We had an interesting visitor to our church office not long ago. A man fresh out of jail because of a DUI arrest stopped to ask for help. His truck was impounded and he needed a ride to his home, which was in a nearby city.
Later that afternoon, I drove him to his home about thirty miles away. On the way, we stopped by and picked up some belongings from his truck, including a cell phone, which had no more battery life or minutes. Since he did not know the number, he was unable to call his employer and tell him why he had not come to work for two days.
The ride gave us time to talk about alcoholism and the high price one pays for the grip it has on the mind and the body. It also gave us time to talk about issues of faith.
Joe, not his real name, professed to be a believer in Christ, but he felt that his addiction to alcohol had defeated him. “My one redeeming quality,” he said, “is that I am a hard worker. I do good work when I’m not around alcohol.
We talked about his journey and I discovered that he maintained three years of sobriety when he was working a twelve-step program through Alcoholics Anonymous. He said, “After a while I didn’t think I needed to go any more so I quit. It’s a strange thing,” he said. “It’s when you start doing really well that you’re most at risk because that’s when you let your guard down and you fool yourself into thinking you have things under control.”
Then he brought God into the conversation. He said, “I have prayed to God over and over to take this desire away from me so that I will not drink anymore but it’s still there. Why do you think God hasn’t answered my prayer?”
That was a good question. I thought a second and I responded, “Well, maybe you are praying the wrong prayer. That would be like me going to a brothel and praying, “Lord, please take away my desire to look. I mean, what’s God supposed to do to keep you away from the alcohol?” He said, “I guess he’d have to chop off my legs.”
That brought a chuckle from both of us.
Well, his legs didn’t get chopped off but he did lose his wheels and that was enough to get his attention.
I asked him if he had a sponsor if he would start attending A.A. again and he said he would. So I encouraged him to pray for God to help him find his way back to people who would help keep him accountable for his actions, people who understood the temptations he faced, people who could help restore his sense of self-worth.
I don’t doubt that some people have lost their desire to drink and that some even attribute that to God answering their prayer. However, I imagine that the greater number of alcoholics have relapsed more than once, and like Joe, have struggled to look at themselves in the mirror because they lack any self-respect or don’t feel that they are worthy of God’s grace or forgiveness. Like Joe, they feel a great sense of shame and disappointment in themselves and struggle to find redeeming qualities in themselves.
There are no quick fixes for alcoholism. The penalty for this sin is high and the number of people it wounds is many.
While God is waiting and willing to forgive those who are in the clutches of this disease, God’s grace is not a cheap grace. Jesus’ death on the cross reminds us of that. Healing, restoration, and redemption often involve many steps. For the alcoholic, there are twelve.
However, these twelve steps are like Catholic Rosary beads. They are designed to be used over and over and over. They are not designed to have a starting point and an ending point to the extent that once you’ve worked through step twelve you graduate, never to return to the program.
Rather, the alcoholic should understand that drinking in moderation is no longer an option and that one is really always “recovering.” While chopping off one’s legs is too drastic, chopping off friends who drink or going to places where alcohol is freely flowing and easily accessible might be necessary steps. Perhaps this is what Jesus was alluding to when he said, “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:9).
Since Joe was very interested in having a sponsor again for A.A., I discovered that the local First Baptist Church in the community where he lived had an A.A. chapter that met in their church.Â Someone there gave Joe a call to invite him to join his group.
God might not have taken Joe’s desire to drink away from Him, but God is still working to deliver him from his addiction. The same legs that can take him to the beer store can also take him to A.A. and to church.
If he will admit that he’s powerless over his addiction and that a Power greater than he is can restore him to sanity, I believe he will be well on his way to making those steps work for him as he starts to build sobriety again. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time before he’ll be looking for another ride.