Friday, September 18, 2009
The Success of Failure
Yesterday was one of those days when the days I have left on this side of eternity...however few or many they be...seemed interminable. There are days when life seems like such drudgery, I fear that I will live another forty years, and have forty years of struggling to find meaning in the day to day crap of life. Yesterday, there did not seem to be any bright spots...only varying shades of gray.
So, that is what I wrote about. As I was writing, I remembered sharing my "testimony" when I was in my early twenties, sharing with people how God had helped me overcome depression after decades (well, two of them) of struggling. I remember people asked me if I ever struggled with it anymore, looking for the hole in my story, I guess. I told them, fingers crossed behind my back, that I didn't.
As I thought about this yesterday, I wondered what compelled me to lie like that. Why did I think I had to be perfect in order to make my success valid?
I did not have to think about it long before I conjured images of the testimonies I grew up with. Our church often had groups in from Teen Challenge, and we listened to testimony after testimony of how the heroine addict had been "set free", and never experienced another craving for the drug again. Then there was the alcoholic who stopped thirsting for alcohol and the accompanying "blitzed" feeling. Testimony after testimony was about complete, unmitigated freedom.
So, as I started sharing my own story about freedom, I realized that I may not be "free" at all, because I still struggle with occassional depression and despair. Feeling like I failed, I stopped sharing.
It is only recently that I realized that most people...if not all of us...are never totally free from our hang ups. I think there is a reason that people recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol never consider themselves fully recovered. Recovery is a constant work. Recovering from anything requires that the addict be always wary of their surroundings, their relationships, their self-talk, and anything else that could potentially derail their hard work of recovery.
One of my favorite shows is "The Cleaner". I love this show because it shows that a clean break from addiction...physically and/or psychologically...is not really possible. And that's okay. It means we're human, and we have a constant need for spiritual health, community with supportive friends and family, and the ability to accept our failures without losing ourselves.
On the show, Benjamin Bratt plays William Banks, a recovering drug addict who has made his life's work helping other addicts get clean and stay sober. His methods are unconventional, to say the least. The show is very raw and makes no apologies for depicting addiction realistically, and showing recovery in an equally sobering light. One common theme among all of the recovering addicts, including Banks himself, is that it is not about achieving total freedom in one fell swoop and never facing the temptation again. Recovery is about getting through the day you have, and not worrying about whether or not you can get through the days, weeks, months or years ahead.
Perhaps freedom comes in recognizing that victory sometimes comes in small steps. Maybe the freedom Christ is talking about is not about the big, pivotal moment in life when you can walk away from all your hang ups. Maybe the freedom comes in realizing that, in Christ, you...we...are whole and beautiful and new and loved, just as we are. We are human and flawed and frail...and depressed and hooked and tired...but real victory comes in going forward anyway, remembering that we are part of something bigger.
On days like I had yesterday, thinking about how tired life makes me already and how much more tired I'll be if I think about the next forty years, it is overwhelming. I can't think about it, because it's too much. However, if I think about today, and think about who I am in Christ right now, and realize that all I have to do is embrace the day I've been given, I'll be alright. I can handle that.
When we struggle, or "fail" in our recovery by taking a step back into our hang-ups, it is not a failure at all. It is just a new opportunity to find a different and better way of moving forward from this point on. Sometimes, the most victorious thing we can do is keep going, when we so much may not want to. That takes courage and untold strength, and I believe God smiles upon that...much more than He does upon lying an attempt to make ourselves look good to others who are also too afraid to let their true heart show.
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