There was a time in my life when I thought I was special, that I was unique, and mostly that others could not possibly understand my perspective. I felt isolated with my internal life and was quite sure that nobody understood me. If they did understand me, then they would be able to share with me, and I with them. When you bounce around and off of others growing up, you either “stick” or you don’t. You never really analyze yourself as a child as to why some people become friends and others become outsiders. As you mature, you do begin to analyze your relationships, but inevitably it is the other person’s issue and not your own (insert laughter here) as to why you don’t get along. “I don’t get along with Bob, because Bob is a ____”, or “I don’t hang out with John, because he has an annoying ____”, or “I don’t like Jane because I heard she was ______”.
As my life began to spin out of control, I sank into isolation. I withdrew myself from life and hid in a bottle. Life had been unfair and painful. The people I loved were either dead or estranged. What was the point? The people who were distantly close to me knew something was wrong, but their language was not understandable to me at that time. How could anyone ever know the pain in my heart and the loss of hope to squeeze some meaning out of my situation. I thought I suffered from anxiety, depression, insomnia, alcoholism, addiction, bi-polar disorder, etc. Doctors prescribed antidepressants, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. By the way, when you wash every pill down with a shot of whiskey…it rarely works the way it was intended! Nothing could chase the pain of loneliness and grief out of my hardened heart. I then began to think that something was horribly wrong with me…I was broken somehow: the slightly disfigured sweater that ends up at the outlet mall. I really thought that I was suffering from some strange mental disorder. I was a special, unique, one-of-a-kind reject!
When I spent time locked-up, I saw a whole collection of misfits. They were all broken, but in my eyes…I was still different. These guys are a bunch of stupid losers, I thought to myself. Readers of mine know that it was at this exact moment in my life that my Lord came down to change my life. When my time was about up in jail, I was faced with a choice: go back to my life and rebuild it or go to rehab for another month of my life. I had made a promise to my wife that I would go to rehab if it were offered. I expected that offer to come a lot faster than it actually did. I sat in jail an extra 3 months, just to get a spot in a rehab. That was time that was well spent though: a disciple of Christ entered my life and helped me grow strong in the Word and in the resulting Faith. By the time I was to go to rehab, I really thought I had things under control…I mean, I had rediscovered God! My perspective had changed. I really didn’t need rehab now, but I promised I would go…and so I did.
When I entered rehab, I met a lot more of these broken people who society categorized as needing a “time-out”. I still thought that I was unique, and these others were just really messed up. There was a difference however; I began to feel pity instead of judgment. Poor messed up people, if they could only find God…then everything would be much better. That thought process worked for about a day or so and then I was forced to read a book called Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t need to read this stuff; I had the Bible and that is all I need…right?
Then God reached down to me again and smacked the sh*t out of me! I’m not talking about a subtle urging or a loving nudge; I’m talking BAM!..right upside the head…ouch. This is what I read that spoke to me so clearly that I could not run from the acute shock of Truth that nailed me right between my ears and between my shoulders:
“The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.
What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?
Our actor is self-centered—ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would just behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentment, or our self-pity?
Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.
This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.
When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 60-63)
After I read this, I felt as if someone had pulled a veil back that I was hiding behind. The very next day proved to be even more eye-opening; the next morning was my first group therapy session. I had never been to such an affair and wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen. I had a general idea based on made-for-television movies and Hollywood renditions, but it was beyond imagination. I began to hear my story in the stories of the people around me. All of a sudden, I was on the inside of a person looking out onto myself. It is hard to put into words how vulnerable and yet how free it is to finally see what you have been missing. These people were “confessing their sins” to one another. There was no judgment; there was nothing hidden (or very little); and in almost every situation the “sinner” was confessing my sins! All of a sudden, I wasn’t so special; I wasn’t so unique; I wasn’t ALONE. When my turn came to open up and confess and seek acceptance, I was met with nods and smiles and tears and hugs and ultimately love. God embraced me with the arms of fellow, wounded souls. Amazing!
You see, my fellow believer, we cannot be whole without each other; even if you pray 20 hours a day and fast for a week, God can only take you so far…then you have to take steps of faith. You have been prepared for this moment: to learn about yourself through the mirror of others. To step out in faith and lay it all on the table…that is what ultimately brings us into divine love and defines us in that love. To find God in another’s story, to hear His voice in the tears of one broken, to share things that are personal, to express your heart to another human being that completely understands your pain and your passion. Love cannot be kept unless it is given away; but we hide it and cover it and are sometimes ashamed of it and consider ourselves weak to show it. Take it from a man who the Lord started over with…you cannot understand your Savior until you see His face in another.
I made lifetime friends and brothers and sisters that month, and wouldn’t trade that experience for all the riches on this planet. For nothing is as precious as truly understanding God’s love for each and every one of us…because by loving another and seeing their heart exposed is no less than receiving God’s love in immediate return.
So, my friends, remember today that you are not that unique, not that special, not that tortured, not that much different than the guy next to you. We all want to be accepted and loved. Jesus accepted everyone who would hear His voice and loved us while we were yet broken…
Now I understand just how important engaging others is. Christianity by Jesus’ definition is a group sport! How can you love someone you don’t know? How can you pour your life into someone who isn’t in your immediate circle? I used to despise going to church. The reason is that I always viewed it as a place where I could get something. My paradigm changed when I realized that it wasn’t what church could give me, but rather how I could give to the church: I could give my friendship, I could offer up my resources to help another, I could offer my Monday through Saturday walk with the Lord as a spiritual strength to the body of Christ. People today have it all backwards and I did as well! One doesn’t go to church to be strengthened; one should bring strength to the church. You don’t put God on a shelf for Sundays, or for Sunday and Wednesday night; God is not a part-time job! We must begin to understand that every reference in the New Testament is DAILY. “Give us this day”, “take up your cross daily”, “today is the day of salvation” are all references to a daily, spiritual walk. If I can get out of myself long enough, I can see that Christianity is about what can I do for another…not what can you do for me! But alas, our post-modern worldview is in complete contrast to this notion…we are consumers! But God wants to consume us with His love, and then allow us to share that consuming love with others…not at all an unreasonable request. So now I go to where Christians and non-Christians are assembled at every opportunity, looking for someone in need of comfort, hope, faith, or love. Sometimes I need these things as well, and in an assembly of loving Christians you are sure to find as much love and comfort as you could possibly need! Don’t get me wrong, churches aren’t perfect…but neither are you and I. You cannot judge a church by a visit or two and say, “Well I didn’t like the preaching” or “the worship isn’t my cup of tea” or “so-and-so is a hippocrite”…the fact is, there are always incredible people who love the Lord within EVERY church from here to China! You must allow the Lord to help you “flush-out” the true disciples of His. Friendships will be forged, burdens will be loosed, judgement will be replaced by empathy, and most of all you will never feel alone and isolated again!
Oh, that God would enrich your life! Live in freedom my friends and not in bondage! Praise your Savior with the highest of praise by approaching the one that hasn’t been approached and giving them love as if you would love your most beautiful King! And you will see that what I speak of is true and everlasting and life changing and most of all brings glory to the One that laid His life down in submission for His love for you.