Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
I have been aggressively independent since the age of three. I don’t want to paint this as an exclusively negative trait. It has empowered me to set out on my own and take risks I would have otherwise been too afraid to take. There are many situations in which it has served me well, but there are some in which it is an unwelcome guest.
For example, it’s cool that I can lift heavy stuff (see “Farm Strong”). I don’t necessarily need to call a burly dude any time I need to carry a heavy box hither and thither. And yet when I do so much on my own, I start to get this feeling that I can and should be able to do absolutely everything without help from anybody. Even God. If I never need to ask for help, then I am not bound to anybody. I am not indebted. I am not vulnerable.
I’m also alone.
I have found myself in this zero-sum game, in which I am both winner and loser, off and on for much of my life. It is healthy and necessary to ask for help. And yet, I don’t want to be needy and I loath the idea of being dependent. I don’t even like taking medication habitually. There is, of course, a flaw in this logic. I know it. You know it. I am simply not capable of doing everything on my own. And yet there is something in me that says if I just try a little harder, I’ll get it next time. If I just think about the problem a little more, I’ll be able to figure out the perfect solution.
I’ve been wrestling with this inclination for some time, particularly with regard to my faith. It is interesting that grace and mercy are constantly available to me, and yet I am often reluctant to accept. There are days when grace feels like a gift and others when it feels like it has to be a scam. Richard Rohr writes, “Honestly, it takes major surgery and much of one’s life to get head, heart, and body to put down their defenses, their false programs for happiness, and their many forms of resistance to what is right in front of them” (Breathing Underwater).
My church just started a sermon series on Exodus. This past week, the senior pastor talked about the parting of the Red Sea. If you’re unfamiliar with the passage, the Israelites have just been released from slavery under the Egyptians. Once they have left, Pharaoh has a change of heart and gathered up his army to go after the Israelites. They are stuck between Pharoah’s army and the Red Sea with seemingly no way out. The Israelites are afraid, and they start yelling at Moses, “Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would be better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:12). Why would they respond like this? Didn’t they want their freedom? It would seem that they wanted the comfort of what they knew and understood, the comfort of the way things had been for generations, even though the freedom they were being offered was far better. The pastor explained, “It took 4 days to get Israel out of Egypt. It took 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel.”
Moses replies by telling them not to be afraid. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex 14:13). Then God does the impossible. He parts the Red Sea, and they walk across on the dry land. They thought their options were servitude or death. And yet, here was a third option they couldn’t have imagined.
I like the phrasing of the second step, “Came to believe.” It reminds me that faith is not a one and done deal. In the moments when I question, when I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to live in servitude to my own ego than give up my sense of control, this story and this step reminds me that perhaps there is a third option. Thomas Chalmer said, “…the most effectual way of withdrawing the mind from one object is not by turning it away upon desolate and unpeopled vacancy, but by presenting to its regards another object still more alluring” (The Expulsive Power of a New Affection).
Maybe God is better than I imagined. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to admit I can’t fix everything in my life and the world by sheer force of will. Maybe “fixing” isn’t even the point.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, check out the resources on the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or call this National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
What do you think?
Leave a comment below or use my contact page to shoot me a message. Looking to join the conversation? Sign up for my newsletter to get an exclusive, thought-provoking message from me every other Wednesday plus recommendations for content I think you’ll love.