by Aaron Alford
photo by Sergei Sklyarov; photosight.ru
Alcoholics are some of the coolest people I know.
Last Sunday, I was happy to attend a church service where someone shared with refreshing honesty about their journey of grace through alcoholism and recovery. Their story did not come in the form of a radical testimony of ‘getting saved’ (they were a Christian for years before they stopped drinking), but it was an incredible testament to the grace and mercy of God. The story was told with no fanfare or drama, but with a simple, matter-of-fact honesty.
There’s something incredibly freeing to hear someone tell a story that way, and at the end of the service, I felt truly refreshed. Humility has a way of doing that, of refreshing you, and it’s very freeing to spend time with a truly humble person. I’m not talking about the “ah, shucks” kind of humility that gets rosy cheeks when given a compliment. I’m talking about the unforced, quiet honesty of someone being his or her true self. This kind of humility doesn’t need theatrics to be revealed, but reveals itself simply, as one messed-up human being to another. This kind of humility is the kind that can say quite simply, “Yep. I’m an alcoholic,” in the same easy manner in which someone might say, “Yep. I’m Canadian.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I tend to think of my sin and my sinfulness as something unique, even spectacular; something to be guarded closely, something strictly between me and Jesus. But when someone shares their own failings with simple, plain-jane honesty, I’m reminded I’m nothing special. My sin is no more spectacular than the next guy’s. It’s serious, yes. It deeply injures my relationship to God and people, but it’s not unique. There’s no need for me to think of myself as a particularly skillful master of the Seven Deadlys, wallowing in a pseudo-spiritual self-loathing that tries to pass itself off as repentance. I may be the chief of sinners, but I’m a chief among many. We’re all broken, and we all have shame, and we’re all afraid to admit it. When I’m reminded of that commonality, the shame feels a lot less shameful. I confess my sin and my mistakes more easily, and receive grace to walk on all the more simply.
If you’ve never been to an AA meeting, I highly recommend attending one at least once in your life. I am not an alcoholic, but I had the great honour of attending an AA meeting with a friend several months ago. I finally understood why folks who attend these meetings always say they wish Bible studies could be more like AA. It was one of the most refreshing gatherings I’ve attended. It was one hour, strictly one hour, and various people were called upon to share about how they were doing. Here’s why alcoholics are so cool. Because of the nature of the group (and probably also because of the time limit: no rambling!), there was precisely zero percent B.S. No one was trying to be “careful” with their words. Their stories were peppered with salty language, but sometimes such is the price of honesty. People shared with absolute candor their thoughts, their struggles, their frustrations, and their need for grace. Interestingly, this made the thankfulness they expressed for the grace of sobriety ring even more deep and true. When you know your need for mercy, you’re all the more thankful to have received it.
I left that meeting with the same feeling of freedom that I felt at the church service last Sunday. I felt free to be honest, free to confess my failings, and free to receive the grace I so desperately need. The devil loves a secret, and he’s terrified of truth. He likes to make us think our sin is so great, so horrible, that it must never be confessed to another human. He tells us this and we believe it, because it’s all about “just Jesus and me.” And we wonder why we stay trapped in the same cycles of sinful behaviour. Well, guess what. “Just Jesus and me” is about as unbiblical as idol worship. In the New Testament, confession of our sins to God is never far removed from confession of our sins to another human.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” -James 5:16.
Perhaps we can look at it this way. If you want to be forgiven, confess your sins privately to God, and he will definitely forgive you. But if you want to be healed, to actually receive the grace to change these sinful patterns, you’re gonna need to confess your sins to your brothers and sisters. It’s one of the many reasons the Father gave us the gift of a Church.
Anyone in AA knows exactly what James is talking about. Yes, sometimes confession needs to happen with great wailing and many tears, but it can also be as simple as stating the way things really are. “This is who I am. These are my struggles. I need God’s grace.”
Now here’s the cool thing. When I embrace that kind of humility, that kind of off-the-cuff honesty, I can help set other people free, too. My humility becomes a conduit for someone else’s freedom! How incredible is that! I can be the reminder to someone that their sin is not unique, and that God is uniquely graceful.
When we come together in his name, Jesus has promised to be there with us. In that Divine Presence, it is our humility, our willingness to be completely honest with ourselves, our family and our God, which makes a kind of receptacle for grace. There can be no B.S., because we’ll never know true freedom until we know true humility. Grace just can’t fit into anything less.