This week has been a hard one for our family. After the 4th of July, we crashed and burned from the late night celebrations and firework-interrupted sleep. Emotions and fits were at an all time high…and I’m not just talking about the kids. 🙂 Yesterday, Gideon in a furious fit of hurt feelings, marched into his bed at 4:30 and slept till 7 this morning. I don’t really know what or who hurt his feelings, but I know if was a part of some game that was intended to include him. Whatever it was that offended him wasn’t a part of the plan or design of the game. If only all of our changes to plans or unintentional incurred hurts were followed by 14 1/2 hours of recovery rest! This morning he was a new little man, full of politeness and patience. Because I am not a 5-year old with a still very self-serviced level of responsibilities, I’ve had to find other ways to cope. Life is full of sin and hurt and emotion and confusion and on and on. It seems to never stop. As soon as we recover from one dramatic event (or sometimes not even recover) another something happens to stir up our emotional stew pots. Maybe I tend to make my life dramatic and experience life with too much emotion. Even if I that is the case, having healthy ways to cope with my weakness to emotions would be very helpful. Because I can’t just march to my room and sleep until a new day arrives, I’ve got to figure out how to manage situations and emotions so that I can keep functioning in a way that is pleasing to God–so when I am hurt, I don’t end up emotionally hurting my kids. When I am sad, I don’t make others sad. When I am sinning, I don’t cause others to sin.
I am hoping as I write, that I am not the only one who struggles with this need for a 14-hour nap every now and then, or with the desire to find a more reasonable option. Part of the goal of Family Rehab was to take time out to have an extended period of recovery as we pass from one thing to the next in life. But, now that rehab is over, the 14-hour nap is not an option. The new day has come and now we ask the questions that will hopefully lead us to more realistic ways to function and cope. I do know that it’s nearly impossible to do it alone. Which leads us to the next step in our 7 step series for Life After Rehab…
Step 5: Find a Support Group.
“Drug rehab programs often utilize support groups, including Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, as programs like this can boost a feeling of affiliation and help people to achieve and maintain sobriety. When rehab is over, it can be tempting to skip meetings in favor of talking with family and friends on an informal basis, but attending support groups could provide benefits that casual talks cannot. In a support group, people are still learning about addiction and they’re tapping into a network of people who have dealt with their own addiction issues. They have a robust roster of people to talk to, and a goal to work toward. The meetings can be inspirational, and they can allow the person to say things that the family simply might not understand. In other words, meetings shouldn’t be skipped” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).
So there isn’t a Family Rehab Anonymous support group that meets on a weekly basis. (I checked.) However, there is a weekly gathering of people who are dealing with a myriad of their own weaknesses and issues. It’s called the church. A Sunday morning gathering of believers provides everything that the above secular resource describes in a support group. At a high school reunion (an undisclosed number of years ago), this similarity was pointed out to me by a friend. When she heard that my husband was a pastor, she went on to say that church is just like her running club, a group centralized around a common interest. Yes, it’s true, being a part of the Body of Christ gives a feeling of affiliation. We are all sons and daughters of the King, right? But it is much deeper than mere affiliation or interest. We’ve all been purchased by the same blood. On a Sunday morning we go beyond a social gathering with family and friends and learn together about our addictions to sin and the constant battle against our flesh. There is a “robust roster” of fellow strugglers, fellow sinners, and fellow saved. Our goal and struggle as believers is to actually receive the grace that is offered to us so freely. Church is not just a social club, or at least it shouldn’t be.
Worship obviously can be inspirational and being in the safety of others can allow us to say things about our struggles and talk about grace in a way that the rest of the world seems to avoid or redefine. The benefits of being a part of a church community are deep and plentiful. “In other words, meetings [Sunday worship] shouldn’t be skipped.” As we continue to make the transition out of a year of rehab, we will commit to being in a community of fellow Jesus believers. For us, this goes beyond Sunday morning worship and our commitment is to also be a part of a missional community or house church, or whatever you want to call it. We plan on being a part of a smaller group of believers who do life together and share in the daily struggle to live in honesty and under grace. This smaller group can provide connection with others and the time to be truly known that is sometimes missed in a larger group setting like Sunday morning worship.
Simply going to church on a Sunday morning isn’t the end-all-be-all. Just like Alcoholics Anonymous, there might be a period of time when new attendees just sit and observe in those church pews–and that’s okay. But eventually, you are going to be asked to say your name and tell the rest of the group your story. The same should be true of our churches. I wish I could say that all churches do this as well as AA, but unfortunately, most churches leave visitors feeling awkward, out of the loop, or unwanted. I’ve been privileged to be a part of both small and large churches and the issue shows no bias to numbers or size. In order to be family, as the church should be, we all need to be fully known by the those around us. We have to struggle together verses struggling alone on the side lines as we watch others seem to walk through life unscathed. (Trust me, all of those perfect looking families and people are just as wounded as the rest of us.) AA acts more like the church than most churches. Upon arrival, everyone admits that they struggle and need help. The culture facilitates honesty and vulnerability and the sharing of the deep and dirty.
Below are some of the FAQs from the AA website about their meetings. These questions are probably very similar to the questions asked about a Sunday morning church service. If you are a Christian, please read the answers AA provides to these questions and think about your church…can it answer the same way?
Here are some issues a lot of us worried about before coming to our first AA meeting:
Will I be asked a lot of questions?
No, it’s not like going to a doctor or a health clinic. AA meetings are very informal. Just take a seat and listen to the stories members will tell about their drinking and their recovery. You can talk to people if you want to or just keep to yourself until you feel more comfortable.
Do I have to “sign up”?
No. There’s nothing to sign. If, at some stage you want to join a particular group you just say so. If you don’t want to join any group, that’s okay too.
How much will it cost?
There is no charge for attending an AA meeting. Usually a collection is taken at the end of each meeting to cover the costs of renting the hall and providing refreshments. Only AA members can contribute. There’s no obligation but most people put in a dollar or two.
Do I have to get up and speak in front of people?
The meeting will consist of members telling their stories but if anyone isn’t in the mood to talk, it’s fine to decline. You may be invited to speak but it’s quite okay if you don’t want to.
What type of meetings are there?
By far the most common type of AA meeting is called an ID meeting. Members just tell their stories of what they were like, what happened and what life is like for them now. There are also Steps meetings where AA’s 12-Step program of recovery is discussed in detail. There are also various other types of discussion meetings.
Who goes to AA meetings?
You’ll find all sorts of people at AA meetings. Men, women, young, old, well off and not well off.
Are visitors at your church bombarded with lots of questions? Are visitors at your church hounded to “sign-up” and hand over their contact information? Are visitors at your church asked to open their wallets before they are asked their name? Are visitors at your church asked to talk or do something that they might not be comfortable with or ready for? Does your church only have one method or meeting for connecting and teaching? Does your church give opportunities to ask deeper questions and for deeper sharing? Does your church provide opportunities for people to share their stories, or are they only coming as observers of a show or ritual? Does anyone even know your story? Do you know the story of the people sitting in the pew next to you? Who goes to your church? Do you all look the same? Do you all fit in the same age-group? Do you all fit in the same socio-economic circle?
Hopefully, this challenges how we “do” church and what we think about the church if we’ve never been. I recently read an article written by a man who reflected on his first visit to AA and the way his visit challenged his preconceived notions about the organization and its gatherings. He was met with friendly people who were interested in his story. He was met by a man who naturally and unobtrusively shared his story with raw honesty. He expected to see either drunks who were slipping out of their chairs onto the floor, or recovering alcoholics who were better and stronger than him. What he found were people who all knew and publicly acknowledged that they were weak and powerless to save themselves, that they needed someone bigger than themselves. They shared their weaknesses and the victories in the continued struggle.
Does your church publicly show its weakness? Do the people in the pews hide their struggles, or come together as a people who are all willing to publicly admit their need for someone larger than themselves. Do visitors at your church see fellow imperfect strugglers or merely people of perfection?
These AA questions lead me to ask another set of questions: What is the intended goal of your church? Is that obvious to the outside world? The intended goal of AA members is to help lead others to a life of sobriety as they have done themselves. Alcoholics Anonymous states on it’s website that it “is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” It’s out of love that we want others to know what we know and experience what we have experienced. It has to be both of those, by the way. If our desire to share Jesus comes only from a place of “knowing” then we are self-righteous know-it-alls. If we only share Jesus’ love because we have only experienced it, then we are seen as brain-washed, uninformed, and unintellectual nitwits who don’t know any better. It doesn’t matter what order we do it in. Saul knew a whole lot before he experienced Jesus and his grace first hand. The disciples experienced Jesus first and didn’t understand anything he said until after his resurrection.
We have to understand that our goal is to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel and this is because we believe in and have experienced the freedom and relief that comes by receiving His unmerited grace. If our goal is to gain numbers for global domination, we’ve got it all wrong. Like the AA member, we gather and don’t skip our meetings because we know what it feels like to be addicted, to struggle, and to be in need. We know what it’s like to feel lost, hopeless, and overwhelmed. We know what it’s like to feel guilt and shame over our failures and the hurts we have caused others. And we know what it’s like to be freed from all that. We know what it’s like to be loved despite our worst. We know what it’s like to be accepted and valued, despite the deepest transgression. We know what it’s like to be challenged through trials and temptation, but to come out on the other side full of hope and peace. We know what it’s like to walk in sobriety. It is because of that freedom and the knowledge and wisdom that comes by the Holy Spirit, that we desire all those hurting and struggling around us to join us. We seek to support, love, and encourage one another. It’s important to stay connected and involved in this supportive group called “the church” and to increasingly challenge each other to hold fast to the goals and reasons for it’s existence. We can’t do it alone.
The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians about his role within his “AA support group”, the church. Let it be an encouragement and an example for those of us who are seeking to walk a life of sobriety.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” ( 1 Colossians 1:24-29).
Jesus is at work in us. The mystery of Christ in you delivers great riches and amazing strength. Don’t skip your meetings with Him and with others who He is working in. Be an encouragement to the Body of Christ, and let the body encourage you. If you are a Christian, remember how you have been rescued by His love and grace. Remember to share that and extend the same love to others. (It might be their first time to see if Christians really mean what they say, or if they are hypocrites.) Be fully known and vulnerable and see the love of Jesus cover over any weakness or failure. His support, love, and acceptance will only encourage your walk in sobriety. When suffering or trial comes, know that there are likely others going through the same difficulties. Find them, seek them out, and be honest. Put aside all preconceived notions and test the waters of vulnerability and community. It’s not a 14 1/2 hour nap, but it can be just as restful, refreshing, and reassuring.