In AA there is a saying, “take what you want and leave the rest.” I have always loved it’s openhanded way of inviting people to learn without shoving anything down someone’s throat. It came to mind this morning as I was reading in Luke 11. Time and again in my addiction I fell to my face before God and cried out for him to help me, to take away my addiction, to help me change my life. At the time he felt silent as I continued to struggle and fight the bonds of addiction.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing as I look back now and see the many pieces he was putting into place to not only help me recover, but teach me how to recover so that I could walk alongside another in the same way. If he had simply removed my addiction then I would have nothing to offer someone else. It is through the very journey of struggle that he both saved me and gave me something useful to help the next person.
What also amazes me are the people and things that God sometimes used as instruments of change in my life. I had such rigid and black and white ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, and they often shaped the tools I was willing to look to for help. But the time came where I had no choices and I had to take what I could get, and I love the ways God showed me that he could work.
I shared previously that towards the end of my addiction I was searching desperately to get into DBT therapy, but kept running into financial roadblocks that would not allow me to go through formal treatment.
After my suicide attempt, I was put in the medical holding area at the jail and was under suicide and medical watch for the first ten(ish) days. There they had a social worker check on me periodically to determine my mental state and help them determine if and when I was ready to be moved into general population.
I will never forget the middle age gentleman who crouched with me though the slot in the jail door where food trays were passed and we discussed how I was doing. We were never able to sit in a room and talk, but had brief exchanges as he checked on me through the slot in the jail door. He had white hair, a white beard and he gave off the vibe that he had likely been a hippie in the 70’s. He was kind and actually seemed to care in a place filled with corrections officers who largely seemed to view us as inconvenient animals in cages.
As we spoke, he asked me if I wanted books, and he was quickly able to find me a Bible. He also attempted to obtain other books to help me, once I was moved to general population and allowed more access to reading material. I told him that I was interested in books on DBT, as that was a therapy I had been trying to receive. A few days later, after I had been moved into general population, he returned with some books. He told me that he had been unable to find any books on DBT, but explained that DBT had been developed based on principles from Zen Buddhism. He was able to give me some books by Buddhist monks Thich Nhat Hnan and Pema Chodron.
Until that point I had not know that DBT had pulled concepts from the Buddhist tradition, but had learned much about Buddhism from a friend I had made unexpectedly about a year earlier. This friend (who I will not name, but knows who he is 😄) was the first Buddhist I had ever known, and had introduced me to both Thich Nhat Hnan and Pema Chodron. I called him from my cell and told him what I had learned, and he offered to order me some books in addition to the limited offerings available through the jail.
Having grown up in the evangelical Christian faith, I had often been taught about other religions and the reasons that I should not believe them. I felt that we were taught to run from them as they might “get us” if we stuck around and started to learn too much. But what I began to discover was that my God isn’t afraid of anything, and doesn’t run from anything. My God is big enough, and powerful enough, to use even seemingly opposing things for his glory.
There is so much beautiful and complementary teaching within the Buddhist faith that helped me see many of the Christian doctrines I had been taught through a new lens that actually help my mind understand them better. I was confident in my personal relationship with Christ and utilizing tools from other faiths did not threaten my own. I might not agree with all things, but I could take the things that lined up with my faith and leave the rest that did not line up with how my soul personally feels called.
It was both humbling and freeing. It was humbling because I realized that I would never know an answer that was “right” for everyone. It taught me that God can be unique with people and I must let him be as unique with others as he has been with me. It was freeing because I realized that I did not have to run from ideas that seemed in opposition to my own. I learned that someone’s opposing view could still hold beautiful elements that I might agree with, while also not impacting my core values.
I learned that ultimately the issue had to do with my own confidence in what I believe. If my faith was weak, and built up only of what I heard from others, then it might have been threatened by outside influences. But my faith was solidly built on my own personal relationship with Christ that nobody could take away from me. I learned the importance of seeking God for myself and not relying on what I was taught by another flawed human, or flawed human institution. Even with those, I could take what I wanted and leave the rest.
At the end of my life I am only accountable to my God and for myself. That means I do not need the validation of others, or to convince others to agree with me. It has been the most freeing experience as I do not have to fight for control of the ways others think and believe. I do not mean to say that I do not struggle with control, or want things my way. I absolutely do! I absolutely still have many areas of insecurity where I seek outside validation and to convince others of my perspective.But overall, I share because of the peace and joy my experience has brought me, and if it’s useful to another, then I offer all I have to give. However, if someone is offended, or uninterested then I respectfully step away, as long as it it not an issue that imposes on the ability of another to access the same amazing God that I love so much.
I am not here to change minds, but to share my experience, strength and hope. I am grateful to my God who did not simply remove my addiction and give me an easy path, but rather provided people and opportunities for me to learn and grow so that I can offer encouragement to someone else who is currently calling out to God in the same desperate way that I remember and understand. He always heard me, he was always answering, I just needed time and space to allow the healing process to work. I praise my Lord and my God!