Happy to report that we’re in the midst of putting the final touches on the Forgiveness issue of The Mockingbird magazine (should be out at the end of June). One of the last elements to be added is “On Our Bookshelf”, which is exactly what it sounds like, a short list of what’s been making the rounds internally. Anyway, one of my selections this time around is Heather Kopp’s Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk, which I’ve been greatly enjoying. The subtitle kind of says it all. It’s a superbly written account of what happens when a successful writer/editor of Christian books and mother of two finds herself in rehab in mid-life (and all that that entails). There are a gazillion possible passages I could post, but here’s one that stuck out, from the terrifically titled chapter “God As I Don’t Understand Him”, the entirety of which can be found here. By way of context, this comes about two-thirds of the way into the book, after Heather has relapsed.

51p5GPCwtjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of the first books I picked up [during this phase of my recovery] was Seeds of Grace, written by Sister Molly Monahan, a practicing Catholic nun. Like me, after she’d gotten sober, she’d become intrigued with the spiritual aspects of recovery. Also like me, she couldn’t understand how someone like her (with extensive religious learning and training) had ended up a helpless drunk.

Something she said caught my attention. She wrote that she honestly believed she’d learned more of God and come closer to Him through recovery than she had during all her years of religious training. Yet she expressed bafflement at how and why this could be the case.

I skipped forward in the book, searching the part where she finds the answer. But the closest she came was her conclusion that “in my alcoholism I experienced myself as being utterly lost and unable to help (save) myself in a way that I never had before.”

It wasn’t the answer I thought I was looking for, but something about her observation resonated. I remembered Miguel in his port-a-potty. And I then thought back on all my years of being a Christian, including the early years after I was newly “saved.” Sure, I had always known in my head that I was a sinner saved by grace.

But utterly lost? Unable to save myself?

Like the nun, I couldn’t remember experiencing that kind of spiritual desperation until I admitted that I was a hopeless, helpless alcoholic. Only then did the truth of my absolute need for saving and my complete inability to save myself finally become real to me.

Heather1Up until that day when I fell on my knees and sobbed beside my bed, God’s grace had been a nice option, a convenient option, but not my only option. I had known about grace, talked about grace, written about grace. Grace had been part of my rallying cry when I was mentally at war with all those horrible, legalistic Christians who obviously didn’t have enough of it.

And when alcohol had taken me captive, grace had mattered to me mostly because it was a critical clause in my spiritual contract with God whereby He had to let me into heaven no matter how much I drank. I had greedily accepted the gift, only to hawk it for my drug of choice.

It was a painful epiphany with enormous implications.

Among other things, it meant that if I was ever going to experience the kind of ongoing spiritual transformation I so desperately wanted, I would have to learn the difference between ascribing to a set of Christian beliefs that had no power to change me, and clinging daily to an experience of God’s love and grace that could.