Many of you know that two years ago this week I acknowledged my addiction to alcohol and began living in recovery.
I carry a pocket medallion as a reminder of the grace I have received in recovery – grace far beyond my imagining. Most days, I have a sense of living in what a friend calls “the oasis” and AA refers to as “a daily reprieve … contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).
My prayer life, my practice of the Daily Office, the teaching I do and the conversations I have with colleagues and friends – all of it has been reinvigorated by what the Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr calls in Breathing Under Water the “coded Gospel” of the 12 Steps.
You may not realize, though, that stopping drinking was only a small part of the work that I have had to do in recovery. In addition to the medallion in my pocket, I also wear a bracelet around my wrist, one of the last things I bought without my wife’s knowledge before losing my job.
My addiction to spending and to indulging myself has been much, much harder to deal with – it’s the same struggle alcoholics face when they can’t stop thinking about their next drink.
You lack one thing
I think I know a little bit about how the “rich young man” felt after he found Jesus.
A man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments …. “ He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
You lack one thing …. you have many possessions.
Here’s where I think the rich young man realizes what the living God asks of each one of us. The living God asks for all of us.
The young man is looking for inspiration, but Jesus, who loves him, points to the one thing that really keeps him from God – the wealth he cannot imagine doing without.
“When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving.”
What a state he must have found himself in:
If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face! (Job 23:8-9,16-17)
The Almighty has terrified me
In our Old Testament lesson, Job has lost everything, and he does not yet have the answer that will help him remain faithful to God. The Almighty has terrifed him, and Job doesn’t yet understand that God loves him.
In the meantime, his friends and his wife, as Fr. Ralph reminded us last week, are giving him conflicting (and bad) advice. They can’t help him discover either God’s love or the one thing he lacks.
Unlike Job’s companions, however, my wife and my friends have given me good advice and steady support.
Their willingness to share love and to confront me about the things I lack has helped me do the hard work of staying steady in recovery.
- A dear friend made sure I was “fearless and thorough from the very start” in admitting my failings.
- A fellow deacon in another diocese helped me admit I needed to go to AA meetings and – laughing at how upside-down I had it – helped me understand that sobriety was an oasis, not a burden.
- The first boss I had after losing my job, who has been sober for several years, gave me his 3-month sobriety medallion when I reached that milestone myself.
- The guys in the Thursday morning breakfast and Bible study group here at St. Thomas drew me into their circle of support.
- And my wife has cheerfully accommodated my being home and underfoot after nearly 10 years on the road, encouraging my new habits and being patient with my stumbling.
My recovery – my new faith in this “coded Gospel” – really is something I have to work at every day. But what I have to work at most is not to do with drinking, but with spending money.
It’s a Pendleton, you idiot!
Sitting on the sofa watching TV one night a few months ago, I was in jeans and my favorite flannel shirt, and I thought “I really like this shirt; I should buy another one.”
A couple beats later, after that thought went away, a new one came in. “You’re an idiot; that’s a Pendleton shirt. It’ll last for 100 years. You’ll be dead before it wears out. You don’t need another one.”
Contentment is weird.
People in recovery are more used to being “restless, irritable, and discontented” (Big Book xxviii).
But when you’re content, it’s like you can just be, and everything is all right. Perhaps eternal life is like that – just being with God, living in an oasis.
What must I do?
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” asks the rich young man, who probably had several shirts.
Jesus loves him, and says, “You lack one thing … get rid of the thing that’s keeping you from God, whatever it is. Give it away entirely, and you’ll have treasure in heaven.”
For me, giving away my desire for a drink and giving away my desire to buy more things have together led me back to Jesus and to “a faith that really works in daily living” (12and12, 43).
What is the one thing you lack?
What might Jesus, who loves you, point to in your life? What’s the one thing that keeps you from God?
Is it money?
Food? Anger? Gossip?
Is it drinking or drugs or politics or something equally addictive?
Is it approval or being right or getting your way?
What are you holding onto so tightly that you can’t receive the treasure of heaven?
Give it away entirely, and enter the oasis!
Speaking of oases
The story of the rich young man reminds me of another favorite story, this one not from an oasis but from the Desert Fathers of 3rd century Egypt:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”
Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “Why not become totally flame?”
What’s the one thing you lack? What’s holding you back from God?
Why not give it away in order to find a faith that works, in order to find contentment?
Why not become totally flame?
Why not give it away entirely, and live now in the oasis with God?