When I was in my teens I honestly thought I would be dead by the age of 30. So every now and then, I’m surprised at how long I’ve lived. Or more importantly, how things have changed in the almost 65 years I’ve been hanging around. There have been just so many profound changes in such a short time it just isn’t worth itemizing. And you all know what I’m talking about here. It’s pretty easy to recall the big ones, isn’t it? You know—the ones where you can recall where you were, what you were doing at the moment, the song you were hearing on the radio, the show you were watching on television, who you were with, how you felt. And it never mattered whether these moments were for better or worse.
But I’m at a point in my life where I realize it hasn’t always been the “big” moments that have been life-changing. It hasn’t always been those tangible moments in time that we could set apart by thinking, “If only that had been different…” So where am I going with this? Once upon a time in our American society—when someone was dysfunctional—we didn’t use that word. We didn’t even know that word, did we? It’s really sort of a new one. We might say, you know, “He’s mad” or “She’s out of her mind”, or maybe even “They’re insane.” But now we have an ever-expanding vocabulary for function and dysfunction. We have “neurosis” and “psychosis”—i.e. as a Christian, I consider all church-goers to be neurotic and all pastors to be psychotic—so we can distinguish more clearly (hopefully) between groups of people.
And on a larger scale I see a pattern developing here. What’s happening now is our culture is becoming more broken, and the more broken it becomes the more language we have to describe it. The more of something a culture has, the more ways it creates to explain and express it. And the way this relates to alcoholism is we used to just say, “He’s a drunk” or “She’s a drunk” and let it go at that. And then when being a drunk started happening to us, we decided that we didn’t want people writing us off in such simplistic terms, so we developed a word for the choices we were making, and “alcoholism” was presented as a treatable disease. And then when we began working this treatable disease into the framework of our lifestyle choices, it became reinforced as a genetic pre-condition. Then what I hear a lot of is, “Oh, I’ll always be an alcoholic. I’ll always be coming to these rooms. I’m always going to be just one drink away from total destruction.”
Well, maybe. But maybe not. Maybe the reason I’m not constantly flirting with disaster is because I believe I won’t always be an alcoholic. And maybe that’s why I’ll never really understand those AA pros who get their 20- and 30-year pins. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate or honor them. I just think we were made for more than this, don’t you? I’ve been clean and sober for 4+ years now. I’ve even worked the Steps. Nevertheless, I don’t break into a cold sweat now that Wal-Mart has put the bottled water on the same row with the beer and wine. I don’t stare longingly at the beer and wine menu when we go to Chili’s for a quick bite to eat. And when we’re out dining with others, it bothers me not at all if they choose to have alcohol with their meal.
There’s something much deeper than simply the 12 Steps here that I want to focus on, but before we get to the heart of what I’m talking about, I need you to go read Luke 7:36-50. Go ahead and I’ll wait here.
Got it? Okay. A little background, first. Jesus is at the house of Simon the Pharisee, but Simon doesn’t really show him a lot of respect, doesn’t treat him as if he’s anyone of any importance. Suddenly this woman breaks into the party. We don’t know anything about her except that she’s sinful.
And it kind of troubles me that he gets to be called Simon and she’s simply known as the sinful woman. She comes in and she shows Simon up. She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. She takes this jar of expensive perfume, breaks it and anoints his feet.
Simon thinks to himself, “If this man’s a prophet, he’ll know what kind of woman she is.” And this next part is a little unnerving, because Simon thinks this, and then Jesus answers his thoughts. And Jesus turns to Simon and says, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” And Simon just walks right into it: “Tell me, teacher.”
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly, said Jesus.
Okay, not a real complex story, right? And when I read this, I want to believe Jesus, and I believe when Jesus teaches us something, we should do what he said, right?
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Allow me to paraphrase.
“Simon, between you and her there’s just no comparison. And here’s the problem. Because you’ve had so little forgiven in your life, you can only love a little. Simon, the reason she loves so much is because of the gratitude in her life. And, Simon, your self-perception that you just don’t need a lot of forgiveness is not reflective of your sinfulness, but reflective of your ungratefulness.”
Now… this is a really difficult one to buy into, but if I hear Jesus correctly, what he’s telling me is the only thing that makes a person whole is gratitude. It’s about more than not drinking. And what happens with people who are broken is that they lose the capacity to not only give love, but to experience love. It’s not that a person isn’t loved, it’s that they no longer have the capacity to be informed by that love and to experience that love.
And what Jesus is telling Simon is, “Simon, until you become a person who is defined by gratitude, you’ll never be able to give love, to lavish God with love.” And that gratitude really is the wellspring of giving love and experiencing love.
Let me leave you with this. Here’s my perspective on things. If we work from the framework that we deserve nothing, we’ll always be surprised. And if we work from the perspective that we deserve everything, we’ll always be disappointed. No one will ever live up to our expectations. Not even the people in AA.