Today I went to an AA meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous, not American Airlines) to celebrate with a friend who received his 20-year sobriety chip. I celebrate God’s victory in my friend and others around the room. I said a prayer for those who had just begun the sobriety journey and prayed for others who had fought the battle for weeks and regrettably fallen back to their addiction.
One alcoholic asked the question, “Where else can you go in this world and receive this kind of love, acceptance, and not be judged?” They encouraged one another. They loved one another unconditionally. They shared what had helped them get through the program. The success of those receiving chips cheered on others to become free of this addiction. This is what church ought to be.
There was camaraderie in the room. Each opened with a familiar introduction, “Hi, I’m __________. I’m an alcoholic.” There was no pretense. It made no difference if you were a lawyer, banker, housewife/househusband, or living on the streets. Old, young, brown, yellow, or white, we were all the same. The particulars of the journey and life experiences might be different, but the control of alcohol on their lives linked them together.
“Humility is good for the soul,” one member said. Indeed, recognizing our powerlessness to change ourselves is a humbling thing. It was this admission of need, this confession that they were powerless, this calling for help from God and others that was liberating. This is what is missing in many churches. We present the false impression that our lives are perfect, that we are in control, that we have all of the answers. What if we started our Bible studies with “Hi, I’m __________. I’m a sinner. It has been XX days/months/years since I came to trust in Jesus?” I believe this lack of transparency; this failure to humbly confess our sin and sinful nature is what prevents transformation in the lives of those who desire to follow Christ.
Those in AA understand the journey of pain, hurtfulness toward others, and self-destruction that characterizes the addictive life. The drug of choice at this meeting was alcohol. For others of us, our drug of choice may be food, sex, work, drugs, exercise, or religious legalism. Several times the members of this group said that honesty with yourselves and others was imperative for healing. Can we be brutally honest before others about our addictions, or is our judgment of others a means to point the finger away from our own sin?
Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-3 (NIV): “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Jesus was saying, “Work your own program.”
Members of AA rejoice with those who, through a higher power, have overcome. A sober alcoholic said, “If it never gets any better than this, I will have been overpaid.” We clapped our hands in grateful acknowledgment of God’s work in this person. What a statement of grace!
My friend has sponsored several people who courageously battled this addiction and won. Two of those friends were there today–one who had been sober 16 years, another 4 years. This is evangelism.
For more on the twelve steps of recovery, check out: http://www.12step.org/references/versions-of-the-12-steps.html