Monday, September 28, 2009

There’s a Reason They Call It “Working” The Program

(continued from previous post "When Work of Ministry Just Isn't Working"

Some of you may know, I began "working the program" of Al-anon about twenty years ago. I started this work as a result of finding my life and ministry in a pretty bad place. On a regular basis, I read my One Day At A Time, went to meetings, got a sponsor (God blessed me with a good one!) and started working the Twelve Steps.

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

I breezed through this step. That was easy enough and true and apparent. I got it, and I got it immediately. I thought, "This program is pretty good. I can do this."

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than our-selves could restore us to sanity.

This was a little harder. I could get that God was greater than me, but I wasn't thinking clearly at all; I had been trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results, and I wasn't so sure I couldn't take care of things based on my own power of reasoning. I worked at it until I came to realize the crux of my dilemma: either I really, truly believed that God had the power to do this for me or I didn't. I decided God had the power to restore me. After all, isn't that the meaning of redemption? It took me several hard weeks of work to fully accept this truth.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Now here was an embarrassing problem. I'm an ordained priest! I could do theology, talk theology, preach the Gospel, read Holy Scripture, lead the Eucharist, and do all manner of priestly things. But I wasn't sure I was ready to turn my "will and my life over to the care of God." Especially, I wasn't sure I wanted to submit to the God that I understood at this particular time of my life.

And so here it came: the dark night of the soul. Here was that moment when a man decides what he is made of. Here is the moment when he decides what he really believes. As any good procrastinator will tell you, you can stretch some things out pretty far. My avoidance of this step, led to my whining about the step, which led to my deepest sorrow over seeking God who seemed to have abandoned me. My sponsor listened to me. My sponsor talked with me. My sponsor allowed me to really work this step, to wrestle with it and didn't try to fix it for me.

One night after a particularly difficult meeting followed by one-on-one time with my sponsor, I went home, sat on the red couch and poured out my trouble to my wife, JoAnne. JoAnne said, "You need to get out of this house and its distractions. You need to leave the comfort of this couch and go up to the church. You need to pray and sit with God until you get this soul work done." So I said, "Ok." I couldn't really argue, and it was a good idea. I went to the Church. I entered this holy space and I prayed. I prayed on my knees. I prayed sitting down. I cried. I talked to God. I yelled. I was quiet. I was quiet, some more.

Coming Up: After the Darkness ...

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball