At some point in my life I recognized the stark reality that I am powerless. As a person who suffered from addiction and alcoholism, I bumped into the first step of recovery which is to admit that we are powerless over addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable. Powerless is a word that rarely crosses the threshold of most peoples’ lips. Especially in America, we are taught from a young age that we are empowered people, an empowered nation, from a background of folk who pulled themselves up “by their bootstraps”. In the family that I was reared in, we believed that through sheer willpower a person could achieve success. As I continued to live my life on my terms, I found that I was powerless over just about everything! Because I bumped into so much failure (most of it my own doing), I began to feel ashamed and guilty and quite useless. What was wrong with me? God had blessed me with an intelligent mind, a healthy body, and a real zest for life…so what gives? Why am I so completely powerless to achieve happiness or success or just a reprieve from my own empty, miserable condition?
I can’t remember the exact day that the Lord spoke into my heart the following questions, it was more like a slow, steady drizzle that eventually soaked me in Truth: “Can you wake up in the morning and make yourself joyous? Can you make yourself feel at peace? Can you cause yourself by your own will to love another?” I had been brought low so that God could ask me this? As I pondered the questions, I realized that my whole existence had been focused on achieving the rewards of joy, peace, and love. I had failed miserably. I pursued joy through alcohol, through drugs, through sex, by having money and stuff, through trying to please myself. It always ended up with me hurting myself and others…not much joy. I sought out peace through religion, through “getting away from it all”, through (again) drinking, only to realize that no matter where I go, there I am! I could not find peace because I was not at peace. I tried to find love but found myself using others to feel loved…I really, deep-down didn’t love anyone. I only loved so I could feel loved, a completely selfish endeavor that inevitably ended in me hurting, you guessed it, myself and others.
I do remember the day that I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol. That was a glorious day indeed; it was a heavy burden that I had carried around with me for almost 20 years. I could not envision my life without alcohol or drugs. Life was just not enough for me: I was bored without a buzz and the pain of life was dutifully stubborn enough to make me seek a reprieve from its grip. Life to me was not fair or fun for that matter. I really thought I had a mental disorder and was diagnosed as such in my thirties (all bull crap). When I went to my first AA meeting, I heard people expressing the same feelings and emotions that I had been plagued with my whole life. When I was drinking and using, I thought my situation was unique and that no one could possibly understand what I had been through and how I felt inside. I was isolated within myself and was lonely beyond expression or words…but…here were these other folk telling me my story! I’m not alone. Holy cow! “These are my peeps”, I still say to this day. I gladly threw up the white flag and admitted powerlessness because I simply could not imagine life without a means of altering my mood, of quieting the demons, of silencing the pain that tapped on my heart like Chinese water torture. But these people were genuinely happy, and they all expressed the emotions I had dealt with seemingly in unique isolation. I saw the truth. I saw that happiness was truly a possibility if I could admit powerlessness over alcohol and take the next step: Believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. I really liked the wording of step 2…”restore us to sanity”…because, as I stated, I really felt insane, like I had a mental disorder, or like God had made a mistake in my internal wiring. It reminded me of the scene in the movie “Midnight Express” where the young prisoner was placed under the jail in a dark basement with a bunch of others who had “misbehaved”. They all simply wandered in the dark and paced in a circle for hours upon hours. One of the other prisoners approached the main character and said, “We are just defective…In factories, when they make a mistake, they just throw out all the defective ones into a pile”. I really, truly thought that I was defective to the core, that somehow my insanity was genetic or I had picked it up along the way in my life of sin like a bad case of the flu!
As I began to work the steps in the program, I became keenly aware that the whole system is based on Christianity. But not the religious version of Christianity…the Jesus version of Christianity! I had always known that I was missing something. I had read the New Testament in my twenties and came away with something profound; this message was radical to say the least. As I ventured out to get “involved” with other Christians I inevitably ran into churchianity which looked nothing like what I had experienced in the Bible. I made a bad assessment of the situation and said, “I knew it was too good to be true”. It seemed an impossible task to live the Christian life in today’s society, so society had amalgamated the Message to suit modern culture. I found it repulsive and judged God based on His church. But when I found AA, I found brutally honest, “in your face” real people who carried a very radical message: “Submit completely to God or die!” Wow…really? Yes…really. I realized I had died spiritually years ago to the point where I honestly didn’t care whether I lived or died, it really didn’t matter to me one way or the other…that’s how miserable my life had become. I realize now that it isn’t life that makes us miserable, it is quite simply our own selves.
When I met people who took the Bible and Christ’s message seriously, my life changed. FACT: It is impossible to be a Christian by yourself. To try to grow spiritually on your own just absolutely flies in the face of what the Bible teaches; it is by nature an interactive affair. When a person comes to the point of desperation, a radical change is just what the doctor ordered; I jumped into AA with both feet and didn’t give a damn whether I could swim or not. I wanted what these people had and was willing to pay any price for it! I wanted to love God, I wanted to believe that He could restore my sanity, that He could teach me joy and peace and real love, I wanted to have hope for a future of not being in control. I love the line in the “big book” (what us AA people call the actual book entitled “Alcoholics Anonymous”) that says, “God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves”. By the way, at present I attend several awesome churches but my mind-set has been changed. There is reference in the Bible that talks about “renewing the mind” and I have been renewed. What helped me get past all the problems I had with church was the concept that I shouldn’t look at what the church could do for me but rather what I could do for the church…you bring an empowered life into church; you don’t go to church to get empowered…that is bassackwards!
As I sat in an AA meeting today, I heard the phrase, “it is in God’s hands” about a dozen times. The disturbing reality is this: it is only in God’s hands if and only if you place it there! And the reality of the matter is that you can snatch it out of His hands at any moment you want. God is all-powerful, but He has given us the blessing/curse of free will. God will never, never, never, ever, take our will to choose. It is one of the few powers we have…and it is a most sobering power. God will drive the bus, He will be the pilot, He will restore us, will help us, will be our rest only if we place our lives into His hands. This is not a one-time shot. This is not a once-a-week affair. This is a daily act of submitting to Him and humbly asking Him to guide our steps. The Lord’s Prayer does not say “give us this week, our weekly bread” or “give us this month, our monthly bread”…it is DAILY. When someone is new in a program of recovery, or a new Christian for that matter, they give some parts of themselves to God, they submit part of their day, they let God take the “tough stuff” and they feel that the rest is easy enough…OOPS! They let God get them through the tough times and when the storm ceases to rage and beat on their bow, they dismiss God with an arrogant ideology that they can take it from here. Oh, the stories I could tell you! My goodness, the example after example I could share with you of how just ridiculous this notion really is!
God is not, I repeat, not a part-time job. Jesus sums it up quite well as He intimates repeatedly that nothing but 100% commitment is acceptable (not just acceptable to God, but acceptable for us…He thinks as His creation, as His masterpiece and prized possession that you are worth the price He paid…get the difference?). If you don’t remember, read about the rich young ruler, the man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, the dead burying the dead, the blind leading the blind, taking up your cross daily, dying to self daily, and on and on it goes! How a person could read the New Testament and not “get it” is beyond me. I “got it” but didn’t believe it because I knew of very, very few people who actually lived this life of not being in control of one’s own life. I looked around and assumed that it was just philosophically beautiful to contemplate, but impossible to execute! But alas, now I have more friends that live this life daily as opposed to those who don’t …and guess what? The people who “get it” are the most joyful, friendly, hopeful, powerful, loving people I have ever had the pleasure of taking up space with. And oh my God, we laugh and carry on like a bunch of children…and God, I know, is laughing with us. Have you ever known the joy of laughing with God? Let me tell you, it is not to be missed…
So back to the humility part. Humility is the understanding that you can’t get up in the morning and make yourself joyful, you can’t start your day loving others, you can’t somehow “muster up” peace within your soul; but God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The most beautiful part of humility is the blessings that flow like “living waters” when you put your life into God’s hands. Humility is knowing darn well that as soon as you “take the wheel” from God, you will end up eventually in the same place of misery, selfishness, and pride. It is profoundly simple. Yes, it takes practice but we must realize that of all the things worth pursuing in life, this one is worth the price. I don’t talk about humility much; I don’t want even the slightest crack to open up where I say to myself that I have it all figured out. The ultimate insult of pride is to say that you don’t have any! We are all a work in progress, but this much is true: if you take each day with the attitude of giving it to God, then He is faithful. If we pray for this gift, He is more than gracious enough to answer that prayer. We shouldn’t ask God for much; we should just ask Him for more of Him and less of us. So now I have come to understand through God’s grace that I am powerless over everything in my life: I am powerless to be a good father, I am powerless to be a good husband, I am powerless over pride, I am powerless to love others, I am powerless to live a righteous life, I am just powerless. But, the good news is that I know a God that is all-powerful and has waited patiently for me to hand Him the reins! I have one very awesome power though: the power to choose; the power to freely choose to put my life into His hands every single day or to do it on my own. So what are you willing to admit powerlessness over? Do you reserve the right to admit some power, a little power, or much power? How long must we live in this illusion of having control? I am awake now; I plead with whoever reads this to take some good advice: when the Bible talks about humility, it means that God is begging you to give Him all of you…anything less than all of you is simply not enough! It is not a command to bring you into submission; it is the true doctrine of blessing…God can do for you what you cannot…why is that so hard to understand? The path of self leads to a very nasty place, but if we “humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up”. That’s awesome! I like the notion of being lifted up and not being put down.
Forgive me for not giving proper credit to the person who said this, but I love this quote: “Don’t think less of yourself…Just think of yourself less!” Inevitably I wake up in the morning sometimes and feel a little down. When this happens, I run (not walk) to find someone else I can help in any way I can. This recipe works without fail. The love “flows” through us as we measure it out to others; sometimes I feel so blessed and happy, I feel I will explode…but after a while, if I don’t share this hope and joy, it becomes stagnant. The key to keeping anything of value is to freely give it away. That is just how God rolls, and I’m so glad to know that this part of His nature is so readily available and tangible. That God’s heart is so infinitely good is…well…humbling! To sum it up in a phrase: humility is freedom.
May the Lord bless you with a contrite heart,