Sometimes, because I seem to have a heightened sensitivity to the energetic happenings of the world, or maybe because of the line of work I'm in, it feels to me like there's a kind of collective sorrow. This is one of those times. A number of people I know are suffering right now, in different ways and for different reasons, of course, but at times like this, when we take the smaller ills of our individual lives and place them in the context of a world that seems very much out of control, it feels like we are uttering a kind of collective sigh. A heavy one.
I don't think I have to mention all of the bad news out there, but I will say that I was especially saddened to hear that a gorgeous jaguar, chained for the purposes of display for an Olympic Torch Ceremony in Rio, was shot and killed yesterday after it...behaved like a jaguar being held captive.
The lowest of the low.
Maybe we can begin our collective upward ascent now. I am going to keep praying on this one. One weekend last winter, as I was preparing for Sunday's service, I asked a friend if there was anyone I should put on the prayer list. "All of humanity," was his response. It's a lot, to pray for everyone, but if we all make a promise to start praying for everyone, then we might begin to find our way out of this wilderness. What have we got to lose? And don't make a big fuss about it, either. "If you can't pray as you want, pray as you can. God knows what you mean," was how revivalist preacher Vance Havner once described the simple truth of prayer.
Don't believe in God? That doesn't matter much, either. If you're here, then God believes in you. Your place in this world, in this moment in time is no accident. Heck, you don't have to use the word, "God," if that bothers you. Pray to the moon. Pray to the wind. Pray to your dead grandmother. Direction doesn't really matter, but intention counts.
In regards to the power of prayer, I share the words of dreadlocked, tattooed, former junkie/alcoholic famous writer Anne Lamott: "And as it turns out, if one person is praying for you, buckle up. Things can happen."
I've got a lot of stories in support of this theory, but the one that's most relevant now is the one about tomorrow.
I really apologize for this because a bunch of you already know this schtick, but it was five years ago today that I drank the last drop of poison that was ruining my life. To be clear, the bold, rich and delicious red wine wasn't the villain in my story; I was. It wasn't anyone's fault but my own. Every single time I poured myself another glass and drank it, I was making the wrong choice.
And then I decided to start making the right choice. And that was really how it happened. There were no tricks, no techniques. There was a loving community of people who believed in me, against all odds, and my flimsy faith, but it turned out that that was enough. One day I decided to stop, and that day became two and those two and every day after that became my new life. And in that new life I prayed for a few things: courage, vision. I prayed to heal the relationships I had broken. I prayed for purpose. I had no idea if anyone or anything was listening, but I put it out there anyway.
Here is the thing I want you to know about how that worked, for me: once the clarity came and I was ready to make responsible choices, it wasn't great right away. It was awful, of course. When we are attached to something our intelligent minds will do all kinds of backflips to get us to keep returning to that thing. QUIT IT, says Gerald May, who wrote the good book, Addiction and Grace, are the two most offensive words we know.
But, in the end, it really is that simple. You stop pouring the drink, you stop returning to the toxic relationship, you stop buying the cigarettes or the donuts, you stop checking your phone fifty times a day. You just stop.
And then the real work begins.
Because then you have to live with that empty space. You can't fill it with something new. You can't rush to fill the void with something, because if you do then you're missing your shot at real transformation. And it doesn't even matter if you're replacing booze with yoga or Facebook with chai tea. You have to be willing to sit with the emptiness, sit with the pain, sit with the discomfort. This is one of the hardest things to do: to sit with the new spaciousness. To just let the temptation come and go and to stay in that place of unease and see where it takes you.
If you stop drinking, that's great, but if you rush to fill up all that former drinking space with a bunch of new habits and addictions, to keep your mind off the reality that you no longer have booze to ease the uneasiness of life, you still have a ways to go.
We hate it so much, us humans with our tricky minds. We hate the emptiness. And the world we live in and the people who make all the shiny things that draw our attention make it very hard to be quiet. We don't want to suffer, right? We think we're not supposed to. But actually, as it turns out, our suffering serves a mighty purpose. Our suffering teaches us powerful lessons. Our suffering allows us to align ourselves more honestly with the suffering of the world. Our suffering makes us wiser and, I would argue, more beautiful. The suffering we experience when we detach from something we were deeply and painfully attached to is rich and fertile ground for evolution. And that's what you want while you're here: you want to evolve. You want to do it better and with more grace as you grow older.
So that's my story and I'm sticking with it. Keep it simple: quit it. Just quit doing the thing that's not working. Quit it today and then again tomorrow, and pray as you go. You have a life raft of humanity all around you to help you when you feel like you are drowning. I don't really care anymore that it's been five years since I stopped drinking. I thought I would. I thought I would want to celebrate, but I don't. We're killing humans and precious animals and we have criminals and clowns in Washington running the show. The world is filled to the brim with weirdness and pain; this story of mine has become stale. The only thing that matters now is that my head is clear and I am praying for you, today. Amen.