Making a Decision

There are times in our lives when we do things. Times in our lives when must act. Times in our lives when we produce. Times in our lives when we are judged by what we do.

But before those times can happen, we had to make a choice.

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I am great at overanalysis. In fact, overthinking things is one of my special strengths! Maybe you have heard the term “paralysis by analysis.” This is when you think of every angle, every possible outcome, every potential hurdle, every good and bad thing, and a whole lot of imaginary elements, as well. In fact, you spend so much time thinking that you never act because you end up spending more time thinking about the fact that you haven’t started acting yet.

So there is such a thing as too much thinking; too much planning; too much analysis.

However, some of that is needed. It is good to weigh options. It is good to take stock of all the resources you have and what else you may need to add. It is good to be aware of potential hurdles that you will have to jump. It is good to plan.

But in all that planning, it is vital to make a decision. We have to choose to act.

Early on in the process of sobriety, there is a period of self-reflection; a period of awareness. Each addict must recognize what has been going on in their lives. Each individual examines the damage done and comes to a realization that life without the substance would be better.

And at that time, before any other work towards sobriety can be done, the person must make a decision. There was a time when I had to make a decision.

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When someone wants to exercise, they make a decision. They pick a gym or a workout routine. They often join a group that can encourage one another and hold each other accountable.

When someone wants to get a job, they make a decision. They examine the job market. They look for places they would like to live and work. They fill out applications. They ask questions of the interviewer.

When someone enters into a relationship, they make a decision. They consider those things about the other person they find attractive. They open up, become vulnerable, and learn about the other person while also sharing about themselves. They learn how to deal with the annoyances and the bad days in order to stay committed.

In these and so many more aspects of our lives, the process begins with making a decision. We decide what we want and then we can begin working towards it.

What are you going to decide to do today?

Finding Strength When There Is None

I remember one of the most difficult weeks of my life. It happened in October 2001 (a time that was difficult for many, many people). There was one week in particular: a long-time member of the church where I was preaching passed away on Sunday; I was able to be in the room with him and his family as he took his last breath. My daughter was born on Thursday. She was moved to the NICU on Friday. I preached the man’s funeral on Saturday.

There is so much about that week that I simply cannot forget. So many images, so many actions are seared into my memory. I remember the sound of my friend’s last breath. I remember the wail that came from his wife. I remember the indescribable feeling of love for my daughter as she entered the world. I remember the fear when I came back to the hospital (after picking up our first born child) only to learn she had been moved to a different hospital that had the NICU. I remember my parents showing up less than hours after I called to tell them (they lived a little bit more than 8 hours away). I remember the tubes, wires, and beeping machines. I remember the room in the NICU that had 8 beds with children whose parents never visited. I remember being surprised by a gift from the family after preaching the funeral. I remember my dad telling me that he was preaching for me that Sunday. I remember the Xrays and other tests. I remember that even though we had no biological family in the city we lived, our daughter had six grandparents and 12 aunts and uncles listed on her approved visitors sheet.

My wife and I could barely function. We went back and forth from the hospital to home. We loved on our son at home and our daughter at the hospital. Somehow, we ate and survived. Somehow, we made it until we were all able to get home as a family.

As I reflect and remember, I realize I should not use the word “somehow.” I know exactly how we made it through.

My wife and I made it because we were able to rely on something that we knew was greater than the two of us.

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There have been many times in my life when, upon retrospection, I realize I only made it through because of someone or something else. Times of transition: moves, marriage, children, job changes. In the midst of all of it, I felt overwhelmed and questioned if I was doing the right thing. I often wondered how much longer the difficult season would last.

But as I got further and further away from each of those episodes of life, I realized that I made it because I was able to rely on something stronger than me. As I have grown older, I am able to recognize the need for that reliance and I can lean into it quicker. I don’t always have to wait until time has passed to realize how much other people are helping.

Yet for some reason, I used to struggle with the idea of needing help to overcome my addiction. For me, that was alcohol, but how many of us can come to realize that we need help from someone or something outside of ourselves for everything except that one thing: alcohol, drugs, food, social media fighting, money, pornography, gossip. How many of us are addicted to some behavior that we think we must struggle with in silence and isolation because no one could possibly help or understand.

Although it may take time, I think many of us are able to appreciate and even learn to lean into help through some of life’s normal occurrences as well as the unexpected difficulties. But for some reason, we want to resist when it comes to acknowledging and giving up our addictions.

I know how to rely on other people. I have done it often. When I resist relying on others or on God in the face of my addictions, it’s not because I don’t know how. It’s because I don’t want to.

May I have the strength today to acknowledge I don’t always have the strength I need. But the strength I need is definitely available.

As Lovely As A Tree

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying God. It “consents,” so to speak, to God’s creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree–Thomas Merton

I have always loved trees. I grew up in New England where there were lots of them. I never bothered myself to learn the difference between them. I was much more impressed at their size, stature, and different colors. I especially liked the climbing kind. A close second were the ones whose bark could be used as paper to write notes to people.

I now live in a place that is rather sparse in the tree department. The most plentiful tree, the mesquite, is actually a weed that passes as a tree. But even considering the smaller number and smaller stature of the trees here, I still like looking at them. I have always been mesmerized by trees.

(In fact, the first poem I remember memorizing is Trees by Joyce Kilmer.)

There is something majestic, something powerful, about trees. I don’t know that I can fully explain it, but much like Merton says–trees are awesome just because they are.

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It was a struggle to just be. I wanted to please everybody all the time. I wanted to avoid conflict at all costs. I wanted everyone to like me. If one person wanted me to stand and other wanted me to sit, I tried to figure out how to do both at the same time. If people were disappointed in me, then what was the purpose of my existence?

If I could not be the best husband, father, son, brother, preacher, friend that everyone ever had, then why was I even trying?

I was often motivated by whatever book I had read last or was really popular at the time. If an author said I had to be purpose-driven, then I was purpose-driven. If someone wrote that I need to know all about her needs for appreciation then I would do that. If a church growth person said churches grow when X, Y, and Z are done then we tried to implement X, Y, and Z (often regardless of context).

I was so mired in insecurity and I could not even recognize it. I thought the fact that I was working so hard meant that everything was fine; I just needed to work a little bit harder to bring about better results.

But what if I could be more like a tree? Trees don’t work very hard to be trees. They don’t try to impress anybody. They don’t draw attention to themselves. They don’t try to convince anyone that they are the best tree ever.

Trees just are. And the fact they exist is all that is necessary to acknowledge God.

So what if I could just be? What it would it be like if I could just live my life from day to day doing the best in any given situation? What if, instead of trying to be the best ever at everything, I just tried to do the best I could each day?

What if I could be like a tree? What if my only purpose in life is to be the best person I can be?

Several years ago, that question led me to try sobriety. And for that I am grateful.

But let me be honest: even without the alcohol, I still struggle with the insecurity. I still struggle with the temptation to compare myself to others. I still struggle with wanting to be the best at everything and always wanting to please everybody.

And I come back to the trees. They are majestic and lovely simply because they are trees. They are not trying to impress me (though they do). They are not trying to please me (though they do). They are not trying to outdo the other trees around them. They just are.

May we all be trees today.

Learning To Ask For Help

I never struggled with believing in God. I never doubted that God could do what God said God could do. In fact, I believed so firmly that God could save me from my alcoholism that I did the only thing I could think to do:

I never asked God for help.

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Have you ever known something was the right thing to do, but you were just too stubborn to do it? For example, have you ever lost something–glasses, car keys, cell phone–and you know the best way to look for it is to be methodical and organized? But instead, you just go crazy through every room throwing everything everywhere hoping to find what you are looking for.

Or if you are feeling sick, you know the best thing to do is lay down, rest, stay hydrated, maybe even call a doctor. Instead, we often push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion just because we can.

Just because we know better does not always mean we will do better.

I always knew, deep down, that I should not drink. I could look at my family and see people struggling with alcoholism and other addictions. I could see the ways in my life I had participated in activities almost compulsively. I was able to at least call to mind the thought that I should not start (or continue) doing something that had such dangerous potential consequences.

So why did I do it? Because I convinced myself that I was stronger than everyone else who had gone before me. Why should I think that I couldn’t handle it just because people close to me couldn’t? It did not matter that I knew (on an intellectual level) the dangers inherent in my decision. At that point, all that mattered was that I thought way more highly of myself than I should have.

I always knew, deep down, that I needed help. There was a time early in my drinking life that something happened that raised some red flags. I had not been drinking much. And when I drank, it was only a small amount. But one day, I had a difficult shift at work. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to get home and I’m gonna drink more than normal to make this day better.” Having that thought alerted me to the distinct possibility that something might be wrong.

But that didn’t stop me. I didn’t tell anybody. Why would I have this knowledge that something may be terribly wrong and keep it to myself? Because I convinced myself that the shame I would experience if I admitted my need for help was not worth the potential safety that telling someone would bring. I felt a greater desire to protect myself from shame and embarrassment than what alcohol was doing to me.

I always knew, deep down, that I should turn to God. I was raised going to church. It has always been part of my life. I have never known a period in life when I did not believe in God. I have always believed in the power of prayer and have had practiced praying regularly. But I was always careful in how much I would talk to God about this particular problem. I had an intellectual awareness that something was wrong. I had a belief that there was somewhere I could turn for help.

But I didn’t. I made the conscious decision to not seek help. I knew that if I did, I may not continue to get my way. I might have to make some changes. I might have to admit weakness, failure, and an inability to control my life. I made the choice to continue on a path that I knew could lead to my destruction because I was too stubborn to admit my own limitations.

So for me, I did not have to start a journey of belief. I just needed to tap into that belief I already had. I had to admit to myself that I had finally had enough and that I actually wanted to get better. There was no magic formula. There was no grand epiphany. There was just a realization that what I was doing wasn’t working anymore. There was a realization that I did know better. It was just time to start acting like it.