By James M. Decker
Editor’s note: This is the fourth part in my series on drugs and addiction in our communities. If you have not read the first three parts (“Real Problems, Our Problems,” “They Are Us,” and “Solutions, But What Solutions?”), I encourage you to do so.
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I’ve spent months thinking about the addiction problem in our rural communities and the decay and decline that comes with it. I learned a long time ago that identifying problems does no good if you aren’t also willing to identify and apply solutions. Today, I bring you a conversation about solutions.
As I have written, much of our addiction problem centers around attempts to self-medicate for despair, hopelessness, and depression. Professionals in the field liken depression and associated feelings with being enveloped by darkness. Our friends, family, and neighbors are faced with a world of darkness, for which self-medication seems to be the only outlet.
Throughout the Bible, light and darkness are used as allegories. It’s overly simplistic to say “light = good, dark = evil.” Scripture uses light to refer to life, living according to God’s plan, and an overall sense of happiness and contentment. Darkness is complicated. Evil things lurk in the dark, but darkness also encompasses man’s struggles with all the physical, mental, and spiritual obstacles that prevent us from living in and with the light. We must eradicate that physical, mental, and spiritual darkness from our communities.
In John 3:19-21, the apostle John writes that the things of the dark will not come into the light for fear of exposure, but living by truth brings a person from the dark into the light. John 1:5 says that, when we shine a light into the darkness, the darkness will not overcome it. King David writes in Psalm 18:28 that “my God turns darkness into light.” Job, a blameless man who faced more darkness than any of us, says in Job 29:3 that by God’s light he walked through the darkness.
Today, I call on our rural community leaders to recognize that darkness in our communities and begin shining a light into that darkness. We all know the places in our community that breed darkness. Abandoned houses and vacant overgrown lots, among other places, are locations that harbor the manufacture, use, and trade of drugs. I can drive by these locations, or walk in and around them, and beyond the obvious physical signs of drug culture, I can feel darkness in the air. This darkness spreads its tentacles from these safe harbors into our homes, parks, schools, families, and businesses. When we shine a light onto these places, the things of the dark will scatter, so as not to be exposed to light. They may scatter to other places in town, only so long as we let them, and then shining light into those places will ultimately drive the things of the dark from town.
Removing physical strongholds of darkness is the first step to bring our neighbors out of darkness. Then, we must shine the light into hearts, minds, and spirits. For those who need recovery, we will help them walk through the darkness like Job and into the light. We must provide spiritual and economic hope so that our people find hope in a life of light and are no longer faced with choosing self-medication and darkness.
This task is not easy. In some cases, we will meet great resistance from strongholds of darkness that will suffer financially and otherwise from our actions. If we are to break the cycle of addiction, hopelessness, despair, and decay that is consuming our communities, we cannot be deterred. Our community, and its people and its future requires leaders who are courageous enough to shine light into the darkness.
I am ready and willing. Are you?
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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker.