Last night, I attended a young-persons’ open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as an observer and cried.
I visited as part of a group, but for me, this was more than an educational experience. It was personal, and it was intense.
I’m not an alcoholic. At least, I don’t think so. Maybe I’m an alcoholic and don’t know it. Alcoholism runs in my family on both sides. A long time ago, I decided to avoid alcohol because I don’t know how I would react. So maybe I am an alcoholic, and maybe I’m not. Either way, I don’t plan to find out. The irony of me being the one visiting AA was painful.
The stories told by the speaker (it was a lead meeting, meaning that there was one main speaker) were intimately personal. I listened to them and realized that I’ve seen similar stories my whole life. I spent many days of my childhood in bars (which is where I discovered, at age 3, that I hated beer; I’ve never touched it since). Fridges and coolers were always full of beer, and I’ve been on trips where people were almost too drunk to get to their beds. It’s just how it was. That was life. It didn’t used to bother me until a few years ago, when I realized that I had a difficult time telling alcoholics and heavy drinkers apart in my own family.
Though I cried hearing the stories, I mostly cried because I saw so much hope and support. Everyone at the meeting acknowledged their shared reality with brutal honesty, but complimented it with an outpouring of brutally honest compassion and support. I got to thinking how different this was from church.
Churches are full of broken people who refuse to consider that they are broken. Whether we are broken by the things we do or broken by the things others do to us, we are all broken. We have corporate confession on Sunday, but no one is really honest about it. Why would they be? Is it not more often the case that the church stigmatizes and shuns those who are honest about their shortcomings? One day, I hope the Church will be ready to deal with the very reality it teaches: that Jesus came not for those who are well, but those who are sick, and that God proved God’s love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
At the end of the meeting, I stayed a little longer to speak with one of the leaders. I came away, having made a few confessions and decisions, and knew that I had seen God in those moments.