I once heard an old tale about two wolves; a good one and a bad one. I don’t remember the details of the story, only the question raised from it: which wolf survives? The good one or the bad one? The answer, as I recall, is the one that you feed. This is true of anything. What you nourish grows, and what you don’t dies. The only way to kill the bad is to starve it out. Stop feeding it.
I’ve been thinking about this in connection with compulsions. A compulsion is an action we are compelled to take. A person behaving compulsively is under constraint, or coercion. I call this the “forced march”. It feels like the power to push us forward is stronger than our power to resist. Envision it like being led at gunpoint, or taken hostage. This is what a person under compulsion looks like through the eyes of the Spirit. This person is not free to hear or pursue God’s will because they are held prisoner in their own.
As I listened to a friend describe her compulsions recently, I could not help but consider my own. While our specific compulsions differed, they are equal in the sway they hold over us. For some of us, behaving compulsively may be related to something physical, like food or appearance. For others, it is more emotional, in seeking approval, affirmation, and love. And still others, more about performance and achievement. Whatever our specifics, compulsions are all rooted in the same thing: a desire to fulfill our needs outside of God.
One definition of woundedness is unmet needs. Our needs, whether perceived or real, create wounds when left unfulfilled. Our perception is reality. We instinctively seek to fill that which we perceive as empty, or lacking. The prophet Jeremiah calls this, “broken cisterns who cannot hold water”. And it is true, when we seek to fulfill our own needs, or heal our wounds through compulsions, the results are short-lived. We are perpetually needy and lacking; which reinforces the dynamics to sustain our compulsions. In other words, you are feeding the bad wolf again.
The prophet Haggai describes this phenomenon, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:5, 6).
Our compulsions make deposits into our hearts, then fall through the cracks of our leaky souls. We drop change: plink, plink, plink, in a perpetual state of trying to fill that which is broken and cannot be filled apart from God. I see our souls in this state as a type of vortex, a bottomless pit. This causes us to consume but never be consumed by God. There is too much pass through; not enough traction to break us from our compulsive cycles.
Compulsions, when seen through this lens, are really a form of idolatry. It’s the equivalent of fashioning a golden calf for ourselves when we feel God has left us in our neediness for too long. To act compulsively is to take our lives into our own hands, to look to worthless things that can never patch our hole-laden souls. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8)
Grace is currency. God’s grace is the only deposit that can heal a wounded soul. His grace has the potential to make us far richer than the piddling pocket change of our compulsions. Recognize the bad wolf and our helplessness to stop feeding it. Cry out to the Holy One of Israel; the Living God who longs to be gracious to us. The same Lord who warns, “Consider your ways” says, “I am with you”….. “My grace is sufficient for you”. Consider the needs behind your compulsions. What need are your trying to fill? Wound are you trying to heal? Confess your neediness to the Lord; ask Him to fill, heal, and satisfy your soul. His power is perfected in our weakness. When we are weak, we are strong. Strong enough to break free of compulsion, and courageously pursue godliness by fighting the good fight of faith.
“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). While compulsion is a constraint, contentment is a restraint only possible by the glorious riches of God’s great grace. The answer to which wolf survives depends upon our response to our compulsions. Turn from them, toward God’s powerfully, effective grace.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect” (1 Corinthians 15:10).