I Need To Talk With Somebody

It was one of the worst days of my life. I had relapsed. I had been fired. I had spent several days out of town detailing all of my failures to my wife. And now, I had to go back to my AA homegroup and tell them I had been lying to them and had been drinking for several months.

But first, I was going to have to tell my sponsor.

So I arrived at the church basement. Church basements are popular with AA groups. As I entered the basement, I walked right up to the door to the meeting room. But I could not walk in. Too much shame. Too much guilt. Too much failure.

So I went to the kitchen and hid. But my sponsor still saw me. He walked up to me. He knew. I didn’t know how, but he knew. He asked me what was wrong.

In a weak, quivering voice I told him. I was so ashamed. But he responded as if it was not a surprise that a recovering alcoholic in early recovery would actually relapse. Go figure.

And then he did two things that I will never forget. He told me I needed to go into the meeting and open up about my relapse. And the second thing he did was one of the greatest gifts anyone ever gave: he grabbed my hand and walked me into the meeting room.

It was one of the hardest things I ever did. And I may not have done it if I had been alone.

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This week, I have said the church needs more transparency, we must learn to listen to others, and we need to learn how to “sit with it.”

To wrap us this week, I want to say that we need to learn how to ask for help.

There are a number of things we all must do in this life. Most of them require the assistance of another human being. Whether you want to admit it or not, you need help.

We don’t like needing help. We want to be strong. We want to be self-sufficient. We want to be in control. We want to prove to ourselves and others that we are capable of doing all that we need to do.

And, forgive the bluntness, but that is often a complete and utter crock.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not be sober today if it was not for the help of countless people.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not have a relationship with God and Jesus today if it was not for the counsel, teaching of support of countless people.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not still be married to my wife today if it was not for the help, encouragement, and swift kicks in the pants offered by countless people.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not be doing well at my job if not for the generosity, partnership, and expertise of countless people.

I hope you are picking up on the theme.

Twelve years ago, I was ready to check out of life. Ten and half years ago, I was ready to check out again. And I would have.

But I did something that went against every fiber of my being: I asked for help.

And the rest is history.

We Need More Vulnerability In The Church

One of the hardest places to work on sobriety is in church.

I say this as a big fan of churches. I absolutely love being part of a community of faith—even with all of it warts and blemishes.

And of those blemishes is that too often, churches do not provide space for people to be genuine, or authentic, or vulnerable. Whether intentional or not, many churches have become a place where we dress up with our clothes (“Wear your Sunday best!”) and our smiles (“Oh, I’m doing just fine!”).

And in a nicely dressed, smiley atmosphere, it is difficult to come just as we are.

I want to emphasize: this may not be intentional. I do not think that most people are blatantly trying to make it hard for people in recovery to attend church. But I think we must understand that our words and our actions create barriers to authenticity. If we are going to allow our churches to become safe spaces for vulnerability, it will take some intentionality on our part.

Several years ago, I was asked to talk about my alcoholism and recovery during the time of communion at our church. I was humbled by the response. But I was also saddened. Because several people—some who were long-time church goers and even church leaders—told me that it was either the first time or one of only a few times they had ever heard someone being vulnerable during worship.

If someone has been attending church for 20, 30, 40 or more years (or even one week, for that matter), they should have heard a LOT of people being vulnerable. They should have been opening up and being vulnerable towards others.

Why are we so afraid to be who we are? Why do we struggle to come just as we are?

We could probably enter a long discussion about all of those reasons. And I hope to address several of them in future posts. But today, I want to make some suggestions. I would like for your church to become a place of vulnerability—a place where people can truly be themselves as they enter into the presence of God and God’s people.

Here are a few simple suggestions:

First, in order to create space for vulnerability, you must be vulnerable. Consider this: do you truly think anyone has it all together all the time? Do you truly think that people around are free from struggle, worry, anxiety, temptation? Do you lose respect for people when they admit they need help?

If the answer to those three questions is no, then why do you think YOU must act as if you have it all together all the time? Why do you think YOU must be free from struggle? Why do you think others will lose respect for you?

Be honest. Share. It doesn’t have to be with everybody. But there need to be people in your life with whom you can open up and talk about those difficulties. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to put on a show for others. If you are sad—be sad! If you are feeling despair—admit that you don’t have answers! If you are happy—smile, laugh, and sing loud so that you can be the voice for the people whose voices are muted that day.

Second, do not audibly gasp when someone admits to having a problem. Again, this may not be intentional. And often, when someone confesses to a sin or a struggle in their lives there is surprise and even disappointment. But when you gasp and tsk and shake your head thinking no one notices…someone is noticing. Maybe not the person sharing—but the person sitting next to you. Or behind you. Or somewhere near you who can see you without you realizing it.

I am not telling you to you should not be surprised. I am not saying you should not feel disappointment. But I am saying if you respond in a way that puts people down, others will be less likely to share when they need to.

There are more suggestions that could help. And there can be (and needs to be) much more conversation on this topic. And more will come. So keep reading!

But what are doing now to help create and promote transparency and vulnerability in your church or other similar type of social setting?

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

Have you ever heard the joke: “I don’t know how to act my age. I have never been this age before.”?

Haha! Very funny! Only…it’s kind of true.

There are some days that I have absolutely no idea how to act—I don’t know what to do or what to say. I am afraid that everything I want to say and do is the absolute wrong thing at the wrong time. I just do my best to fake it until I can go to bed.

I have been married for 18 years now. I usually think that 18 years of experience in any given thing makes one an expert. But there are days I look at my spouse and think I have absolutely no idea how to be a good husband. Most days we laugh and get along great. But there are those days when one of us just says something so incredibly stupid it boggles the mind (I’m often the one saying that stuff). Some nights I go to bed thinking, “I need to figure out how to make up for this.”

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I have three kids. I love being a dad. I love watching them as their gifts and talents grow. They are all smart and loving and gifted in a variety of different ways. But they are teenagers. So many days I cannot say or do anything right. I am often “lame.” And I often get called out on it, too. So many days I have realized that I cannot come up with the right thing to say to help them through whatever they are facing. I try to be there for them, set boundaries for them, nurture them, and so on, but I feel like I have just angered them in some way.

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I want to be a good employee. I love my job. I get to work with people who are discovering their talents and getting connected with their goal careers. Some days. I am on the ball—people are learning and growing and making new realizations and getting closer to their goals. And other days, I am just left at a loss with how to help. Some days, I get questions that I can’t answer. Some days, I realize that I forgot to do something the day before and I have let someone down. Some days, I have to admit that I can’t help everyone.

There are so many other categories I can go into. I can talk about my volunteer work at church. I can talk about my time spent with people in 12 step recovery. I can talk about my desire to be more vocal and more active in helping people who face injustice every day. I am fully aware of all my failures and all the ways I could have done better. (I am also aware of the ways I have done the right thing.)

I am just trying to maneuver through this life in a way that pleases God and helps others. Some days, I do better than others.

And I think that makes me human.

I don’t know about you, but that is a difficult thing for me to allow myself to be. Because to be human means to be imperfect; to make mistakes. To be human means to struggle with decisions, temptations, addictions. To be human means to be in relationship…and that requires vulnerability.

To be human means that some days I am going to fake it.

Please feel free to join me. I have a feeling I am not alone.

So what about it, readers? Anyone else have to fake it through one (or more) days? How do you deal? Join in the conversation!

That One Time I Preached a Sermon On Desire Being a Scary Thing

Alcoholics are often considered the life of the party. They are usually loud, sometimes obnoxious. They are silly, goofy, funny. They are the center of attention. Occasionally, you might get upset with them because you think they are just too much, but more often than not, people kind of laugh and chuckle and say things like, “That’s just Paul being Paul.”

But as weird as it sounds, most of those attention-grabbing, life of the party alcoholics are overwhelmed with an incredible feeling of loneliness. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that most addicts of any kind are people who feel incredibly lonely. A lot of addictive behavior grows out of the pain of isolation.

We don’t always get that. We think, since they are drawing so much attention, that they are comfortable. That they are good. But consider how this plays out:

Alcoholics and drug addicts are able to use their substance to overcome social anxiety and fit in.

People who self-harm are able to relieve their stress and hide their physical scars so they go out and be among people.

Those who are addicted to athletic performance can hit the gym or run a few miles or flex their muscles and rest on their on-the-field accomplishments to garner well-wishes from people they want to be around.

Students overly focused on grades are able to point to their class rank and say, “See? You need to be friends with me so I can help you succeed, too.”

Whatever it is we may be addicted to, it is often because we are covering up the pain we feel.

For years, I gave in to that temptation. People have often asked me why I drank so much. The answer is actually rather simple: there was too much noise in my head and alcohol shut it up. Of course, the more I drank, the worse the noise got (after sobering up). The guilt I felt made the noise even louder, so I had to drink more to quiet the noise which made me feel guiltier which led to…

You are all going through your daily lives with people who are living out that cycle.

And I dare say you are all going to church with people who are living it.

And what do those who are living out that cycle do? We try to fit in. We try to look good. We try to hide the hurt and the pain so that everyone will accept us. We want so badly to belong, but we are settling for fitting in.

Fitting in means we try to make ourselves according to thoughts and whims of others. Belonging means we are who we are.

Fitting in means we take the path of least resistance; we do what is easy to fit in or to be accepted. Belonging means we are true to who we are and we look out for others, even if it may cost us.

Fitting in means we take part in laughing at others or putting others down so that we don’t upset our friends. Belonging means we interrupt the laughter and mocking and say, “Let’s pray for this person, instead.” Or belonging might say, “Why are you making fun of them? Don’t you know I struggle in the same way?”

Fitting in means we participate in locker room talk, dirty jokes, sexually inappropriate language. Belonging means we comfort and befriend those who are put down. It means we uphold the value of men and women and don’t degrade them to nothing more than their sexual parts.

Fitting in means we retweet and share or like insults and vulgar statements, because after all, we’re just clicking it, it’s not like we actually typed it, right? Belonging means we stand up for the value of all humanity.

Fitting in means we show up for worship and attend classes and say all the right words when we are together. Belonging means we are vulnerable and we open up and truly share who we are with others. It means we create safe spaces for others to do the same.

We all have this desire. We want to be accepted. Now that looks different for each person. The ways we comfortably interact with groups changes depending on how we are made up. But that connection, that belonging, I believe it is something that is innate in all of us.

But desire is a dangerous thing. Because when we feel desire, when we feel that longing, we want to satisfy it. I had a desire to shut up the noise inside my head. I have had a desire in the past to fit in with the larger group so I would laugh at instead of stand up for.

Desire can lead us to want a close relationship with another person. If we don’t get that relationship, desire will often lead us to looking for intimacy in a bottle, or a needle, or a computer, or random people whose names we never know.

We need to be careful with desire. We need to learn how to direct that desire towards belonging, not just fitting in.

When I shared these lessons with the high school students this summer, some of the high school students also spoke. Jackson talked about this topic. He pointed out something that was a real shame. A lot of young people have a desire to belong. And they are finding it in gangs instead of churches.

Can I point out how convicting it was to hear an 18 year old call out the church for not doing as good a job as gangs do? We need to be creating places where people who desire to belong are welcome. We do that by being people who desire to belong by being open and vulnerable and loving with one another.

Consider this story in Galatians 2:9-14:

9When James, Cephas (whom you know as Peter), and John—three men purported to

be pillars among the Jewish believers—saw that God’s favor was upon me to fulfill this

calling, they welcomed and endorsed both Barnabas and me. They agreed that our ministries

would work as two hands, theirs advancing the mission of God among the Jews and

ours toward the outsider nations, all with the same message of redemption. 10In parting,

they requested we always remember to care for the poor among us, which was something

I was eager to do.

11But when Cephas came to Antioch, there was a problem. I got in his face and

exposed him in front of everyone. He was clearly wrong. 12Here’s what was going on:

before certain people from James arrived, Cephas used to share meals with the Gentile

outsiders. And then, after they showed up, Cephas suddenly became aloof and distanced

himself from the outsiders because he was afraid of those believers who thought circumcision

was necessary. 13The rest of the Jewish believers followed his lead, including Barnabas! Their

hypocritical behavior was so obvious—14their actions were not at all consistent with everything

the good news of our Lord represents. So I approached Cephas and told him in

plain sight of everyone: “If you, a Jew, have lived like the Gentile outsiders and not like

the Jews, then how can you turn around and urge the outsiders to start living like Jews?”

Peter wanted to fit in. So when he was with Gentiles, on his own, things were great. But when some Jews showed up who were more concerned with one particular act than with relationship with Jesus, Peter (who was a Jew) started fitting in with the Jews. He turned his back on the Gentiles because he was afraid the Jews would not accept him.

Peter chose fitting in over belonging. It’s addictive to fit in. Because it’s easy. Because it hides our own pain or shortcomings. Because we don’t think we have to work as hard to just fit in.

But my prayer for all of us is that we have a desire to belong. That means I can be open with you without fear or you turning your back on me. That means you can come to me with anything that is weighing you down. Belonging means you have someone to celebrate with you AND someone to cry with you. Belonging means that there will be times that no words need to be shared—you can just sit next to somebody in silence and it will be good.

Take that desire you feel and learn how to belong. The first step: greet people. Get to know their names. The second step: be willing to be open. Be that person we talked about last week: be the “me, too.”

Let us be people who belong.

What is Your Highlight/Lowlight? Please Read and Share!

Last month, I shared a post about consolation and desolation. My intent is to use my blog once a month to offer a space for everyone to share their highlight and lowlight of the past month: the time when life was most fulfilling and the time when life was the most draining.

We need to share our triumphs and defeats more often.

Both are realities of life. Neither are permanent. Both are better shared in community.

This past month, my highlight was standing up front at church as my children offered the communion thought. My younger son read the Scripture, my daughter delivered her thoughts about what do, and my older son led the prayer. It was such a blessing standing all together and sharing that moment.

My lowlight is that feeling of helplessness I get when my friends are struggling in ways I cannot fix. I have had too many conversations these past few weeks with people who are facing life-altering situations and all I can do is listen. I am grateful for the opportunity to listen. I am grateful for the trust they show in talking to me. I just wish I had more to offer.

Now it is your turn. What is your highlight and lowlight of the past month? Please share. You can post in the comments here or on my facebook or twitter page. I appreciate all of you for reading and participating!