The Role of Grace in Sobriety

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Grace LetterpressMy wife turned to me the other day and asked that I write a blog post on grace. That threw me for a a loop. I typically associate “grace” with evangelical Christians. Though spiritual, my wife is not overly religious. What’s more, she’s more of action-oriented, “works” kind of a person.

As she works with her sponsees she’s always stressing getting into service and working the steps of Twelve Step recovery. What’s up with grace? I thought. Then I remembered her story.

When she sobered up twelve and a half years ago she had a little God problem. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe. She knew there was a God but there was a little glitch. He hated her and she hated him. Apparently God had killed her younger brother in a car wreck to punish her.

When she sobered up, my wife’s sponsor decided not to get into all of that. That wise sponsor gave her a simple instruction: Ask God in the morning to keep you sober that day and thank God each night that you stay sober.

Blessed with the gift of desperation my wife followed that simple instruction and stayed sober–resentments towards God notwithstanding.

It wasn’t until month six of sobriety that my wife had a little revelation. No, shrubbery did not spontaneously ignite nor were the heavens parted. Instead, at six months sober she was sitting in a meeting looking down at her rescue mutt Kizzy.

As she looked at her dog, a thought hit her. She loved this dog unconditionally. Sure, as a puppy Kizzy had chewed up some of her stuff and relived herself inappropriate places. Kizzy had pissed my wife off at times, but she still loved that little dog no matter what.

“Maybe, just maybe,” my wife thought,” that is how God thinks about me. I may have disappointed God at times, but God might just love me unconditionally.” That insight was a breakthrough. And it was immediately followed with the thought that instead of blaming God for her brother’s death perhaps it was her brother’s fault since he was drunk and loaded at the time of his auto accident.

Six months free of an addiction that kept her crippled for years. And all she did was simply ask for help at the beginning of each day and giving thanks as the day closed out. Grace–an unmerited gift–indeed.

Grace is such a simple concept that all too often we miss the point. I am reminded of a story told by Charles Stanley that illustrates how so many of us have a difficult time grasping the concept of grace:

“One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough.

The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, “You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.”

Wow? We sat there stunned. “Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?” Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.

When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.

Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.

One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A.

This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s offer of grace. When that tricky subject of God comes up, people start thinking in terms of moral and ethical perfection. Quitting before they begin people throw their hand up in futility? Why even try? they ask themselves.

Others are like the student who read the test through and was aware of the professor’s offer but took the test anyway. Unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of grace, they set about trying to rack up enough points with God to earn their sobriety.

But God’s grace, freedom form addiction, is truly is like the professor’s offer. It may seem unbelievable, but if we accept it, then, like the stunned students who accepted the professor’s offer, we, too, will discover that, yes, God’s grace truly is free. All we have to do is accept it.

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