March Pastor Article - "Redeeming Life"
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ (Col 1, NRSV). I pray that you have been encouraged and comforted during the month of February by the presence of the Holy Spirit with you. Despite the struggles and challenges we navigate during these times, Christ is present and working among us the same as He always has throughout history. Jesus is continually giving us invitations to align our hearts and minds more deeply with His so that we can experience the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4:7). Unfortunately, the invitations to be closer to God often emerge within our struggles rather than in absence of them. When we lean into the discomfort, sitting with Jesus in centering prayer or letting the words of Scripture soak into our hearts, we find the peace of Christ within the storm.
Sometimes, those invitations from Jesus come in surprising moments and through unexpected paths. A season of desperation or searching for God can develop into a renewed sense of clarity and understanding of our lives. I’m going to share my most recent experience of this kind of transformational encounter with God in the next section of this article.
Friends in Christ, I’m praying that your hearts could be awakened by the Holy Spirit during this season of Lent. I’m praying that Jesus would give you clarity about some of the obstacles to grace that are currently in your life, and an equal measure of clarity to see the invitations to be closer to Him and others.
With gratitude and love,
Redeeming Life Through Recovery
In December of 2022, I was struggling to find the right fit for my final seminary course requirement. The final course was a “cross-cultural ministry” course, which required that I participate in 130 hours of ministry outside of my normal context. The Holy Spirit eventually led me to see the invitation to participate in Recovery groups as a fulfillment of this class requirement and as a new pathway of self-discovery. My personal struggles with alcohol and marijuana abuse prior to 2011, along with alcoholism within my family of origin made Recovery groups a more natural fit than I would have ever imagined.
Life Transformation Part 1: 2008-2011
Over the years of 2008 to 2011, Jesus was healing my heart and shaping me into a completely new person through opportunities within the church. I experienced community among believers who loved me unconditionally, invited me into their homes, and listened to my story. I grew spiritually, cognitively, and emotionally through the experiences of small groups, mission opportunities, and the Walk to Emmaus retreat. In January 2011, I gave my life completely over to Christ. I left the life of self-medication behind me so that I could live my life fully for Jesus. Two months later, I began to sense a call into ministry. Two months after that, I met Gina. Despite the dramatic transformation I experienced in 2011 and the years that followed, I remained oblivious to the intentional healing and grieving I needed to walk through, even after many years of counseling. So in December of 2022, God laid a new invitation before me to experience a new depth of self-awareness and healing that I would have never expected.
Life Transformation Part 2: 2022 -
In January 2022, I started to attend AA meetings and Celebrate Recovery gatherings every week, adding Al-Anon Family Groups to the mix by March. I attended all these meetings weekly over a 6 month period. I also met with people one-on-one to hear their personal stories of pain and transformational healing. My time within these groups has been inspirational and life-giving. I have witnessed the courage of individuals who take the risk of vulnerability for the sake of hope and healing, living out the Biblical theme of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). Week after week I was encouraged and inspired to see the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit within these groups.
Beyond a class requirement, these experiences became a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit for me. I personally experienced healing from past hurts and shame that I didn’t even know I needed, and was encouraged by witnessing the breakthroughs of others. I began working through the 12 steps from an Al-Anon perspective with an Al-Anon sponsor in May of 2022. God has also been making it clear to me that He has equipped me to support, equip, and encourage people in Recovery. I continue to attend Celebrate Recovery and Al-Anon on an almost weekly basis, and I’m looking forward to getting back to attending AA meetings again soon.
Here to Listen and Encourage
I’m taking the risk of sharing this with you because so many people are desperately battling substance abuse or feel hopeless in the face of a loved one’s battle. They say a “calling” is discovered when the passions of our hearts align with a great need in the world. God has made it very clear that ministry within Recovery communities and to people who are affected by the addictions of loved ones is a “calling” He has placed upon my life. So, if you or someone you care about is battling any kind of addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here to listen, encourage, and discover together any healing steps that could be helpful. Anything shared with me is 100 percent confidential, as always.
You may be wondering about some of the details of the groups I mentioned. Here are some descriptions and information about the groups. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or connect me with someone you know if I can be of service.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a worldwide organization, hosting meetings in “180 countries with approximately 2 million members” (www.aa.org). The only requirement for attending AA, according to “tradition four” within their literature, is "A desire to stop drinking” (www.aa.org). The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps and literature refer to a “Higher Power,” but do not require belief in the Christian understanding of the “Higher
Power.” The meetings begin with the unison praying of the Serenity Prayer, reading of the ground rules for the group, and reading of the “12 steps and traditions”, followed
by the reading from two different AA devotional books. Each person was then given 2-3 minutes to share either thoughts about the readings or something from their week. After every person shared, the group prayed the Lord’s Prayer in unison. An AA group called “Serenity at Seven,” Monday nights at 7 pm in the Heritage Room at Cornerstone UMC.
Al-Anon Family Groups
Al-Anon was founded on the same principles and with the same structure as Alcoholics Anonymous but is aimed at supporting persons affected by the drinking of a friend or family member. The only requirement for participation in Al-Anon is that participants have a “problem of alcoholism in a relative or friend” (www.al-anon.org). The
structure of the Al-Anon meetings is almost identical to AA. The major difference is that the “steps and traditions,” along with the devotional materials, are specific for persons who love an alcoholic or addict, and have developed negative thinking, attitudes, and behaviors because of not being able to change their loved one.
Celebrate Recovery is also a worldwide organization, with over “34,000 churches hosting the groups in 10 different countries.” This ministry was launched in 1991 out of Saddleback Church in Lake Forrest, California (www.celebraterecovery.com). This ministry has a broader scope of participants than AA, defining itself as being for persons with “hurts, hang-ups, and habits.” Participants declare themselves as being inrecovery from alcohol, drugs, sex addiction, mental illness struggles, and all different kinds of traumatic experiences. A key distinction between AA and Celebrate Recovery is that this is a “Christ-centered Recovery.” The nights I attend consist of a brief worship service with recorded music videos (20 min), in unison reading of the 12 steps with
supporting Scriptures, a devotional from one of the leaders (10 min), a teaching
video from Celebrate Recovery, or a testimony from a participant (20 min), a “chip ceremony” (15 min), then closing with the Serenity prayer. After a short break, men and women split up into groups for small group sharing. The small group sharing is very similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Each person gets a chance to share without any cross-talk from others, followed by prayer by the leader to close the sharing.
Want to help?
Here are some of what I can see as the felt needs
of each of these recovery groups:
1. Sponsors and accountability friends: It became clear to me that there is a shortage of
sponsors and accountability friends. Being a sponsor is more complicated
due to the requirement of completing the steps prior to sponsoring. Still, anyone can be an accountability friend or encourager for the person in recovery. I especially noticed the shortage of sponsors for men, and they all seem to be craving that kind of support. Even a non-recovery person could befriend people in recovery to support and encourage them.
2. Practical and relational support:
a. Many people in recovery are experiencing financial difficulties for a variety of reasons. Churches and individuals could easily offer support by raising funds for things like food, gas, crisis funds, and counseling support. Fundraisers could be held to generate these funds, or maybe some type of grant to offer to persons who demonstrate they are committed to the
b. The practical support of offering hospitality and a listening ear is also a powerful way to help. Many people in recovery aren’t working because of limitations to their schedule or capacity. That reality opens space for many possibilities of relational support.
3. Building relationships and spreading the word: Pastors and community leaders
should know about these resources so they can connect persons in need of
them. Churches can offer their buildings as a space for groups to meet as Cornerstone UMC has done. Not everyone has to have a heart for helping, but everyone can be willing to support those who desire to help and participate and spread the word about resources that are available.
12 steps: https://www.aa.org/the-twelve-steps
12 traditions: https://www.aa.org/the-twelve-traditions
Find a meeting near you: https://www.aa.org/find-aa
Al-Anon Family Groups
Find a meeting near you: https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/find-an-al-anon-meeting/
12 Steps (includes Scripture references): https://www.celebraterecovery.com/resources/cr-tools/12steps
Find a CR near you: https://locator.crgroups.info
History of CR: https://www.celebraterecovery.com/about/history-of-cr
Full Serenity Prayer: