easily admit. Looking at the above step (from the LDS Addiction Recovery Manual), it is frightening to admit that we are powerless to overcome our addictions. We cherish our agency and are loathe to believe that it can be lost or, probably more importantly, that we have lost it.

I want to take a moment and talk about a verse that is important in this regard: 2 Nephi 25:23

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

It seems to me that the addict often gets too involved in the last line of this verse: “after all we can do.” I, personally, interpreted that as meaning that I had to make a significant effort to give up my sins. Although I often made efforts, the fact that I failed meant that they clearly were not significant efforts. Therefore, I couldn’t expect God to fix me, because I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough to fix myself. The reason I knew that I wasn’t trying hard enough to fix myself was the fact that I wasn’t fixed. Terribly recursive, I know, but it was typical thinking for me.

The first thing that an addict must do is admit that “all [I] can do” is really not all that much. The addict can pray and turn to God. Beyond that, the addict has lost their agency in this area.

Please allow me to cite another verse: 2 Nephi 2:14

And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

There are two kinds of things in this world: things to act and things to be acted upon. We are a little bit of both at any given moment. However, as the chapter continues, we are told that God gave us to be things that should “act for [themselves]” (vs. 16). Agency obviously describes the latter state, the one God wants for us. Addiction describes the former. An addict is someone who doesn’t fully act for himself; An addict is acted upon.

Now, this isn’t entirely the case. Certainly many addicts make choices that steer them into or out of trouble. However, for any given addict, there is a tipping point, at which they give their agency up and go with the flow. For some, this boundary is clear and they steer toward or away from it depending on where they are. For others, the tipping point remains mysterious, leaving them baffled as to why they have fallen once again. Addicts do make choices before they hit the tipping point; afterwards, their choices have already been made. They are a puppet of their own lusts/appetites. The addict is no longer fully under her own control.

What if all you can do is insufficient? What if you have tried and tried and you cannot overcome this on your own? Well, that is what the Atonement of Christ is for. Although you may be a thing which is acted upon, you can choose to have Christ do the acting. He can change you into someone who can use their agency wisely. He can restore agency that is lost. That is the promise of the Atonement.

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