InProcess “The route to spiritual leadership”

By Glen Doss, Major

As I rise to retrieve a book from the shelf, the man’s eyes follow me across the room. Settling back into my chair, I see distrust written large upon his face. Assigned as chaplain at an adult rehabilitation center (ARC), I find such an attitude common during my first session with beneficiaries, especially those with a “career” prison background, or who have lived long upon the streets.

I see myself being weighed and judged. They often assume I am out for something, that I have some kind of angle. They want to know what I’m after. They can’t imagine that I treat them the way I do simply because I love them. It is often not until my second session that I am finally accepted.

To be an effective witness of Christ to these desperate but beautiful individuals, I have learned that I have to be upfront about who I am and consistent in my behavior. They must accept me for who I say I am as I convey to them one central message: “Jesus loves you and so do I!”

In 2005 I conducted a limited poll among ARC graduates, asking them one simple question: “What can our corps do to attract more ARC beneficiaries and graduates to our ranks?” The response I received shocked me: the majority reaction was: If they want us to participate, they need to stop looking down on us!”

The only one way to avoid coming across to ARC beneficiaries or others in recovery as condescending is by consistently demonstrating genuine humility. If we honestly look at ourselves, with the help of God, we will know whether we are humble. If we do this and find that we are not humble, then we must consider how to go about acquiring this admirable, essential Christian trait. How does one do this? Certainly not through simply willing it! For there is nothing truer than the old recovery slogan: “You can’t defeat self-will with self-will!”

The only sure way to cultivate humility is by taking the same route drug addicts and alcoholics take to find recovery: submitting to the spiritual disciplines, the iblical injunctions, of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program. These are so similar to the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola that Father Ed Dowling purposely sought out Bill Wilson, the author of Alcoholics Anonymous, to discuss this with him.

I know that if a person sincerely exercises these disciplines, which trace the journey of repentance, he or she will grow spiritually. As we take this path, we learn how to see a man as a man and a woman as a woman, to acknowledge that beneath the uniforms, beneath the skin, we are all the same—whether a prison convict or a preacher in the pulpit. It is telling that Jesus observed: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31 NIV).

Just as addicts and alcoholics must surrender to Jesus Christ, the true higher power, by employing the biblical injunctions of self-examination, confession, submission, restitution and carrying the message to others, if they are to grow spiritually and find peace with God, so must we all if we are to be made whole.

That early saint of The Salvation Army, Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle, would certainly agree. In The Soul-Winner’s Secret he observed: “Spiritual leadership is not won nor established by promotion, but by many prayers and tears. It is attained by confessions of sin, and much heart-searching and humbling before God; by self-surrender, a courageous sacrifice of every idol, a bold, deathless, uncompromising, and uncomplaining embrace of the cross, and by an eternal, unfaltering looking unto Jesus crucified.”

Though it may sound strange, I believe addicts and alcoholics may in certain ways be more blessed than the rest of us. The life circumstances stemming from their separation from God are concrete things that are brought forcefully to their attention. They are very evident: jail, prison, unemployment, a physician’s verdict, estrangement from family members. One may even speculate that in some instances addiction, like the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” may be a gift from God (2 Cor. 12:7).

For most of us, however, the effects of our separation from God are not so striking—we are not confronted with such glaring signposts. Tragically, we are often insufficiently impelled to employ the spiritual disciplines so necessary for our desperately needed reconciliation with our Lord.

The truth is that each of us, if we are to get right with God, must go on such a journey. We must accept the fact that the consequences of our separation from God are outside of our control, that operating under our own strength we are absolutely powerless to do anything about them; therefore, we must necessarily give up the deeply entrenched habit of trying to fix ourselves. “Letting go and letting God,” we take a huge leap of faith; then, stepping out into open space, we trust that God himself will catch us up into his arms. From that moment on we are on a journey that leads to increasing intimacy with him.

The only difference between “other people” and addicts is simply this: When other people don’t follow the principles of the 12 Steps, they end up unhappy. When addicts don’t follow the principles of the 12 Steps, they end up drinking or using drugs to escape their misery.

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