Not all that long ago, when I was not as well off as I am today, I was in the detox unit at a local hospital. I was recovering from withdrawal and feeling pretty low, both physically and emotionally. But God’s plan for me was developing nonetheless.
I remember a nurse coming into my room and trying to encourage me to think positive. I replied, “It’s no use. I think this is too much for me.” To this she replied, “Don’t say that. It’s not over if you don’t want it to be.”
What I realize now, that I didn’t even want to know then, is that giving up or continuing on is simply a matter of making a choice. And whichever way we choose to go, we have to live with the consequences. It was easy for me to choose to play the part of a victim and feel helpless. But by the grace of God the nurse’s words struck a chord within me.
Psalms 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!”
In other words, that old saying of ‘the Lord works in mysterious ways’ is really true. And one of those ways may be slowly, over time. His ways are not our ways and they may not be recognizable at first.
Give up or move on
When someone gets sick and tired of being sick and tired, they really only have two choices – give up and quit, or do what is necessary to straighten things out and move on. By God’s grace I was able to choose the latter.
Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, my ways.”
I had to let go of my stubborn pride and admit that I had a situation that was not going to get better on its own. All of my less than sterling efforts, I realized, were only making things worse and not really improving anything. Simply asking for help is not the same as actually opening up and taking the help that’s being offered.
As I continued thinking about the words of that nurse, something inside moved me to ask for the hospital Chaplin to come and see me. Seeing as how I am Catholic I was a bit concerned that the Chaplin would be a Protestant minister. I was pleasantly surprised when a Catholic missionary priest from Africa came into my room. He said his name was Father Innocent and he was from Zaire. I asked him to hear my confession and I confessed as best I could, trying hard to tell the truth about everything as I remembered and understood it.
Learning to love God
When I was through, Fr. Innocent began speaking by quoting from the gospel of John, specifically, John 21:15. He said “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Father Innocent then pointed out that it seemed that my main problem was not just one of continuous gluttony when it came to alcohol, but that it just may even involve some form of idolatry as well. In other words, he was asking me if I loved alcohol more than Jesus.
I was confronted with a question that I had never even considered before. Do I love God more, or booze? I thought about which one gets more of my time, my money, my heart and my mind, and the answer was clear. Booze was the clear winner. And so with the help and conviction of the Holy Spirit, I confessed that part of myself that I had never surrendered. I prayed that from then on I could learn to love God above all things.
I left the detox unit and took the advice of those who told me to seek out the fellowship of A.A. and its 12-step program, and not to try to do things on my own. I thought of previous times when I had gone to the meetings but never stayed with it. What would be different about this time? I asked that very question at one of the meetings and the answer was very clear indeed. Someone told me that the reason I had not succeeded is because I had never asked anyone to be my sponsor and help me along. My pride was preventing me from humbling myself so that real help could reach deep down inside and take effect.
Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may eventually become wise.”
And so I finally did just that. I asked someone to help me out and sponsor me and someone did. He is in his late 60’s and has been clean and sober for almost 30 years. He went to college in the late 1960’s and was one of the original people at the famous Woodstock concert in August of 1969, along with everything that that involved. And oh yes, he is also an ordained Deacon in the Catholic Church as well. To say that I was surprised is an understatement. But after hearing his story, it gave me hope to pursue my own.
Since then I have met many different individuals from many different walks of life. I’ve met Catholic priests in recovery, people who once attempted suicide, people who have done time in prison, people who were in serious car accidents, people who have lost everything – homes, jobs, cars, marriages and children – and the list goes on. All of it put together gave me hope and faith that my story could turn out well also. If God can work in the lives of those people, I thought, then why not in my life as well.
Getting out of my own way
Isaiah 54:4 says, “Do not fear, you shall not be put to shame; do not be discouraged, you shall not be disgraced. For the shame of your youth you shall forget . . .”
I have found the words in Isaiah to be absolutely true in my life’s experience. When I got out of my own way and let God light the way, not only did things change for the better, but the old ways went away for good. One day at a time, I began to take on a new identity that made it very normal to be healthy all of the time. To my surprise, I was not confronted with one temptation after another either. I thought I would become strong, but instead I became different.
In the end I experienced a time in my life when I was tempted to think that things were all over, when in reality they were just beginning. Getting to know myself as a sober person who was no longer dependent upon chemicals was a new experience. To my surprise it was also a normal experience.
I understood Jesus as our savior, but as I grew in recovery I began to understand Him in a way that I previously had not. Now I understood Him as Lord, not just The Lord, but my Lord. I realized I was now relying upon a power greater than myself and no longer relying upon just myself. Finally I was doing God’s will, God’s way, instead of trying to do God’s will, my way.
In trying to solve my problems by myself, I was only interested in myself. But God had a better idea. He created a version of me that could be useful to and helpful to others. That is something that I had never envisioned for myself before – actually caring about God working inside of me to reach other people. The recovery and light that are in me can be visible to and attractive to whomever God wants to reveal it to.
It says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
I can look back on all that I have gone through – hospitalizations, arrests, financial troubles, family troubles, operations and the recuperations, and much more – and see how in the end, God put it all behind me when I put Him ahead of me. Falling down may be an accident, but staying down is a choice.
As much as I wanted to plan my own life, God had a way of surprising me with unexpected things. God’s plan for me made me happier than I could have planned on my own. I call this God’s will. It worked for me and will work for others if they will only reach out, let go of fear and doubt, and trust in Him.