Over the last year, I've received my fair share of me-too emails, emails in which the writer has reached out to say, "you've wrestled with addiction? Me too." These emails take various shapes and forms--advice from someone ten years ahead of me on this recovery journey, confessions from other addicts on the other side of the screen. This is the beauty of confession--it both invites the wisdom and grace of age, and encourages the lame to take their own first step. Yesterday, I received an email from a reader who shared his pain. He'd come to the conclusion of Coming Clean and decided to stretch back into the possibility of God. He wrote, "my life hasn’t changed at all yet... I still ache all the time... I am still trying to take it in, trying to really believe it all… trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again, maybe just a little…."
Trying to get the gumption--what a line.
These are the confessions that are difficult to field, especially in a relational vacuum, but I did my best. As I closed my response, I typed,
"'trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again...' Maybe this is the trick. Maybe it's intestinal fortitude, and intuition, and a bit of wonder that keeps us holding on, or reaching out (depending on our posture). I think God sees that. I think God is okay with that. In fact, I think God smiles on it."
I clicked send, sat in the silence, and considered my bald assertion.
You may not be a twelve-step disciple, may not attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or a Sex Addicts Anonymous. (To put all cards on the table, you should know I'm not a regular attender.) But even if you've never stepped into a meeting, if you have no disordered attachments or disruptive addictions, even if you've only had passing conversations with true addicts (whatever that might mean to you), don't you have some familiarity with the twelve steps of the Anonymous programs? Don't you at least know the first two?
Step 1: admit you are powerless over your addiction, and that life has become unmanageable in that addition.
Step 2: admit that only a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.
These are the foundational principals of the twelve-step programs designed to beat addiction. And herein lies the problem: even if one believes his life unmanageable, even if addiction, or pain, or our spiritual condition has rendered him powerless, what if he can't quite admit that there is a Power greater than himself? What if belief in God is a struggle at best, and impossible at worst? Is recovery possible?
I'm not here to give you the twelve-step answer to the struggle, or to chide your disbelief. I'm also not here to provide resources for atheist and agnostic twelve-steppers (though they exist). Today I'm writing for a far different purpose; I'm writing to inspire your imagination.
Ask yourself this question: What if I don't believe in a Power great enough to save me from addiction? Consider yesterday's emailer; he was onto something.
There's no such thing as perfect belief this side of the veil. So what if we admitted our doubts, the weakness of our faith, and responded, I'm trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again...? What if that response--imperfect as it might seem--was good enough for our communities of recovery? What if our communities (both twelve-step communities and church communities) made space for doubt, faith, and the gumption in the liminal space between? Wouldn't that be a community of honesty and authenticity? Are there any better weapons against addiction and disordered attachments than honesty and authenticity?
In these recovery conversations, let's make space for the doubt and disbelief. Let's make space for unresolved pain and questions. And instead of giving all the right answers, let's inspire those around us to gumption. Perhaps their gumption is God's gift for the recovery of their faith, for the recovery of their inner-sobriety.
Can you imagine it?
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