Recently I heard such sad news. A man in his forties whom I knew a little, had been found dead. He had been homeless for a while, as he was no longer able to live with family. Although he’d been provided with accommodation, his lifestyle was such that he couldn’t carry on there.
It was drink that got him.
Drink – and his pride.
He was never able to admit he had a problem with alcohol, despite the consequences of his drinking, and in spite of a number of attempts to help him.
He had been an achiever. A charming, intelligent young man, he had done well in his career, had found a high-flying job in one of the major financial centres of the world, and worked there long enough to buy a house.
Returning to his own country and city, he found a similar job, bought a house and life was looking rosy.
Things began to unravel when he was made redundant. Promises of what he might do, never materialised.
He had already developed quite a capacity for alcohol. Over a period of time, his drinking worsened, and it became impossible for him to continue to live in the family home.
More years went by, and eventually he had no contact with his children or his wife. Drink had taken over his life but he never could admit that he was an alcoholic.
Being prepared to admit the truth
While reflecting on his wasted life, I also thought of another man, whom we had met recently. A highly qualified professional, carrying out a responsible job, drink had undermined his life also. Suspended from his job, he had had to appear in court, and had to cope with the publicising of these events in the media, and the ensuing embarrassment.
When his wife and children went to collect him from public transport (he had been suspended from driving) after his court appearance, they had to endure further embarrassment as it was clear he was quite drunk when he disembarked.
Later, as we met this man, it was evident that he was clearly contrite. He knew what he was and admitted it to others. “I’m an alcoholic,” he said. He was having some time out, and was determined to make a new start. As far as I know, he has his job back, and is attempting to carve out a different life without drink. He wants to know more about God, and is doing something about it. I hope and pray he makes it.
The 12 Steps AA Programme that people follow begins with each person saying their name and admitting, “I am an alcoholic.” No healing or restoration is possible without that self-awareness, and a willingness to admit that is what they are.
Admitting our need
In many ways, each of us has to admit where we have failed. There is no possibility of healing or restoration or forgiveness, for anyone, unless we are prepared to admit we need it. The story Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector going to pray shows the difference in attitude: the Pharisee tells God about all the worthy things he has done, whereas the tax collector simply prays, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus makes it plain that it is the second man whose prayer will be heard.
Pride comes before a fall
Pride in ourselves, our achievements, our status, our family background, whatever it may be, can be just as much a problem for anyone, as it is for an alcoholic. It is a matter of degree. With alcoholism the consequences can be more obvious; and there comes a point where the drinking takes over, and it is too late for a person to change of their own free will. That can be true with many addictions. People falling into addicition have to be prepared to ask for help – which firstly means admitting they need help.
The Jesus Prayer
What is known as the Jesus Prayer is something that we can all pray, whoever we are, whatever our circumstances. If we choose to.
The prayer is simply, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy.”
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.