Last Thursday afternoon, the folks who planned to show up for a devotional time at a local shelter didn’t. That is not particularly unusual. My job is to show up, I remind myself, and then to adjust accordingly. So, after waiting for 10 or 15 minutes I made my way outside and found a bench situated in the sun. It was a beautiful fall day.
One friend stopped by briefly and we were able to catch up. I sat alone for a spell, praying and watching folks across the way. Then, Byron came by. We had met earlier when he was serving as a parking lot attendant. We began to visit and he wondered how I came to be there, sitting on my bench, enjoying the day. I told him I was serving as a chaplain for shelter clients and staff. After a few minutes Byron started to leave. Then he turned back and asked me to look up a passage in Kings. We read together the story of the four leprous men (2 Kings 7). What had struck Byron was the line “Why should we sit here until we die?”
We spoke about how folks can sometimes get stuck, that life is sometimes so overwhelming and the way out so hard to see, that we get frozen in a passive stance of inaction. We spoke about how being stuck in certain patterns or behaviors is not life giving, that life is not static but rather is an ongoing journey. We spoke about how important community is, how we all need someone at various times to speak words of truth to us, to help us get out of our rut. To help us see a new way.
One of my favorite healing stories speaks to our need to participate in our own transformation. When Jesus told the man with the withered hand: “Stretch out your hand,” the man obeyed him. “He stretched it out and it was restored, as sound as the other” (Matt 12:13). This calls to mind the mantra of 12 Step programs: “It is a program of action.” It is hard at first for a person new to recovery to see how the practice of the 12 Steps is relevant for their lives. How will taking moral inventory restore one’s family? How will attending meetings help to relieve the mountain of debt? How will I ever be able to love myself?
The 12 Steps make it possible for people stuck in addiction and compulsive behaviors to access deep spiritual mysteries. These are not mysteries that can be explained. They can only be experienced through a process that is engaged and followed in the context of a loving community. This dynamic, this process, is something for which many churches hunger. The motivation to actually utilize the steps often requires the kind of awareness that came to the four lepers – the sense that inaction, that keeping their heads in the sand, was surely a death sentence. The good news is that the smallest action, picking up a phone, telling someone you are frightened or discouraged or lonely, is all it takes to move forward into the way of life. If we will begin the process of laying bare our souls, if we will stretch forth our brokenness into the light, we will find the way of restoration.