One of the surest signs that one is growing spiritually is an awareness that one is changing as a person.

Change can go either way, of course, for the better or for the worse. Yet, in another sense, that is not entirely so. To be locked up in a "vicious cycle" is really not to change at all, but to kind of stagnate in a suffocating hell-on-earth of repeated, unproductive behavior.

Addictive patterns are like that. True, addictions to substances like drugs - and alcohol is a drug, let's not forget (even "a few beers" add up) - or to sex, eating or spending do have the added effect of causing damage to health, work or relationships.

Sin may be described as a form of addiction, too, especially if it is a repetitive habit. The point is that when caught up in any of these addictive patterns, the person really cannot move forward. He or she is stuck, enslaved as if locked up in chains.

This is extremely frustrating, damaging to the human spirit and a hothouse for the breeding of depression, cynicism and an overall negative attitude toward life.

The kind of change that is headed in the right direction will find one becoming, for example, more patient with the shortcomings of others, less prone to outbursts of anger, slower to rush to judgment before hearing others out, taking more time out for prayer and reflective awareness of God's loving presence, and an increase in the amount of time spent with family.

One sure way to find out if you are changing is to ask a good friend or someone who lives or works closely with you. It takes a lot of courage to do this because of the possibility that one might be told, "Oh, you're changing, all right, and it's for the worse!" Yet isn't it better to at least know the truth? Don't shoot the messenger for bringing you the unwelcome news that might begin to change your life!

The good news is that Jesus is the Savior who can break the shackles of addictive behavior and make us change - if, of course, we will let Him.

He begins by showing us - ever so gently, most of the time - that something is wrong or slightly awry in our life. When do you know something is wrong? At four o'clock in the morning! When you wake up in those wee hours before the dawn and can't get back to sleep, the things that you cannot get out of your mind - the worries, the fears, the anxieties - are the demons that are, most probably, disturbing your peace, the peace that Jesus wants everyone to have.

When we are feeling alone, when there is no noise to distract us and, at the same time, the world is asleep around us and we can do nothing for the moment - this is when we become aware of our paralysis without a Savior to rescue us.

Thank God we are never really alone! At least we do not have to be. Often, when such troubles confront us during the day, there is the possibility of running to the false "solution," the crutch or even the addiction that will seem to make the pain go away by distracting us or numbing us to its root cause.

This does not get us out of the vicious circle, though. Only something - someone - who is stronger than the sin or vice itself can do that.

This is what the wounds of Christ are all about. We have to crawl into those wounds! They are the reminders, the reality, of the hurt that our sins and sinful addictions cause. Jesus is feeling it for us. He is taking the punishment that we deserve so that we can have the reward that He deserves. While we can blame no one but ourselves for becoming paralyzed in the graves that we have dug for ourselves, He comes right down into our tombs to lift us out.

This is not only what our ultimate bodily resurrection is about, but how the awesome power of Christ's resurrection releases us from anything that is enslaving us here and now.

Are you ready for a change? Is it time to let go of that habit, that attitude, that relationship that is causing so much unhappiness and frustration? Jesus stands waiting, knocking gently at our door. All He needs from us is a heart open to His outstretched hand.