I am a failed pastor. I had a moral failure. To most of you, that is shocking, and yet, to most of you there is always a part of you that knew that I was a failure. And I am owning up to it, finding myself again, and am working through the wreckage that this moral failure caused. I walked in, for the very first time, on February 18th, Alcoholics Anonymous (maybe I’m not so anonymous?) and sat down, unsure exactly of what the format would be or how I would introduce myself when the ‘famous in movies’ introductions were made.
I walked into the room, unsure, unsteady, unstable. I need help and this is a last ditch effort.
There were clearly two leaders seated in the front of the room. One of them rang a bell and started the meeting with a moment of silence for the still struggling alcoholic. Then the serenity prayer was prayed. The liturgy of an AA meeting had begun. For the next several months, I would grow to enjoy this cantor of reading that was predictable, reminding, and unsettling, all at the same time. At the end of the reading of the 12 steps and a reminder that we cannot and will not recover, if God doesn’t help us, one of the leaders asked if there was anyone at the meeting for the very first time with 24 hours of sobriety. I raised my hand tentatively, knowing that this would be the very first time, in any group that I would share with others the depth that I had fallen. The leaders asked for my name. I answered with a shaky and unsteady voice…
“I’m Chris….” My voice trailed off…”And I’m an alcoholic.” There, I said it. Out loud, for all to hear. The leader invited me up to the front of the room, and I received my 24 hour ‘desire’ chip and the meeting continued. The group clapped for me as I sat down. For the next several months, these words would be a staple in my language. My identity began to change and morph into something that was clearer than anything I could have ever imagined. My life was changing before my very eyes, because of this simple phrase uttered in a roomful of strangers.
Anywhere that I have ever been, I have been a stranger. Sure, I knew people’s name, occupation, family members, and even sometimes remembered a little bit about what they had told me the week before. But to say that we were anything but acquainted strangers would be disingenuous . I knew that very few, if any people, really knew me, and I was sure, if they did get to know me, they would not like me. I didn’t like me, so why would others. If I remained perfect for others, at least on the outside, then maybe I could navigate my way through the rushing current of that which is pastoring people. If I could be strong for others, maybe I could teach myself how to do the same. If I could counsel others with ‘wisdom’ surely that was found deeply embedded in me that I could tap in for ‘me’ at some point? I was a stranger to others. They were strangers to me. But even darker, deeper, and by far more scary than any of that was that I was a stranger to me. I didn’t know me. I didn’t know who I was. Who I wanted to be when I grew up, where I wanted to live, how I wanted to live. This led me to continue to just do the next thing that was available in front of me. And as a young man in their early 20’s who is ambitious, I felt as though the world were mine for the taking. There were more than enough hours in the day to do the work of two people, there were more people around me who needed ‘me’ to save them, and there were always ways to impress those that called me their employee. I just had to make sure that I navigated with great precision, because to be found out as a fraud would mean that it would go away. All of it. My wife, my kids, my job, my house, my friends, my car, my everything would go away. I had to make sure that I didn’t fail, that I was perfect for others, and then, at some point to deal with the pain that all of that mask caused me on the inside.
How many days have I gone jetskiing in a row? How many days have I tried to kill that pheasant? How much or how little have I eaten? When is the next euphoric high going to be with the next event or promotion, the next big achievement? I know that I lost count of these things at times. I know that I felt guilty at certain points for the time and energy wasted…But, I always…I always needed more. Always more of whatever it was that made things ‘feel’ better at the time. I needed approval for those things, so even the things that I did in excess were things that were celebrated as ‘family’ things or ‘personal care’ things. I even tricked myself and others into believing that somehow I ‘deserved’ what I was indulging in.
Alcohol. It was the one thing that I could not have. It was one thing that I never really liked or indulged too much in. I mean, I drank a bit in college, but I think most of my friends did as well, and they didn’t end up a drunk. When I first drank, I experienced a different sensation and much quicker than anything that I had tried before. Jet skiing, hunting, relationships. All of these paled in comparison to the depth that alcohol would relieve my inside pain. And I began my affair with the drug. Cunning, baffling, and powerful, it overtook me. I began to day dream about next time I would binge instead of dreaming about the future that I was to live. I began to ponder whether I was an alcoholic. And kept drinking. It drowned pain, caused me to feel like myself, and allowed me to develop an identity that I thought was, at the very least, somewhat developed within me instead of others telling me how and who to be.
And it got me. There is a lot to my story, which is why I am writing away on a book, and there is a lot to the story of God. But I don’t walk away from this particular experience with any sense of pride or arrogance. If I could have experienced what I am experiencing these days, before I ever picked up a bottle of whiskey, I would take whatever that potion would be. But there is no potion. I’m still a failed pastor. But that’s not my complete identity. My identity is in Christ. He is also cunning, baffling, and powerful, but those were just words that I used in idealogy to wow people with what I knew about God. Now I know them to be true. I identify, truly identify, with those that recognize their humanity deeply. I identify with those that have addictions to all sorts of things. I identify with brokenness, loss, pain, and guilt. I identify as an alcoholic, failed pastor. But aren’t we all, at some level, failed humans? Most of the writing I have ever done has ended or concluded with ‘an answer’ to the problem that was posed. The reality is that I don’t know the answers anymore. I only know that I have to take things one day at a time. I have to find solace in the fact that I don’t want to and cannot control the next person, place, or thing that I will encounter. And one day at a time, I’ll make it.
I heard a deep, non theologically ‘accurate’ discussion of sorts in a meeting recently. We were discussing the will of God. There are several atheists present in groups that I attend and I have learned so much from them. It’s generally not that they are so much atheists as they are brilliant. You see, most of the atheists I know are very articulate.
One of them, in this discussion said, “If there is a will of God, I contend that it would simply be to ‘do the next right thing.’”
And with that, I think I’ll pass to one of you. And I’ll take another 24. Because that is the “next right thing.”