"Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously." (Alcoholics Anonymous, "We Agnostics," page 45)Coming home on the Metra train late last night, I sat across from a young boy and his grandma - and as we rode together, I couldn't help but overhear their conversation. It seemed they were coming home after a day in the city, and while Grandma looked "done," the 10-or-12-year-old was still ready to go. In the boy's hands were a set of cards - evidently part of a character- or role-playing game. He was scanning through the cards, and asked, "Grandma, what's 1200 plus 2400?"
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8, NIV)
Grandma roused herself from nearly-napping, and said, "That'd be 3600." The boy's eyes got wide as saucers, and he said, "Wow, Grandma - now that I've got these two cards, I've got thirty-six hundred power points! None of the other players could possibly defeat me. Lookit!"
Grandma looked over, smiled, said, "That's nice," and went back to looking out the window. But the boy kept shuffling through his cards, and said, almost inaudibly, "Man, I wish these cards were real...I mean, really, really real. I wish I had enough power to defeat all of my enemies. I wish I could keep all the monsters away, all the time...."
It was so honest, so real, and so true, it almost brought tears to my eyes.
I really, really identified with that boy.
It would be so nice to be able to do the "Bewitched" nose-twitch (am I dating myself with that reference, or what?) or the Harry Potter wave-of-the-wand and make people disappear - or, even better, do my bidding. There have been many times when being Cyclops (of X-Men fame), and being able to blast certain people or things with my vision, sounded like a real good idea. (It may be just my own quirkyness, but I think there's a hint of of latent power-hunger in the heart of everyone who enjoys sci-fi or fantasy stories. Perhaps it's in everyone...)
It would be nice, in short, to have a permanent, inexhaustible supply of "power points."
But it seems I'm fresh out of power, most times.
The language of recovery and the language of faith are very similar on this, by the way. The first of AA's 12 steps says, "We admitted we were powerless over [insert your compulsion-or-sin-of-choice] - that our lives had become unmanageable." The Apostle Paul is wordier, but no less accurate...
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18(b)-19, NIV)That's why the quote from the AA text is so important to me, on a daily basis - "lack of power" is my dilemma - every single day. Sometimes the monsters are financial - unemployment, under-employment, over-spending, homelessness. Sometimes the monsters are social - loneliness, or shyness. And sometimes, the monsters are internal - guilt, shame, fear...even dementia and loss of reality.
I saw this last monster last night, hearing from two others folks who are having trouble dealing with a mutual acquaintance who is deep into bipolar mania. They described the incessant phone-calls, the repetition of endless yes/no, stay/go questions - and all I could do was nod, sympathize, and tell them that when it gets too much, to cut the rope, as I had to do.
I saw this in my employment situation over the last two years. Many people who have been listening to me since my seminary career ended have heard me agonize about the what's and how's and when's and where's of my next employment - all the while tapping my feet impatiently, waiting for God's perfect timing to appear. It seemed that I was completely powerless to move things along - despite a snowstorm of applications and interviews. All I could do, it seemed, was suit-up-n-show-up, and try to endure day by day.
I see this in the most recent issue of Time magazine - dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of working men and women who have been robbed of their retirement by people who made promises they couldn't keep, profited immensely from them, and are now scrapping pension plans left and right - leaving said hard-workin' folks broke and devastated.
All I know is that the worst times in my life have been when I have tried to muscle through on my own power. As the folks in AA are fond of saying, "After all, my best thinking got me here." And, by default, God's best planning has gotten me places I never would (or could) have imagined.
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)