What I Learned About Freedom From Star Wars Episode 8 (Without Spoilers!)

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Watching Star Wars Episode 8 last night was an incredibly spiritual experience for me. I will not share anything about the plot, but I will say that I’ve been at war with myself for the last two days for reasons that I can’t disclose, and God granted me a major victory over Satan after what I saw last night in Episode 8.

We’ve been studying obsessive compulsive disorder in counseling class, and just like every other disorder we study, I’ve got it. I become obsessive and compulsive whenever there’s a conflict or an issue that seems to demand an immediate response from me that will fix everything and “restore balance to the Force.” Then I obsess over what my response should be like memory-choking malware cycling through my brain until the compulsion to act becomes unbearable. Saying something eloquent publicly is my go-to solution to everything. As long as I can control the narrative of my life story (as it’s officially reported on Facebook), then all is well. So here’s what Star Wars Episode 8 taught me: freedom is the opposite of control.

It blew my mind to realize this even though I’m sure God told me this many times before. The acceptance of unresolved circumstances is the heart of recovery spirituality because the unacceptability of irresolution is the fury of addiction. Each of the three primary force-powerful characters in Episode 8 — Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren — faces a battle with their own compulsion to resolve ambivalence and control outcomes; each of them fails and causes misery when they succumb to this compulsion. It’s like the all-corrupting ring in the Lord of Rings. The true tyrant is compulsion itself. As long as I am a slave to my compulsion, I have no actual freedom, no matter what is officially under my control.

In Episode 8, Supreme Leader Snoke makes it clear that he is the incarnated presence of compulsion. He has absolute control over not only his declared apprentice Kylo Ren, but every character who seeks control. He says the same thing that Emperor Palpatine always says: fulfill your destiny. That is precisely the insanity at the heart of compulsive thinking. My destiny is at stake and I must seize control of it immediately or else the universe is doomed.

What does it look like to resist compulsion? I’ve never encountered anything more difficult. As we always say in recovery, I cannot do it on my own. The miracle that happened for me last night as I was watching the movie was the emergence of the lovely little voice that always says, “You don’t have to.” It was the same voice that said, “You really don’t have to drink anymore” on March 16th of 2016. My favorite scene of any Star Wars movie is Return of the Jedi when Luke throws down his light saber and tells Emperor Palpatine, “You have failed, your highness. I am a Jedi like my father before me.” That is what my greatest victories looks like.

The trouble is that another voice very much feels like the voice of God. It says here’s something brilliant for you to say or do that will put your enemies in checkmate and show everyone once and for all how clever you are. That voice has much greater access to my dopamine than the still, small voice that sets me free. So I usually follow the voice that Frederick Nietzsche associated with the Greek God Dionysus and the creative spirit or the will to power. I write things that feel brilliant and bask in the glory of having expressed myself so well. Sometimes the results are helpful to others; sometimes they harm others. Either way, the self-glory is my cocaine: it’s so good and so toxic.

The hard thing is the voice that gives me powerful words isn’t always wrong. It’s like the Force. It can be used for legitimate prophecy. Luke explains this to Rey in her training. The Force is not a weapon you can pick up; it is a powerful wave that you must ride without being thrown by it into the Dark Side. Right now, I am riding out my creative force by writing this blog post as a means of releasing it and chastening my obsessive mind. Even though it satisfies my compulsion indirectly, it seems like a compromise that liberates me from it. The problem is when I am a slave to my self-perceived brilliance and need to control destiny.

To walk in the world without control and compulsion is to walk with freedom. In a world full of enemies who are constantly provoking compulsive reactions, there’s a Christian term for this walk. It’s called taking up your cross. Jesus had all the power in the universe as the word of God made flesh, but the one decision he made that changed the course of history was to renounce control of his destiny. About cross-bearing, Jesus tells his favorite disciple Peter, “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). The paradox is that there’s more freedom in the latter than the former.

Last night, when the lovely voice of God came back into my reality, I remembered how Hebrews 12:2 says that it was “for the joy set before [Jesus] endured the cross.” I’ve had some acute experiences of humiliation and disempowerment lately. They have launched me into dizzying obsessions and compulsions that have blown up in my face when I’ve acted upon them. But the grace of God is that humiliation and disempowerment is the way to freedom from my need for control. Last night when I watched Episode 8, I watched control get eviscerated by freedom. And God showed me joy that no tyrant in my mind or in the world can ever take away from me.

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