Read: Luke 15:11-12
Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son is a familiar one. All of the
characters and actions in this parable resemble the characters and
action in our opioid epidemic. A child leaves home, parents worry
every day, the lost child in their addiction lives in a '"far away
land," by the grace of God the child may "come to himself" and return
home. The parents and community celebrate the return of the lost
child, but the older brother is not thrilled. Did Jesus have our
family, church and community in mind when he told this parable?
Over the next several weeks we will use this familiar parable as our
guide to honestly look at the opioid epidemic and ask "What
if...?" The hope is that we will not spend our devotion time
wondering what if the parents did something different, or what if the
prodigal son did not leave, but asking God what can I do to keep this
from happening again? What can I do when I meet a child
lost in a faraway land? What if I, we as the church were involved
in this parable? How would God have used us to prevent, comfort,
care for, support and rejoice with the family of the prodigal son?
Read the parable again slowly. Give the character in the story
name of people you know who are directly involved with the opioid
epidemic. Ask God where we should be in this parable.
What if God answers our petition?
It is not enough to open the doors of our sanctuary and hope the
epidemic ends. We must leave our sanctuaries and enter the story.
Why we Become Addicted
Have you ever tried to hold your breath for
fas long as you can? Our brains are created in such a way that we
cannot hold our breath too long and lose consciousness on our own.
The part of the brain that is responsible for breathing will
override the foolish part of our brain that is trying to harm our body
by withholding oxygen. This is the same part of the brain that
lets us keep our balance, walk, keep the proper heart rate and breathe
all at the same time, without having to consciously think about it.
It is the small part of the brain that sits at the top of the
brain stem where the nerves enter the brain from the spinal column
called the Limbic System. It is in this very powerful area that
opioids affect the brain.
When we see a person who is suffering from addiction and wonder why
they just do not stop, we might as well be wondering why they cannot
just stop breathing. This area of the brain is not ruled by
reason or common sense. It is ruled by subconscious desire.
When opioids enter the nervous system, the nerve endings are fooled
into believing the opioid is really a naturally produced chemical
called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that makes us feel
pleasure. It is released when we take that first bite of
chocolate ice cream, when that special person agrees to go to the prom
with us, or when we have accomplished a personal goal. The
problem is, opioids cause the body to artificially experience more
pleasure and last much longer that ordinary dopamine. Imagine
that rush of dopamine after your first kiss lasting all day and making
you feel even better!
The addicted person's brain begins to crave this feeling of pleasure.
The addicted person's brain cares not about how to pay for the
opioid, how the family feels about their addiction, missing work or
The addicted brain craves the rush supplied by opioids. Opioids
are very powerful and very hard to overcome. Recovery from opioid
addiction is a lifelong process, a process that requires courage,
strength, endurance and a lot of prayer.
What If Week 2