Category Archives: Homelessness and health


The following is an extract from Coming Home for Good – my autobiographical book on homelessness, spirituality, identity and belonging – describing some of my experiences of an itinerant lifestyle choice as a young man in America:


In ’87, money became scarce. I saw myself as “road-wise” rather than street-wise, and lived for the open road. City life’s never been my thing. But when times were tough, I stayed in the cities to donate plasma for $5-$10 a time (depending on the city), which they’d let you do up to twice a week. The clinic would take a pint of blood, centrifuge it to separate the plasma from the red cells, and infuse the red cells back into the donor’s bloodstream.

I have no idea what the screening procedures were like back then, but all the street people used to do it for a quick buck, and I became one of them.

At one clinic, while I was there, they treated and dressed a really nasty, infected ulcer that had developed on my elbow from a simple graze I’d sustained while messing around with a football in a field with Joel and Mikey in Portland. I found that every little scratch I got – and you tend to get a lot when you’re sleeping rough – became infected. The elbow wound was so bad, I still bear the scar quite visibly 3 decades later.

The same thing happened to two symmetric wounds on my back that originated as simple scratches from the split rings on my metal frame rucksack when I walked or hitched with my shirt off in the southern heat. Two decades later, in a physical assessment class as part of my nurse prescribing course, a medical lecturer demonstrating an examination of my back was trying to guess the cause of my scars and surmised I’d had some kind of thoracic surgery. I took great delight in revealing the real, obscure cause was my distant history of hitch-hiking.

My nutrition – and therefore immunity – was no doubt pretty poor, not to mention hygiene. I was never a proud, image-conscious young man – well, except in my younger punkier days, with my all-black clothes and hair. Showers weren’t necessarily a priority when travelling, although I would find rivers to wash in, and one time discovered I could sneak into a high-class golf club through the back door to use their showers. That was luxury!

Homeless people are generally prone to infections, even if their hygiene is good. Like the rest of the population, many are keen to keep themselves clean and tidy, while others tend to let themselves go if their lives and energy are consumed by chasing the next beer or bag of heroin, or their minds distracted by psychotic illness or depression.

Many have health conditions like hepatitis that affect their immunity, which in turn may also be compromised by poor nutrition.

When I was travelling, my weight dropped to about a stone lighter than for most of my young adult life – giving me a BMI of 18 (in other words, quite underweight) – and about 2.5 stone lighter than my current (healthy) weight.

For all these reasons, homeless people have high rates of respiratory, skin and wound infections.

Incredible to think, looking back on the elbow episode, that I’m now running homeless clinics myself, treating wounds, infections and other health problems; that I’m prescribing antibiotics, dressings and nutritional supplements. Who’d have thought it when I attended that plasma clinic in ’87? Certainly not me.

Homeless people tend to have great difficulty accessing healthcare – even in the UK, where they don’t have to have an address to be registered with a GP – although not all surgery staff realise this, unfortunately. Systems are difficult to navigate; making doctors’ appointments is difficult even for people with the most organised lives; and healthcare often isn’t top of the agenda for people in chaotic, vulnerable circumstances.

Despite the eternal, infernal funding challenges in the voluntary sector, I find it incredibly satisfying, working for a charity outside the NHS, to be able to offer informal, friendly, drop-in clinics, making healthcare accessible at venues where homeless people congregate; not being restricted to 10-minute consultations.

Talking of nutrition, I learned to raid the skips just after McDonald’s had closed at night, for free, freshly discarded burgers while they were still warm! That was such a treat.

“Dumpster diving” as it’s known in the US, or “skipping” in the UK, has hit the media in recent years as high-profile cases have heightened public pressure to reduce food waste by supermarkets and to legalise the practice of taking discarded food from skips – to criminalise supermarkets, not the poor and homeless, for this mad situation. It’s been encouraging to see more scope being given for charities to at least accept food that’s going out-of-date.

The other draw to the cities on my travels was the free meals in soup kitchens and hostels, which tended to be pretty grim, to be honest.

In one hostel, lying on a mattress on the floor of a grimy, bare room shared with a male stranger who had wanted to have sex with me, I clung on to my rucksack in my half-sleep, not trusting anyone.

But in every soup kitchen and hostel, the soup and sandwiches were a welcome relief to an empty stomach. Most were run by Christian missions and I’m forever grateful to all of them.

Some of these mission halls insisted on visitors listening through a gospel talk before being given food. Not too sure of the ethics of that now. And I’m not sure how receptive those raucous crowds with ravenous stomachs could have been to the messages being preached.

However, little bits of what I heard made me think, and I ended up debating and arguing one-to-one with some of the preachers. By this time, I had an interest in Buddhism and didn’t much like these Christians’ dualistic ideas of heaven and hell, God and Satan, good and evil, but something was beginning to chip away at me.

But I had no doubt that, if there were a God, then I was a sinner and needed saving. My understanding of sin, if there were such a thing, was simplistic. My stealing, lying and deceitfulness, my general sense of being a bad person, constituted my sinfulness – if God was real. It was self-evident that my lifestyle constituted one of sin before the Christian god.

If I could be convinced of the existence of God, I’d need no convincing of my sin. But if I continued in my atheism, I could continue in the dubious freedom of my amorality….


Coming Home for Good is available here, in print and on Kindle.

Comments and reviews always welcome!

Thanks for reading,

Roger Nuttall

Tagged , ,

Ran for Home

Well, that’s the Hastings Half Marathon done for another year. And I’m glad it’s over!

Apart from the fact that training’s been hard this winter for a variety of reasons, I seem to have lost some of that competitive edge – as a consequence of delving into a more contemplative approach to prayer.

Since 1987, when I took that initial step of faith, prayer has been my strength – the most vital and special element of my life. Recently I’ve enjoyed a more mindful, restful attitude to prayer (and to a lesser extent, to life), stopping to experience things like being held in love rather than just asking for things.

Suddenly, the idea of running hard over endless hours of training, just to try and gain a faster time, seems a bit pointless. All that hassle just for a number? Vanity, in both senses: meaningless and narcissistic. I get myself ready for a run, only to find my heart saying I’d rather be resting in my Father’s arms, my spiritual home, where I’m fully approved, fully loved, with nothing to prove.

Now, I’m not knocking races, running or competition. This just happens to be where I’m at right now. There’s plenty of value in all these things, and I’ll probably carry on competing. Perhaps with less drive.

But today… I was running in the Hastings Half Marathon for Seaview Project. Extra added motivation to race.

Years ago I found my home, spiritually and physically. Today I ran for homes for the homeless.


If you’ve read my last post, Running for Home, you’ll know a bit about Seaview and why I was running for a charity that, amongst other things, helps homeless people back on to their feet.

If you’ve already sponsored me, thank you so much.

The total amount raised so far (online and offline donations) is a fantastic £648 + Gift Aid.

If you sponsored me, then you’ll probably also know that I set myself a challenge, and asked you to consider increasing your donation after the event if I managed to run under 1hr 35mins (which was going to be highly unlikely, especially after coming down with a horrible virus 9 days before the race!).

Well, my finishing time was 1hr 35mins 54secs: 2 minutes slower than last year, but as fast as I realistically expected. So I’m kind of pleased. But….

That doesn’t quite count as under 1:35, does it??

If you sponsored me and were considering upping the donation if I ran under 1:35, then I’ll leave you to decide whether that was close enough! 🙂

Please click here to donate – either again or for the first time!

Thank you and God bless you!


Tagged , , , ,

Running for Home

Please follow this link to sponsor me in the 2015 Hastings Half Marathon, to raise funds for Seaview Project.

Homelessness can happen to anyone – even an international sprinter. You may have read this week about top Sierra Leone athlete, Jimmy Thoronka, who was found sleeping rough on the streets of London after being afraid to return to his home country where his family have been decimated by Ebola.

Although most homeless people are not international sprinters, the pattern is all too familiar: a history of bereavements, losses and trauma, often taking to the streets to escape from something worse, resulting in malnutrition, depression and suicidal thoughts.

I’m privileged and proud to be associated with Seaview Project, a Hastings-based charity with “an open access wellbeing centre offering help and inspiration for people living on society’s margins”.

Seaview helps homeless people to get re-housed and back on their feet.

SeaviewTheir “range of support services help marginalised people with addiction problems, mental health issues, ex- and at-risk offenders and rough sleepers achieve personal growth and fulfilment” (taken from Seaview’s website).

Most homeless people are forced by a vicious circle of life’s circumstances on to the streets.

A few choose homelessness for a variety of reasons. I was someone who was attracted to life on the road and the streets because I was rootless – spiritually and emotionally homeless – like many of the physically homeless people I meet.

You can read how my life turned around when I found a spiritual home in My Life’s Soundtrack.

I now work for St John Ambulance Hastings Homeless Service. As a nurse, I lead a team providing a nurse-led healthcare service at Seaview’s day-centre. You can read more about us in this RCN article.

My clients often tell me that Seaview is a ‘lifeline’ or a ‘life-saver’ to them. It literally is.

Like all charities, Seaview is dependent on the generosity and support of people like you and me to keep going.

So please consider sponsoring me in this year’s Hastings Half Marathon, as I run to raise money for Seaview – follow this link to donate.

You may know I’m a seasoned Half Marathon runner, so you may be thinking, “Why should I sponsor you to do what you normally do anyway?”

Well, training has been a huge struggle this year. With one cold after another this winter, a heavy workload and the demands of family life, my running’s dropped to once or twice a week – some weeks not running at all. I’ve gained half a stone, my pace has slowed right down and I’ve struggled to do the distance. So, another good reason to sponsor me, maybe?

In 2014, I ran the Hastings Half Marathon in just under 1 hour 34 minutes. This year, I’m more likely to take about 1:40. With less than 2 weeks to go (as I write this), and colds hopefully behind me, I’m trying to cram in some last minute speed training. If you sponsor me, would you also consider increasing your donation after the event if I succeed in finishing in under 1:35???

Most importantly, the best reason to sponsor me in this year’s Hastings Half Marathon is because it’s for Seaview, a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Please follow this link to sponsor me in the 2015 Hastings Half Marathon, to raise funds for Seaview Project.

Thank you!

Roger Nuttall

Tagged , , , ,

Hope for the Homeless

Maybe you’ve read about my journey to faith in My Life’s Soundtrack. If you haven’t, I’d love it if you decided to have a peek. From being physically – but primarily spiritually – homeless some years ago, I found a home in Jesus and my insecurities began to be healed from the inside out.

Of course, that was just the start of the journey. It can be tempting to think, when we have that kind of turn-around, that that’s it. We’ve found what we were looking for. We’ve been born again, found peace, were lost but now we’re found, or whatever. But it’s just the start. And the best is yet to come.

Like the romance of honeymoon, those who genuinely love and are truly loved know that real love is not the passion of newlyweds but that which has overcome trials, which has stood the test of time and tragedy and challenges, which has matured and developed into something deeper, more courageous, more giving.

My relationship with God is not what it was when I was a zealous young fanatical charismatic Christian. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s different. Actually, it is better!

For one thing I’m more reflective, and more secure in my faith, and therefore more free to be honest about my beliefs rather than feel I have to agree with any party lines of the Christian establishment – while at the same time valuing unity more highly than ever!

My outer life tends to consist of mornings, evenings and nights spent managing the joys and challenges of my family – a toddler, a teenager and one in between – wrapped around daytimes spent busily coordinating a homeless health service. It’s all good, of course. That is, I have everything to be thankful for, even if I’d like to complain about being too busy and tired and not having enough time to go running or to write stuff like this! But here I am.

(OK, I am busy and tired and that’s why I can’t sleep and why I’m writing this in the middle of the night, but I still have no reason to complain…)

But even these things are not what my life really consists of. My real life is internal and is made up of my waxing and waning love for Jesus, my attachments, joys, temptations, hopes and doubts, and the attitudes of my heart towards my family, clients, colleagues, friends, neighbours and strangers.

I express my love for God differently these days. The scriptures I treasure (i.e. the Bible) tell me that the kind of worship that God is pleased with is not so much exuberant songs or sacrificial giving or church commitment, but treating people in need – especially those most marginalised by society or religion – with dignity, respect, value and compassion – with ‘agape’ love.

Homeless and vulnerably housed people, amongst others, are a gift from God to us. They offer us the opportunity to express our love for him in a tangible way on this earth.

Doing the job I do is a mind-blowingly incredible gift, privilege and responsibility that I’ve been entrusted with. One I don’t want to take lightly. In my busy-ness, an attitude of love, so easily forgotten, is everything.

Bulletin-316-coverIt has been a wonderful privilege and opportunity also to have an article on the Hastings Homeless Service featured in this month’s Royal College of Nursing Bulletin.

Please click on the picture opposite (that’s me!) and then go to pages 8-9 to have a read about what I do…

…externally, at least.

And if you’re a praying person, please pray for us, that this service would reveal divine, healing love to its clients and colleagues.

Tagged ,

The Spirit of Healthcare

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my manager’s manager flew into a furious rage a couple of years ago over a small section of a report I’d written on a service evaluation survey. In response to a client’s comment expressing a need for ‘more religious support’, I’d attempted to show how our homeless service could do more to take into consideration clients’ spiritual needs.

As a Christian working for a secular organisation, I have no wish to use or abuse my position by ‘proselytising’ or Bible-bashing at work (nor to do the latter anywhere else!), and my comment in the report was simply a reflection on one client’s wishes (whatever he meant by that) in the context of holistic care.

Our Western society is dogged by cynicism, scepticism and negativism – and no more so than when it comes to matters of faith, religion and spirituality. The dominant secularist (and often prejudiced) agenda often ignores the vast contribution made by faith communities (i.e. mainly churches) to society, week in, week out, and to blame religion for many of the world’s ills. The narrow-minded atheist also pits an unnecessary battle between theism and science…

…whereas the thinking person, atheist or Christian, acknowledges that it’s people and institutions with power, not religion, that cause wars, and sees no conflict between science and belief in God. But that’s another blog post…

Secularists, under the ‘new atheism’ banner, would rid the world of religion, claiming its harmfulness – sometimes out of fear of religion and faith, simply because they don’t understand it, in the same way that ignorance breeds racism and homophobia.

Healthcare and spirituality are inextricably and historically intertwined. But the manager in question had no clinical background. His reaction was founded in ignorance, probably of faith and spirituality, certainly of healthcare.

At this point we could discuss the faith-based history of hospitals and hospices and indeed the organisation I work for. We could also look at research that shows how people who belong to a church tend to have lower rates of ill health – how belonging to a (faith) community bestows proven psychological benefits and promotes altruism.

But rather than tread the well-worn path, however useful that may be, for the sake of freshness I prefer to speak from my own experience, so here are some examples…

First of all, my U-turn from a hedonistic life on the road, to a career as a nurse (see My Life’s Soundtrack) was the direct result of a fairly dramatic conversion to Christianity. An inner change effected a passion to promote the physical, social and spiritual health of others.

Then, early on in my nurse training, I was taught that spirituality was an important yet often neglected part of patient assessment and nursing care.

That spirituality was not just about whether the patient ticked ‘C of E’ on their hospital admission form, but about what gives meaning and purpose and values and joy and hope to that person’s life.

How they feel about death and dying.

How they deal with their own suffering and illness.

What their longings and aspirations are.

And also whether they have a faith or religion in the conventional or unconventional sense, and how they express that faith.

These are spiritual (and psychological) considerations which every healthcare professional needs to be aware of when dealing with patients and clients. And yet, many professionals shy away from such questions for fear of the unknown, being unsure – as many are – of their own spirituality and beliefs, let alone those of others.

Adrift in their agnosticism.

This neglect is further magnified in the world of homeless services, in which clients are hardly ever asked about faith and spirituality, let alone encouraged to engage with their religion and attend places of worship, if they have faith, or to explore their spirituality1.

An uber-secularist world which sometimes goes so far as to actively discourage such discussion, to the detriment of its service users. So much for person-centred care.

On one occasion, as a student nurse on Coronary Care Unit (a small open plan unit where everyone could hear everyone else’s conversation), a patient asked me question after keen, searching question about my faith, and I found myself speaking in some detail about the good news of Jesus and what that meant to me. I felt quite trepidatious (OK, I know it’s not a real word, but it should be) about being overheard by other staff and patients, and wondered if I’d be disciplined for ‘proselytising’.

To my relief and amazement, in my final assessment on the placement, the staff nurse who was my mentor praised me for delivering spiritual care, and again emphasised how often spiritual needs are neglected. The patient made a full recovery, but being hospitalised with a cardiac condition, had perhaps faced questions and fears in his own mind about death, dying and suffering. And perhaps I was the right person at the right place and time for him.

Another time during my training, in the anaesthetic room, I was alone with a patient about to undergo surgery. She seemed especially anxious and yet somehow I ‘sensed’ that she was a Christian and might appreciate prayer. She confirmed this was the case, we prayed, and her anxieties were significantly allayed. Later on, she found out my name and wrote me an effusive letter of appreciation for the difference this encounter had made to her in facing her op. Her spirituality was integral to her healthcare, recovery and wellbeing.

I love being a Christian – for all kinds of reasons. One thing I like about Jesus is that he was (is) such a renegade. Always breaking the rules. Not for the sake of it, but to show us a better way. I relate to that.

Not keeping the Sabbath. Because there are people who need healing, affirmation and love every day of the week. A better way.

Not condemning a woman who’d been unfaithful. So that both she and her accusers could learn mercy and a new way of life.

Hanging out with sex workers, outcasts and underdogs, while lambasting religious leaders. Setting the record straight.

The messiah being tortured and executed. That’s not meant to happen, is it? Breaking the rules for our freedom and healing.

The way of Jesus, unlike religion, has no rules. Except perhaps the ‘rule’ of love. Love God, and your neighbour as yourself.

Loving yourself is definitely not a rule, but an inevitable response to being loved. When we’ve received the affirmation and acceptance that Jesus offers, we start to forgive and love ourselves. That kind of self-love, self-worth, changes our attitudes to our bodies and minds, as well as to other people.

There are no rules against smoking, booze or drugs for Christians. No rules against chocolate, all-you-can-eat-breakfasts, espressos or over-working.

Smoking and getting drunk AREN’T ‘against my religion’. Couldn’t resist putting that in BOLD type.

And yet…

I stopped smoking about the time I came to faith in Jesus. Tobacco, that is. Cannabis and all other illicit drugs came to an end for me a bit later. I haven’t wanted to get drunk (or been drunk) since before I first experienced the Holy Spirit about 25 years ago. It would be no big deal if I had been drunk – the point is that Jesus gave me a better way.

I do have my vices (let’s not discuss my coffee habit or chocoholism), but my life is pretty healthy. I have self-worth. I care about my life, because I know my worth to my Father. My spirituality is inseparable from my physical and mental health.

When my homeless and vulnerably housed clients find self-giving love, whether from God or others, they find a reason to care for themselves. They’re less likely to be suicidal or to self-harm. A higher power or higher purpose gives them a reason to live and change. Spirituality cannot be divorced from health, especially mental and emotional health.

Nathan Feb12 004a

Moving from my own experience to an excellent and much-needed recent study…

Clients – not support workers or managers – initiated a spirituality group at a homeless service in London, which they felt lacked the opportunity to explore issues of spirituality and faith.

This client-inspired group then led to research conducted by (self-confessed atheist) Carwyn Gravell on behalf of secular thinktank Lemos & Crane.

This much-needed, much-welcomed study, Lost and Found, reports on the results of 75 in-depth interviews with homeless service users on the subject of faith and spirituality.

Clients “described faith and spirituality as being a significant aspect of their personal lives and identity, contributing to their wellbeing, helping them to recover from mental health or drug and alcohol problems or to pursue a future free from offending”.

Spirituality inseparable from health.

Over 70% described themselves as religious or as having been religious at some stage in their lives. Many saw themselves as spiritual in a broader sense.

Most service users appreciated the opportunity to express their inner selves and their own unique responses to their profound experiences of loss. One interviewee felt the research indicated that the organisation was taking him seriously as a whole person with an individual identity, and not just a mechanical service user.

This thorough, objective report confirms what I and others already knew and has given that knowledge substance and evidence. For those of us who long to move on from the narrow-minded, secularistic-worldview-dominated service delivery model, to give truly holistic care, this report is welcome news.

My manager’s manager – the one who had the tantrum – has left the organisation I work for. That obstacle to holistic care of my homeless clients has gone.

And I’m looking forward to discussing Lost and Found with my line manager and colleagues, exploring how we can implement its findings.

Whatever form that takes, it certainly won’t involve conducting religious services or anything specifically ‘Christian’, but will entail working with clients where they’re at and towards where they want to be.

And I’m so glad that God is able to meet with people where they are. And will be found by those who are honestly searching.

I was thinking about how to finish this post and I don’t actually have a witty or flippant comment as I usually do. Maybe that’s because this is a subject so close to my heart.

If you have any views on the subject of spiritual care in the world of healthcare or social support, I’d be very grateful if you could share this post and/or comment below, as appropriate.

Thank you, and blessings for reading this!

1. Lost and Found: faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people (Lemos & Crane 2013)

Tagged , , , ,


“You know you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to…”

Yes, I admit it: I am or have been addicted to many things including some of the things mentioned in this blog. I’ll leave you to guess which ones.

“To be alive is to be addicted”.1

But “addicted to love?” Definitely not. That’s the craziest contradiction in terms, the most obtuse oxymoron.

It’s like saying “strangled by the air”. Or “drowning in happiness”. Only more so.

Sorry, Mr Palmer, but you were very confused when you wrote that song some 27 years ago (and we won’t mention the terrible video…). Hopefully, as in Johnny English, with age has come wisdom!

Sorry too to Mr Ferry, but love is never the drug.

Because love is the ONE thing we can’t be addicted to. Love is in fact the antidote to our addictions.

But we can be addicted to many things that masquerade as love, such as…

Relationships. Romance. Lust. Infatuation. Or sex.

Or a particular person.

Or that fleeting experience of being ‘in love’ – those feelings designed to draw us into a relationship with someone.

Or to the need to be needed (co-dependency).

Of course it’s normal for pop songs to confuse lust or infatuation with love. In fact, in music, it’s rare for love to be called love.

So, to quote an age-old question from another song: What is love?

Crucially, love seeks the best for the other person.

Love also sees the best in the other person.

Love is loyal, standing by the other person when inner voices and external pressures tempt you to stray.

Love gives the other person freedom to make his or her own choices. Love imposes no chains or demands, even when the other person’s choices cause you distress and sorrow.

Love is sacrificial – the person who loves will ultimately give his/her life for the other person.

Love is not an emotion – it goes beyond emotions. And yet it can be felt.

Love goes the extra mile and is not limited by lust, guilt, fear or other temporal feelings.

Love forgives unconditionally.

Love is a choice made by a heart that is free.

To be loved like this is the ultimate cure for addictions. To be loved with this kind of love sets us free from the shame that perpetuates the vicious circle of addiction.

To be loved like this inspires and motivates us to live for the one who loves us2.

But who can love like this?

Yes, human love like this does exist – to a degree. When it does, healing from addictions begins.

When human love fails, the fallout is fertile ground for addictions to thrive in.

For example, something like 50% of people with drug & alcohol addictions were sexually abused as children3. A former colleague of mine estimated from his experience with Narcotics Anonymous that the percentage amongst people addicted to drugs as opposed to alcohol was more like 75%. One reason for this may be that they take substances in an attempt to anaesthetise their inner trauma.

Most of the homeless people I work with missed out on parental love. They grew up in care, or were abused, or both. Many have become dependent on alcohol or heroin – to become “comfortably numb”.

For them, it seems too late. Can they ever find unconditional human love that will show them how to be free and inspire them to something better? They seem more likely to remain in the revolving door of dependency and self-seeking relationships.

Perhaps, like me, you believe that God is love? Perhaps you believe that where human love fails, there is a higher power, a higher hope, who loves perfectly.

I’d been a Christian for a couple of years when I experienced what is sometimes called being baptised (= immersed) in the Holy Spirit. I’d been hungry for a greater experience of God’s love, and one evening in my room it happened! A drenching in love. Overwhelming sense of forgiveness. Such powerful mercy, that I found myself both crying and laughing. Tears of sorrow that I’d saddened my Father with my unfaithfulness to him. Laughter at the joy of sins forgiven. There was no sense of judgment.

Feel free to write me off as a religious nutcase (I can take it!) but that experience effected lasting change, the most overt of which was the eradication of my cannabis dependency: I never wanted or touched the stuff again. For 2 years my conscience had alternated between thinking it was ok and this niggling feeling that my dope smoking was standing in the way of knowing God better. But now his tangible love had set me free, not just from my addiction, but for loving him back. I couldn’t stop praising him.

OK, so cannabis doesn’t have the same capacity for physical addiction as alcohol, heroin or nicotine, but physical addictions can be treated (or at least substituted) with physical medications. Unfortunately, clinicians and support workers aren’t able to provide the one antidote to psychological addictions – unconditional, sacrificial love, also known as ‘grace’.

“Although addiction is natural, it severely impedes human freedom…and makes us slaves to our compulsions. Grace, the freely flowing power of divine love in human life, is the only hope for true freedom from this enslavement.” 4

But let’s make one thing clear – religion is not the cure. In fact, religious practices are a common source of addictions5. We can be addicted, for example, to…


Or “Christianity”, whatever that is.

To religious guilt.

Over-busy church activity.

Or even to prayer.

To the approval of others for our good deeds.

And the need to be needed by those we care for (co-dependency again).

Or to our own false image of God as harsh judge.

Addiction to religion is liable to produce the same cycle of guilt and shame in us, and hurt to the people around us, as any other addiction.

Religious addiction, like addiction to heroin or alcohol, sets impossible demands and enslaves the user. Whatever we do – for our religion or substance – is never enough.

But if God is love, if Jesus is love, we cannot be addicted to him. All we can do is love him back – with love that spills out to our neighbour. Freely. Without fear of reprisals. Without demands. With a willing heart.

Love says, “It is enough”. Or, as on the cross, “It is finished”.

Is there hope for the individuals I know, with their heroin and alcohol addictions?

Is there hope for me and you, with our addictions?

Well, I believe in a Love that doesn’t hold back, that reaches out to those who need it most – to those who will embrace it (i.e. him). I’ve known people and heard about others who have experienced miraculous liberation from powerful addictions, by embracing the person and message of Jesus.

So I, for one, am full of hope, with prayer.

In describing love, Robert Palmer in the ‘80s may have got it incredibly wrong. But more recently, Marcus Mumford, drawing on his Christian roots, nailed it on the head:

“Love that will not betray, dismay or enslave you

It will set you free

Be more like the man you were made to be.” 6

  1. Gerald May, Addiction and Grace. May is a psychiatrist who brings spirituality and psychiatry together in this masterpiece of a book.
  2. Titus 2: 11-12, The Bible (NIV).
  3. Research from the University of Brighton by Darren Britt – sorry, I can no longer find a full reference or link for this.
  4. Gerald May, Addiction and Grace.
  5. Don Williams’ Jesus and Addiction is an excellent book on the dysfunctional church, which I thoroughly recommend. Anyone reading this who lives near me is welcome to borrow my copy!
  6. Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More.
Tagged , ,