A couple of weeks ago I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for the first time. And let me tell you, it was all kinds of awesome.
Though I was there to support some courageous friends of mine, I have a history of some pretty ferocious alcohol abuse myself. So I didn't feel too out of place.
As I listened to two women share their stories, so much of their experiences resonated with me. The cravings. The blackouts. The increasing carelessness about harming themselves and others. As I sat quietly and soaked in everything around me, I felt a deep solidarity with the people in my midst.
Most of the attendees were not Christians, but they were, in a very real sense, humbly broken.
I think church folks sometimes envision the outside world to be full of people who don't believe anything is wrong with them. But the men and women at this AA meeting were well aware of their frailty — perhaps more aware than some Christians I know. They knew they weren't okay. That's why they were here. They longed for help. And from the looks of things, they were getting it. One of the speakers had been sober for sixteen years. Sixteen years! That's three times longer than I've even been following Jesus!
Though the messages shared by the speakers were inspiring, what intrigued me most about this meeting was that it seemed to be layered with biblical principles. Even in just attending one session, I learned that reliance upon a higher power, transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship are integral parts of the AA structure. As I drove home I thought, "That's kinda what a good church should be like!"
However, the truth is that AA — as fantastic as it is — is far from a church. I thoroughly enjoyed the openness and vulnerability I experienced in this meeting, but I was simultaneously grieved over the spiritual emptiness of it. I say that sensitively because I know most attendees find AA to be far from empty. Many of them have had their most profound experiences of fellowship, accountability, and spirituality in this program. But I knew, from my own experience, there was something much richer and more impactful than what AA has to offer. I just wanted to jump up and scream, "Jesus has so much more for you than this!"
But I didn't — because, I mean, that would be weird. And I'd probably be kicked out.
I walked into Christianity just as broken as these people walked into their first AA meeting. I was run ragged by many addictions. My self-destruction had reached the point that, if I continued in it, I was going to end up dead or in jail. But by God's grace, I had begun to grow tired of my life and my slavery to various intoxications. At the same time, something within me, which I now know was the Spirit of God, began drawing me toward this Jesus that I had heard of all my life. Long story super duper short: I became a Christian.
My life since that time has actually resembled many aspects of what I witnessed in AA last weekend. Relying upon a higher power, transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship have become the pillars upon which my life stands. But I think — and I say this as humbly as I can — that I've experienced all these things in a much fuller and more beautiful way than they could ever be experienced in AA.
Reliance upon a higher power.
Because my reliance was upon a personal God who really exists, his very real power began to manifest in my life.
My belief in a higher power was not some psychological gimmick meant to spark some false sense of peace in my life. I latched onto the true God who both rules over history and entered into history in the person of Jesus. This just and holy, yet sin-forgiving God filled my soul with the love, peace, and joy of his Spirit and brought me into his family.
In my relationship with Jesus and his people, I continue to experience transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship in powerfully transformative ways.
As I allow my fellow Christians to see all the ugly parts of me, and they let me see theirs, we are able to rejoice together because in our transparency we are reminded that, despite all our sin and junk, Jesus loves us. We don't rejoice merely in the fact that we have reached some level of inner strength which allows us to be transparent, but we rejoice in what our transparency reminds us of ... God loves and saves really jacked up people, and We aren't alone in our brokenness.
When my Christian brother and I hold each other accountable, and one of us becomes distant because he's slidden back into sin, the other doesn't just let him go until he decides to get his crap together. No!
The stronger brother gently pursues his weaker brother, just as Jesus has pursued the Church. There is no pulling yourself up by your bootstraps in the family of God; we pull one another up. There is no "get your crap together!" in the family of God; we help each other get our crap together.
When we confess our failures to Jesus and one another, we're able to take heart that there is real forgiveness for our sins based upon what God has really done in the Cross of Christ. Jesus really bore our guilt and shame; therefore we don't have to be crushed under the weight of it. As we confess our sins to him, God is faithful and just to forgive us because Jesus has already made himself a sacrifice for our guilt.
Christian fellowship is not grounded in some common propensity toward a specific sin or addiction. Our fellowship is grounded in our familial relationship in Jesus. We aren't just friends who support each other; we are family. We have been adopted by God and will live eternally as brothers and sisters in his Kingdom. The bonds I have with my brothers and sisters in Christ are deeper and more abiding than even those with my blood family, because they are forged by divine power.
I honestly can't say enough good things about AA. I am genuinely thankful the program is helping so many struggling people. But the Body of Christ really is the best place for broken people. Reliance upon a higher power, transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship are experienced most fully and beautifully when they are attached to the true highest power, Jesus, and practiced in the context of his Body, the Church.