“I miss smoking weed sometimes,” confessed one of my Christian mentors, “but I’m after something deeper with God.” I remembered our past conversation about experiences with marijuana this week as I was processing the news that Christian leader, Craig Gross, has launched a website promoting the benefits of marijuana. What’s more, he intends on selling Christian branded marijuana products on his site.
Gross, someone I’ve long admired, is the founder of XXXchurch.com, a ministry dedicated to educating the church on the ill effects of pornography. Because my ministry is also devoted to promoting sexual wholeness, I’ve followed his ministry for years. His approach to reaching the broken and outcast in and outside the church has always been refreshing. However, Craig has a newly launched outreach that I cannot support, an outreach that aims to destigmatize marijuana use among Christians.
Craig’s new evangelistic endeavor springs from his personal testimony to the benefits of using medical marijuana. He admits that before obtaining a medical marijuana card, he’d never used drugs or even consumed much alcohol. However, when he turned to a low-dose regimen of THC to treat his chronic stress and debilitating headaches he found his pain decreased, and he could think more clearly. Gross admits that during that time his family was under an incredible amount of stress: along with the rigors of managing a non-profit, his father died and his wife’s health was threatened by a serious medical issue. Since stress is a leading cause of illness, it’s not surprising that Craig found relief using weed. But he also testifies that marijuana use improved his relationships and helped him create space to experience God in a deeper way. As a result, he believes God is directing him to begin a movement for others who may also benefit from the use of marijuana.
Gross joins a growing number of voices promoting the social acceptance of weed use as a means to handle stress, manage pain, and heal disease. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, stress-related ailments and complaints are responsible for 75 to 90 percent of all doctors’ office visits; 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. As a result, weed is emerging as a super drug that will save us from ourselves in the age of anxiety.
Now, I’m no stranger to weed. I grew up in an area christened “the emerald triangle” in the mountains of Northern California because two-thirds of its economy runs on marijuana cultivation. In fact, many of my friends who still reside in that area are second-and third-generation pot farmers, carrying on the family business. I’ve stood in their green glistening pot gardens, stayed in their welcoming homes while they prepared for harvest season, and watched them strenuously work the land to provide for their families. My goal here is not to demonize people for growing or smoking weed. My friends are truly pioneering and ingenious contributors to their communities. However, as much as I value their friendship, I have a different worldview than they do. My perspective on marijuana comes from personal experience and the core values of my faith in Christ. And this is what I want to dialogue about here.
Experiencing God While Smoking Weed
Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I lived in a constant tension: desiring to appease God, yet failing in my attempts to make sense of and manage my mental health issues. As I wrestled to find ways to cope, I assumed that God was constantly disappointed with me. Social anxieties, depression, and phobias controlled my life throughout childhood and into adulthood. My parents even homeschooled me off and on through the years when I couldn’t bear to leave the house.
When I was introduced to weed in high school things changed, and my anxieties seemed to become manageable. Going to school no longer crippled me with anxiety attacks, and I took this new “freedom” as wisdom to continue using it. However, I wrestled with shame on a daily basis. I wanted to be a so-called “good Christian,” but I couldn’t manage the chaos in my mind without smoking.
As time went on, I noticed that even though weed provided a wider space for me to leave the house and interact with society, the bankruptcy of my heart still longed for something better. There was no connection to God’s presence, and the spiritual experiences I did have while on drugs, felt void. I’d left my traditional upbringing of Christianity because I couldn’t reconcile my life choices and my faith. I still believed in God, but believed He didn’t want any part of this life I was living.
Then, one day in my 20s, high in my living room, I had a life-changing experience with God. I’m not sure exactly why, but I decided to humble myself and reach out to my creator. Inexplicably, God’s presence filled the living room, and in that moment my warped theology of a wrathful God unraveled. I was, instead, met by the love of a God who I could run to for comfort instead of avoid for fear of punishment. What would be considered a most unholy and most unworthy moment was my revolutionary introduction to Jesus’ heart for me. Though I can relate to Craig’s testimony of meeting God in his stressful state while using weed, our stories differ greatly in outcomes.
In that moment, when the tangible presence of God surrounded me and permeated my heart, I realized that trying to navigate life by my own means wasn’t working. In fact, my obsession with managing the symptoms of my mental health issues was preventing me from experiencing a trustful and intimate relationship with God. My encounter unlocked something called grace, and grace allowed God to access to my heart and my will. My religious view of a distant, angry God was now replaced by a more accurate view of God, one who was willing and waiting for me to ask for help.
In the days that followed, the rubber met the road. I’d experienced the tangible presence of the love of God, but still didn’t have a grid for what to do when faced with the harsh complexities of life. In order to navigate stress, I naturally went back to get high, except this time I became physically ill and experienced severe panic attacks. Before my encounter with God, this had never happened. As a result, my marijuana use ended as I yielded to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I no longer could depend on weed to comfort me, to alleviate my mental health issues, or satisfy my need for (counterfeit) spiritual experiences. The Lord made it clear through His guidance and my body’s clear rejection of the drug, that He was leading me to a new place, a better place because of His love for me. So, I yielded to Him and never smoked again.
Since then, God has taken me on a passionate journey in which he has revealed His ability to satisfy and heal much of my mental ill health and emotional pain. Many of my social anxieties, depression, and phobias are miniscule or have altogether disappeared since I stopped smoking. I’ve had spiritual experiences with the Holy Spirit that are wild, tangible, and unbridled. The adventure of experiencing God’s presence and loving pursuit has displaced the need for so many things I’d previously used to manage life and to meet my own needs.
Is Weed What Christians Need?
In the past few years I’ve grown increasingly concerned as I’ve heard a handful of leaders, including Gross, extol the virtues and sing the praises of marijuana use. Sadly, weed is becoming some believers’ functional savior. If you’re a Christian and believe that smoking weed benefits your health or leads you to better experiences with God, I’m not going to point out your error using scripture references, medical studies, or fear-based shaming tactics. However, I ‘d like to propose to you that there is something better. There is moreavailable in your relationship with Christ and his Kingdom than you ever dreamed.
I believe in our day and age many are yearning for something more, for a deeper spiritual life. This yearning–for better health, peace of mind, and freedom from illness/affliction–is actually a God given desire. Yet, when God meets you in your brokenness and calls you to deeper waters, deciding that you can use a substance to jimmy-rig your mind and body is only a recipe for idolatry.
If you’re longing for something more, then perhaps the question for you is not Is it permissible and beneficial to smoke weed? Rather the question should be Is this longing (for contentment, peace, physical wellness, and more) only satisfied by Christ? Is there more available in my relationship with Jesus than my previous experiences would dictate? My personal experience says the answer is YES.
Stress and mental health are married to our physical wellness. So, will you use a substance to achieve a temporary and inferior fix? Or will you allow the creator of the universe to take you on an adventurous journey in understanding how his Holy Spirit and his word can unlock overall wellness? As someone who has experienced both ways of life, I urge you not to trade the deep longing for God-given peace for a pharmacological self-improvement plan.
Liz Flaherty lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Andy. She is the author of two books: The God of My Parents and Discover Eden. She regularly speaks, blogs, and mentors others in the areas of overcoming sexual brokenness, identity, and spiritual formation. Her website is www.lizgflaherty.com.