Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Be strong, and do the work

David also said to Solomon his son, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid of the size of the task, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished. (1st Chronicles 28:20)

One the ways I spend my time is working with recovering alcoholics. It can be a powerfully rewarding and yet maddening task...

I was talking with a guy last night who has been absolutely unable to get more than 7 days sober in a row. He and I were sitting in Wendy's after the meeting last night, and he talked about how useless and hopeless he felt, and how easy it would be to just steal a gun and end his life.

I know the feeling.

I gave him the very best I had - the very best God has given me to share. I talked to him of God's love - how God loves the ones who are otherwise unlovable, how God manages to use scrap material to build mighty tools for his Kingdom. I shared what was shared with me by loving and caring believers and people in recovery.

I don't know if he heard it, though. (I hope he did, obviously.) But that little voice in the back of my head started talking, saying things like, "So why do you even bother? You keep talkin', and people keep getting drunk. And you aren't any richer, or more physically fit, and you have no permanent relationship with anyone and nothing to show. So why even try?"

That's why I keep this passage from 1st Chronicles close by my desk. It was given to us on bookmarks when I started school four years ago, and it's meant the world to me over the years.

The best ministry advice I ever got came from an old coot who told me, "Steve, there are days when the only thing you can do is keep on keepin' on. Not because we're gonna succeed against the darkness, but because we are called to be light that others can seek out. We just never know which kindness we do will end up changing a life forever. So we gotta keep doin' it..."

What he was telling me was simply another way of saying, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work."

Then this morning, an email came to tell the rest of the story. A number of years ago, I met two young men, both aged 24. One was getting out of prison after 7 years for being an accessory to an alcohol-fueled shooting; the other was a just someone that the bottle had washed up, chewed up and spit out. I took a lot of late-night phone calls, drank a lot of late-night coffee, and talked endlessly about God's love and God's claim on their lives. And then I moved away, and never knew the rest of the story.

This morning's email was from the ex-convict - who passed his sixteen-year sobriety anniversary in April. His sober friend will celebrate ten years of continuous sobriety at the end of July, and they will both be speaking to other recovering folks this Friday. Both are fathers, husbands, friends, and loving children of God.

Now, I can't take any credit for that. That's not my doing - that's God's doing. But it reminded me why I keep working with folks, keep giving my life and heart away, even when it seems hopeless.

I'm called to do this, because for a few short weeks or months, I might be the person that someone can hold onto until they can find the inspiration they really need to get the understanding of God's love that can keep them sober. Because someone just might get sober and stay sober, if I can be a light in the darkness for a couple 24-hours. Because I might be one of the paving stones in the road that leads to a ten-year sobriety anniversary for a guy.

I'm not called by God to be successful, or have a 90% conversion rate. I'm called to "be strong and courageous, and do the work." Period.

If I died tomorrow, I would not be a success in the eyes of the world. Financially, materially, in terms of career or family or relationships, I have not done nearly as well as I could have. I am not a vision of physical beauty or desire. All my belongings would fit in a 17-foot rent-a-truck with room to spare - and most of them would mean nothing to anyone but me.

But I'd pray that my epitaph would be in the lives God has allowed me to touch, the love God has given me to share. Love for the outsider, love for the stranger, love for the unlovable. And for so long as I still have breath, dear God, let me "be strong and courageous, and do the work." There's so much of it left to do...

Happy 16th, Jason. Happy 1st decade, Jimmy Lee...

The image is from the Multicultural Mission Resource Center (MMRC) at the Lutheran School of Theology at Philadelphia (LTSP)


wilsonian said...

It's a brave soul who can continue to love on others regardless of what the outcome will be. You are certainly a great example of courage... and let's face it... you are successful in all the ways that really matter (though I'll continue to pray over those other things too :)

Congratulations for risking... So glad you could see the later chapters of those stories :)

Poor Mad Peter said...

I'd say they were twelve-stepping you, Steve man, and isn't that what it's about, being the light?

Tom Scharbach said...

""So why do you even bother? You keep talkin', and people keep getting drunk. And you aren't any richer, or more physically fit, and you have no permanent relationship with anyone and nothing to show. So why even try?""

Steve, while I believe I understand your desire, given your religious bent, to put 12th Step work into a context of higher purpose -- and perhaps you are right -- I would caution you about getting lost in the quest.

The most basic principle of the AA program is that we keep our sobriety by giving it away and only by giving it away, freely, whenever another suffering alcoholic reaches out for help. Giving away what we have been given, without concern for self, is how we stay sober. We have learned from hard experience, collectively and over many years, that folks who do not end up drunk again, sooner or later. It is that simple.

"What freely I received, freely I must give." The principle is an imperative of the program, not a mission of the self.

Michael said...

When a reporter asked Mother Teresa if she didn't get discouraged when she saw how few people she could help when so many were suffering, she said, "God asks me to be faithful, not successful."

Winky said...

I often hear in the rooms to "leave the outcome up to God." Sounds to me like you did that with Jason and Jimmy Lee.

Thanks, and keep trudging.

BentonQuest said...

I'm not a drunk, but your story was a blessing to me today. Thanks!

Michelle said...

Wow. Thanks.

I have been struggling with helping my father. Who has recently been through yet another relapse. I think the frustration and discouragement I have been carrying has been clouding my vision.

That verse is awesome. Keep on....

Ed G. said...

Keep on, keepin'on!

Scott said...

". . . I would not be a success in the eyes of the world. . . materially . . . I have not done nearly as well as I could have."

I've found myself in something of a funk lately, for just that reason. Thanks for the knock on the head, brother. God always knows just how to get my attention.

You're "doing the work," even when you don't realize it.

Blessings on you,
The Jesus Phreak