The ARM of St. Michael
The world applauds self-reliance. The Supreme Court upholds the “self-made” citizen, an architect in our day of existential dimensions (see opinion Planned Parenthood v. Casey 1992). To the modern mind, the last place that strength comes from is weakness.
The situation in recovery from addiction, the afflicted know, is the complete opposite. Addiction is a problem precisely because somebody has no control over it. Addiction recovery is a process that is mostly recovery from the stupendous failure of human self-reliance!
Consider three quotes: “Powerless over myself” (the 12-Steps). “No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom” (Sandra Day O’Connor). “Surely I am the littlest and weakest soul on earth” (St. Therese of Lisieux). In human insufficiency, the little flower lifts herself up to Daddy, Abba, and receives what is beyond enough. In The Story of a Soul, she quotes Wisdom 6:7 “to him that is little, mercy is granted”.
It is easy for a recovering addict to find pasture here. Everything is a gift from God, especially for the saints, who so often have said they are the greatest sinners. The emptier I am, the less self-reliant, the more God can put His supreme sufficiency into my weakness. Strength is indeed perfected when starting from absolute poverty!
Does “become little” sound too hard, like some monumental act of squashing? No. Jesus said “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”.
“Is the task of recovery too great”? No. Haven’t we witnessed, in each one of those astonishing breakthroughs of so many, how we became someone else, as Someone else was doing in us what we could not? Do not forget what the Lord has again and again already done!
Fr. Richard Rohr wrote Breathing Under Water, unveiling the sure Christian wisdom and virtues that shaped the 12-Step model. As we keep going, and temptations keep coming, we simply recognize the perennial foe and our slow-healing flesh. Fr. Rohr took the title from a poem where the author describes her addiction in the image of a house built near a sea, a relationship always quiet always aloof, until..
Something inevitably happens. The sea starts to misbehave and the house will find itself getting wet. “What do I do again?”
Exasperation doesn’t work. Fear doesn’t work. Avoidance doesn’t work. Perfect custody of all thoughts and internal images seems remote. Trying to outpray or outlast the mercurial dopamine trigger is futile. That God is somehow still nearby, seems unthinkable.
The furniture is floating and yes I am wet, but can I find patience, however strange, despite the undertow, an option of stillness I keep overlooking? Can what is unclean pass through my mind? Can I walk through the fire and trust I will not be burned?
Confession may still be in order. Self-reliance may tempt us still, and if it can’t have its way, will try to manipulate us toward despair, discouragement, guilt, shame and deadly doubt of divine mercy.
With one sincere invocation of faith, the Lord has never left the scene, the power of being what little ‘I’ cannot. There is the threat of intoxication, but the grace of non-exasperation also floods the familiar ‘disaster area’ of impending obsession. Someone is slowing everything down, so that it can be pondered in the heart. What will result if I choose to ‘do my old will’? Escalation? Madness? “My will” is..
…wisdom going out the window, hapless flesh committing mistake after mistake, days of trying not to feel like a demon and all false inside, the risk of stuff going subtly wrong in every hour in testimony against stupidity, the week or more of drying out, and sigh… the sad continued dalliance with Satan and how it hurts the One Who’s heart is most infinitely tender, Who created us and loves us to no end.
We ask the Gentle One, Master of Grace to slow everything down. Right now yes, trying to tread obsession, we are breathing under water, but one day we are going to be walking in our freedom, Jesus, leading us by hand onto the sea. Say to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me”.
We remember to be little, there are no white knuckle victories. Pride is death, humility is life. To be little and poor is everything. Humble yourself, SEE your poverty. Truly He is Almighty, we are nothing. Are you indignant? He spoke to our patron saint St Catherine of Sienna, and many others saints: I AM God, you are not.
We can’t stop all the cloudy water that will come in, but we are slowing down and remembering God never disappears. We pray, not faster than all of our thoughts or Satan’s insidious darts, but enough; we reach out for the fellowship phone enough; we do the works of charity enough; we visit the sacraments enough. God looks upon our struggle, which endears us to Him, because His glory is in the making. How heroic the man who accepts the many trials, all happening for a reason, many falls, many risings.
Impossibly, in the midst of it all, He is with us. He is the One who is walking, and I am the one in the slung papoose. He slows everything down to bring Himself, to overshadow completely the wound of addiction. Seeing His startling, unexpected presence, can I make the thoughtful and wise and enlightened choice to pray, to be still, to hope, to wait? God does not make the choice for us. It is simply little me tenaciously rechoosing that He come and be the victory.
Jesus give us final perseverance. Father do not lead us into the final test. Holy Spirit let your mercy be upon us and let us see you in the dark. Amen.