All were astounded and greatly confused, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others jeered at the speakers, saying, “They are drunk on new wine!” (Acts 2:12-13)
Recently, I had a conversation with a long-time church friend regarding the nature of AA and other 12 step meetings. He had some exposure to AA in the past but had dropped out after a brief period of sobriety and was now seriously considering reconnecting. I was pretty sure that the intervening couple of months of drinking after a period of sobriety had been rougher than anticipated for him, what with some financial problems, relationship difficulties, and assorted setbacks. So I was ready to engage at whatever level my friend needed. What initiated the dialog though had less to do with his personal struggles – it rarely, if ever does start there, so I try to practice a lot of discretion in steering the talk – and more to do with dislikes about meetings in general.
What my friend seemed to push back on dealt with the seeming aimlessness of some meeting discussions. He expressed frustration at attending group discussions that weren’t “structured,” or “educational enough,” and “rambled on without making a point.” “What,” he asked, “could people conceivably get out of hearing strangers whine on interminably about their personal problems? Why don’t people just stop drinking and get on with their lives? That singular problem is what kept me from going back after a few months of meetings.”
I nodded my head and thought for a few moments before confiding, “Yes, you have a point there. For some, especially early on, it can sometimes seem like an exercise in confusion and ultimate drudgery. It did for me anyway. Some in meetings sounded as though they were clinically depressed, what with divulging all the problems they never faced over years of substance abuse. Others appeared to vaguely delusional, expressing giddiness over ceasing the booze and suddenly landing in a world of rainbows and butterflies. It seemed surreal, to be sure. But we do change if we stick with it.”
My friend nodded, knowing full well I had tolerated ‘this drudgery’ for decades. “Sure,” he wondered aloud, “but at what point do you start ‘getting something’ out of it?”
“Well at the risk of sounding trite and overly clichéd, you ‘get something out of it’ by staying clean and sober one day at a time. No, I don’t hang on every word I hear out of the 15 or 20 people who do talk in meetings. And believe me, I have probably heard it all over the years. But there is something absolutely phenomenal that can happen over time, something no less spiritual than if were straight from the mouth of the divine. That is this: when I am open-minded and willing enough to pocket my ego for a few waking moments, and listen to a stranger share from their heart, I create a profound connection, and a unique ability to relate. I think the word for it is ‘empathy.’ And, believe it or not, it is this ability to connect with others, to relate, that has a powerful effect on our self-awareness, our emotional development, our spiritual growth, and our very humanity. Were it not for an innocuous willingness to listen attentively to what I used to consider years ago, empty complaining and gibberish, I would have hit that same barrier as you, and found myself wanting. I know that its tempting to want this kind of enlightenment to come overnight. It typically doesn’t. But then again, it’s like they say, ‘Don’t quit before the miracle happens.’”
Sacred Tapestry UMC