As a class assignment during my last year of undergraduate studies I had to attend a public meeting of some kind and observe the interaction of the people present. I decided to attend a local AA Meeting which met at my church in Grand Rapids, Mich. The sights, sounds, stories, and smells are still fresh in my mind today as I take a moment and remember a lesson learned.
The room, like a finished bottle from a previous life, was empty when I entered. Not a lot of time passed before I found myself sitting near the back corner; scanning the room, I was amazed at how many people there were. I was nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I was laughing with my newly formed acquaintances – laughing! What did I expect? To be honest, my biases had gotten the best of me and I expected to hear from low-life, rotten, poor, helpless men. I expected to see the women: slutty, skinny, eyes full of ethanol.
Can you imagine the surprise when my eyes were drawn to a white-collared man? I thought, “Have I seen him around, perhaps at the gas station, filling up his Audi?” The expanse of the room was quickly filled with men and women, delightful – no – thankful to be attending. There were friends, workers, businessmen, maybe accountants, or even church secretaries, teachers, mothers, a twenty year old child. I felt taken back. The thought of laughing never crossed my mind. Nervousness and excitement washed over me as I thought about the prospect of hearing their stories. What was their story?
Well, it was the biggest turn out in a while I suppose, because we separated into two groups; one with all women, the other with all men. The meeting was underway.
Jack began, “Hi, I’m Jack, I’m an alcoholic.” His support resounded, “Hey Jack.” We reviewed the Twelve Steps, read the Preamble, and prayed the Serenity Prayer. I was embarrassed that I had not even fully memorized the three-line prayer. Next order on the table: topic. What was the topic? I couldn’t wait…
Prayer. Bob spoke up, requesting we discuss prayer: how it had affected the other men, how they prayed, and how he can become better. I didn’t notice my mouth dropping, but my stomach was in a knot.
They all had fascinating stories, but one in particular has stuck with me to this day.
Gary was at least seventy. Perhaps he deserved to be older, for the lessons he endured. He drank straight liquor for several years before he was confronted with his “problem.” He denied it, of course. He became suicidal and utterly reckless: driving into trees and off bridges. Sadly, this was not Gary’s rock bottom. Twice he pulled the car into his garage, set up the hoses, rested his finger on the metal electric window button. But, he became too sick, had to back out. Then, he got his hands on a gun. He even managed to slide the smooth barrel into his mouth. And it’s here that Gary says he “fell down.” Right on the bottom of rock bottom. He never pulled the trigger, instead he found a sponsor.
Gary was told to pray to God and to pray hard. He remembered it with ease as the words fell from his mouth. “F— God,” came the response to that advice. He hated God. I could feel it, sitting in that tiled room with my eyes glued to his.
I was reminded of how often well-meaning Christians just want to cover everything up, pretend like life is all bubbles and warmth. He did need to pray, but he also needed physical help. If his name had been Bartimaeus, he would have needed his sight restored, not just a hand on his shoulder.
He never prayed, continued to drink, and ran further and further from the help he desperately wanted. For two years this continued and he soon revisited that dreary place on the bottom. However, this time was to destined to be different. He prayed. And to wake up in the morning, I believe, must have been the best feeling he had experienced in years. Gary came to know God in ways that I cannot fully relate to, because of his journey. But he now lives in conversation with God. It is the only way, he says, an alcoholic will find relief, peace, and love.
Erwin McManus in his book, Soul Cravings noted that, “God is love…To search for love and run from God is maddening.”
I am forever grateful for the story of Gary and the love of God. I am reminded on a regular basis that God is love and all things are possible. Of course, I have also learned the value in remembering that every relationship is a journey. Ours with God’s is no different. Some people choose to take the long way home and it’s not our job to rescue them; only to continue being the body of Christ and living, as Gary came to recognize, in constant conversation with Him.