Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
The stinging pain of the needle repeatedly poking into my skin had dulled. After the first ten minutes, it had become a temporary unpleasantness between me and my third tattoo. My friend Abby sat near me in "The Iron Rose," a tattoo shop in Tampa, Florida. It is apparently a new tradition when we are together, me getting a tattoo, as she and I had ventured together to a mall on the outskirts of ChangMai, Thailand where I got my second tattoo. The timing for each was practical. In Thailand, I paid the equivalent of 50 USD for what would have easily been a $100 endeavor in the states. In Tampa, I avoided being charged almost double for the privilege of being tatted up in New York. What a town.
The trip to Tampa had been somewhat spontaneous. I was in Grand Rapids at my very first writer's conference. It was the end of April and, in true Michigan fashion, an ice storm grounded every plane and trapped us in the airport for 12 hours with the empty promise of take-off times that would never happen. When the voice over the intercom finally admitted that our flight was cancelled and we would be booked on flights the next day, I called Abby to see if I could crash with her. It was during this unplanned time that she suggested I spend a week with her and some family at their beach house in Tampa.
The tattoo was somewhat spontaneous as well. When I booked my plane ticket, I reasoned that if I was going to get another one, Tampa seemed like a better place than New York from a cost stand point. If the stars aligned and I found a good shop with an artist I liked and could come up with a design, might as well. I googled "best tattoo shops in Tampa" and found a list. After looking through the websites, I found the right man for the job.
We arrived at the shop and I showed him my derpy drawing/approximation of what I wanted. He googled "Ebenezer stone" and sketched a few options. We went through the fonts until I found the line between messy and legible that I was looking for. Not fifteen minutes later, I was lying face down on the table being stabbed repeatedly by an inky needle.
I first learned what an Ebenezer was at a youth retreat called Happening, outside the context of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, of course. Ebenezer means "stone of help," and comes from a story in the Old Testament. I'm not going to get into it here. If you want to read it, head to 1 Samuel 7. The story is bananas. Basically, the stone was set up as a marker, a reminder to remember how God had helped in a particular situation. As someone who hates asking for help, I need the reminder to remember everything that has been done for me, that God is trustworthy.
That being said, I do a fair bit a gripping to God about how he's not coming through for me on any number of issues. I don't know why God doesn't recognize that my time table is the best one. Something about God being omniscient, I guess. It's interesting, though, if I'm only going to God to complain, or demand something, or as a last resort, am I just treating God like a vending machine or a genie?
Step 11 guides its participants to improve their conscious contact with God, focusing more on God's will than our own. This is a totally different practice than asking God for what we want. I will say that is an important type of prayer, but prayer has more potential than trying to get God to give us what we want. Richard Rohr writes,
For many, if not most, Christian believers, however, [prayer] became a pious practice or exercise that you carried out with the same old mind and from your usual self-centered position...Prayer was something you did when you otherwise felt helpless, but it was not actually a positive widening of your lens for a better picture, which is the whole point. (Breathing Under Water, pg 95)
I spend a lot of time on my own. This is great for introverted me. But it also means I spend a disproportionate amount of time in my head. And what comes along with too much time in my head? Tunnel vision. I get so focused on what I think God owes me I forget to look for what God has already given me. Not only that, I am limited in how I believe God will answer my prayers. I can't imagine any scenario other than the one I have come up with, and so when it doesn't happen, I am disappointed.
There are, of course, times in our lives when we will be more needy and petulant than others. God isn't surprised by this. In fact, Steps 4-10 focus on becoming more honest with ourselves, our needs, and the harm we have caused. But think back to steps 1-3. We admit we are powerless, come to believe that God could restore us, and make a decision to turn our lives over to God. Asking for help is the catalyst for all of the other steps. But traveling through those steps, we arrive at a place of greater maturity when we are ready for more, and God is ready to show us more. One of the nice things about the steps is that they allow for relapses and derpy moments. In recovery, you're never really done with them, whether you go through them repeatedly or it takes you years to master a single step.
There are countless stories in my life where God has come through for me in ways I could have never imagined. Having a friend in Grand Rapids when I was stranded by a freak ice storm who was able to host me in spite of a hectic work schedule then invited me to Tampa, for example. And yet, it is absurdly easy for me to forget. It's easy for me to start to think I am above God's help. But in the moments when I have the audacity to believe that God is exactly what God claims to be, that God might even love me and want the best for me, my picture of what is possible broadens. And I remember.
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)
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