Surrender


Dave: I’m a food addict — powerless over the dual-addiction of overeating and underexercising — and my problem is Dave!
Reader: Hi, Dave and welcome back!

Yes, I have “un-lurked” after a few years and writing again in this space known as OveractiveFork! It is my blog, right?  🙂

<soap box mode = “ON”>
With the death of my mother in January 2009 I got away from working on this blog and got into working on a blog related to problems in the nursing home industry. I believe that pathetic nursing home care contributed to my mother’s death. Resentful? Yes. I’m also hopeful that as I carry the message of nursing home reform and work with others (sounds kind of 12 Step, huh?) involved in the fight that nursing home care can improve and that corporate greed will not have the last word. The battle to reform the nursing home industry is far from being over. My recovery from codependency and food addiction has taught me that all of these “outside issues” can be faced in a health way that doesn’t have to threaten my recovery.
<soap box mode = “OFF”>

So yeah, I’m still working a program of recovery for what I identify as my “double-sided addiction” of overeating and underexercising. I’m making progress — one day and one pound at a time — which is how we addicts recover, isn’t it?

As I’ve experienced recovery, and the weight loss that goes with it, I’ve gone through some changes involving my spirituality and sexuality. More about those changes in future blog entries…except to quote a male friend in Overeaters Anonymous who shared that he noticed a “connection” between his appetite for sex and his appetite for food. He created a couple of “art objects” to illustrate this realtionship. One item he came up with was a patchwork quit consisting of condom packages AND condiment packages. The name for his masterpiece was, “Some Days I Just Don’t Know What To Put On My Hot Dog!”  🙂 When I think of hot dogs of course I see two sexual references — one has to do with the MEAT and the other has to do with the BUN that goes with it! <blush>

I’ll be redesigning OveractiveFork over the next few weeks, adding some new pages and deleting at least one. You’ll also notice a new feature with each blog entry I call “Chew On This”, in which I share my thought on recovery reading that I’ve recently “consumed.” Wow. You mean we can take in knowledge and inspiration like we can food? What a concept!

CHEW ON THIS…

— It is said that “The newcomer is the most important person at any (12 Step) meeting.

— 12 Step meetings/groups exist in order to “Carry the Message” to the “still-suffering addict”, regardless of how long the one who is suffering has been around 12 Step fellowships (oldtimers, newcomers and everyone in-between can experience stuggles and pain. I want to be here for them…in giving to them of my experience, strength and hope, I’m renewed in my commitment to “keep coming back, one day at a time”.  That sounds great, but when it comes down to it, what is the “message” being carried by/presented to the still-suffering addict? If all they do not find hope and mostly find excuses and negativity they wont find a reason to keep coming back and the group/meeting will eventually go out of existence.

— “We carry the message, not the addict.” True. It isn’t my job to work their program and they have a Higher Power who is NOT me. I share my experience, strength and hope and then I LET IT GO! I do not nag or preach at my fellow addicts. Healthy, loving sharing is NOT the same as judging, preaching or nagging.

 

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It’s been around seven months since I’ve posted to OveractiveFork. I would not be surprised if the judgmental types — especially the carbohydrate-phobic addicts — who read my blog have assumed that I’ve been in relapse during my silence.  I’m pleased to disappoint them: thanks for your “concern”, but I’ve been doing great.

In fact, I’ve released 9 more pounds since my most recent previous entry! Some self-hating food addicts would put down my “rate of weight loss” over the past seven months, but the fact is, was and will forever be: my rate of weight loss is NONE of their business.  🙂  I’ve noticed many times that the addicts with the most negative attitudes toward my recovery effort either have little or no recovery to show for themselves. Yet they never miss an opportunity to criticize those of us who DO have some degree of recovery.

With 110 pounds now released, I feel more than a little overwhelmed when I think about the remaining ### pounds that I still have to release before reaching an ideal body weight. How does my “recovery process” help me deal with “the numbers” that on many occasions have driven me crazy?

  • I really only have ONE pound to loose at any given time. One Pound At A Time (O.P.A.A.T.) then is how I release my excess body weight. Therefore I will keep my focus on JUST THE NEXT ONE POUND that I want to loose. Thankfully one pound is not overwhelming!
  • I now see my weight loss as the “fruit” of my recovery effort/journey INSTEAD OF the REASON WHY I’m addressing this aspect of my health and well-being in the first place. In other words, I’m NOT loosing weight in order to “be acceptable”. Instead I’m loosing weight BECAUSE I ALREADY AM acceptable, loving and worthwhile as a person. So whatever my weight does (increase or decrease) is NOT the sum total of my value as a precious child of God.
  • Now that I’ve reached the milestone of having released 110 pounds, Weight Watchers encourages me to set my next weight release goal — this means I don’t have to be concerned about loosing another XXX pounds (which I can choose to make my ultimate goal). Instead I can have an “interim goal”, which feels much less overwhelming than my ultimate goal. Interim weight loss goals remind me that I still have “work to do”, but NOT so much that the thought of it leaves me feeling overwhelmed.

So my current “interim goal” is to release 35 pounds. How will I release this excess weight?  Just O.P.A.A.T.. while I work my program of recovery just O.D.A.A.T. (One Day At A Time)!  🙂

As always, the rate of my weight loss is NONE of my business or your business (as a fellow addict). Only the opinions of God and the health care professionals who care for me count on any of the issues involved in my recovery.

Dave: I‘m an addict and my problem is Dave!  My drugs of choice are food addiction and exercise avoidance. I abuse my body with food in order to numb painful emotions (especially fear and rage) and avoid exercise because I lack the discipline to take good care of my body and because I’ve elevated lazyness to an artform. I’m grateful to be experiencing the gift of recovery from both sides of my addiction today — just for today — one day at a time!

Reader Responds: Hi Dave and welcome!!!

spilledicecreamconeAs an addict who has a long history of abusing my body with food, for today I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve done some crazy stuff when it comes to acting out with my drugs of choice — especially food.  My insane behaviors with food include, but are not limited to…

— Picking up food that I’ve dropped on the floor and then eating it.
— Picking up food that I’ve dropped on the sidewalk or even parking lot and then eating it.
— Eating food that is still half-frozen.
— Eating food that is partially stale.
— Eating food so fast that I don’t even hardly taste what I’m  eating.
— Eating food (which includes drinking beverages) so fast that I nearly choke on it.
— Eating so much food that it leaves me over-stuffed and short of breath.
— Eating so much food that it leaves me so lethargic that you would think I was on dope.
— Circa 1984: At one meal eating 19 pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken, along with all sorts of sides (e.g., mashed potatoes and gravy, slaw, biscuits, baked beans, etc.) while INSISTING on drinking ONLY Diet Coke! My justification was that “real food addicts would have ate 20 pieces of friend chicken, while I _only_ ate 19 pieces!

Other than these things, my behavior with food over the years has been reasonable sane.  HA!!! 😀

So I was on my way to shop at my neighborhood Walgreen’s last night and I noticed a gentleman that I assumed to be a Nicotine Addict toss his cigarette (which he didn’t extinguish) on the SIDEWALK in front of the store, only to emerge from said store a few minutes later and proceed to PICK UP AND PLACE IN HIS MOUTH his still-burning cigarette!  Honest!!!

Before I could cope a totally judgmental attitude toward this smoking stranger, I remembered some of the INSANE things I’d done with food (see my Short List above) and realized that I was in NO position to judge the man who did the SAME behavior with a lit cigarette that I had done with food…even when I’m NOT overeating I have been known to place food in my mouth that has landed on the floor, a sidewalk or parking lot. “There but for the grace of God go I”, eh?

Why be so open about my checkered history with food?  Because I learned a long time ago that I/we addicts are only as sick as our worst secrets. Also, when I share my sickest secrets I am much LESS likely to repeat them! To get them “out in the open” also reduces the weight of my guilt and shame that these sick secrets have caused me.  In recovery I am afforded many opportunities to come out of secrecy and into the light of honesty.

I’m an addict — excess food intake and avoidance of physical exercise at all costs are my drugs of choice — and my problem is Dave!

I’ve released another 6.4 pounds within the past few weeks (YEAH!!!) and yet my commitment “to do the next right thing” to take care of myself is less than wholehearted.  “Why” is NOT important (REASON: We addicts must ACT our way into right thinking, rather than attempting to think our way into right acting = Action changes thinking long before screwed up addictive thinking will positively change actions).

I will acknowledge that I’m still (as I have the right to be) dealing with the death of my mother who passed away less than five months ago.  Some days my grief is not much of a burden to bear, while other days (like Easter was and I’m sure Mother’s Day will be) are too difficult for words.

No sooner than I felt like I was getting a reasonably decent handle on coping with my mom’s death, then my closest female friend passed away on April 16 — just four months and 16 days after my mom died!  My friend was only 54 years young.  I’m 51 years young.

All of this grief is HARD to deal with! And yet, all of my overeating and exercise avoiding wont bring my mother or Anna back from the dead. Duh! Acting out with my double-sided addiction might even hasten the day of my death. Duh!

When I say that my “commitment” to my recovery ain’t what it should be (yes, I typed the dreaded “should” word), this means that some days I follow my food plan MOST of the day (say up until 7:00pm), but then stop writing down my food intake and exercise effort for the rest of the day.  I wouldn’t be shocked that my food intake is greater than my food plan calls for on these “half-ass days” and my exercise effort isn’t what it could be. Ya’ think? 🙂 <blush>

So here’s what I’m doing today and for the next seven days (eight days total): I’m going to write on this journal EACH day for these eight consecutive days. My hope is that all this writing will help me renew my focus and my effort to eat sanely and exercise moderately, ODAAT. And yet, getting back on track is NOT all about what I’m doing for me. Ultimately I believe it is about seeking God’s help to do what I can not do for myself.

I believe that God does for us addicts what we can not do for ourselves.  Therefore it only makes sense for me to seek God more intensely to help me get my "recovery batteries charged up" and get me back on track.

I believe that God does for us addicts what we can not do for ourselves. Therefore it only makes sense for me to seek God more intensely to help me get my "recovery batteries charged up" and get me back on track.

Many church’s hold “revivals” to renew “the spiritual batteries” of their members. So as an addict I wouldn’t be surprised that (from time to time) I/we would benefit from a revival-of-sorts to re-charge my/our “recovery batteries”.

So I hereby declare that the revival is on!!! May we all get CHARGED UP, re-focused and re-committed to working our program of recovery each day, ODAAT!

I have a gratitude to share: Today I am especially grateful for a renewed awareness that it is NOT food that causes me to eat insanely.  After all, food is an INantimate object!  Instead the insanity of my addiction resides INside of me. This is where I need God’s help (inside). One of the best ways for me to experince His help in overcoming the insanity of my addiction is through working the 12 Steps that are at the core of my recovery program.  I work my Steps one Step and one day at a time. And writing is a terrific tool to help me work them.

I dedicate this journal entry to a bulimic friend I’ll refer to simply as “E.”. I haven’t seen or heard from her in many years. I met her through Overeaters Anonymous sometime in the mid-1990’s. She was a true inspiration to me with her determination, wit and zeal to carry the message of recovery to all who struggle with food addiction in all of it’s various flavors: overeating, bulimia and anorexia.

Your value as a precious child of God should be measured by something far more substantial than a measuring tape, scales or even your clothing sizes.

Your value as a precious child of God should be measured by something far more substantial than a measuring tape, scales or even your clothing sizes.

Because I found her recovery effort so uplifting, I was sure to encourage “E.” to write for our local O.A. newsletter during the time I served as it’s editor.  One of her missives that I published was a poem — I would love to find the text, but alas it has long since disappeared into the mess that it my cluttered apartment. So please forgive my forgetfulness as I don’t recall if the following phrase was the title or a particular line that I have managed to hang on to all of these years — and stick with me it has: I’m a perfect size me.

One thing that “E.” discovered through working the 12 Steps, was that her body image, indeed her very clothing sizes were NOT the sum total of her worth and value as a human being.  Indeed, regardless of her weight, waistline size and even the number of fat cells in her body, she worked hard to ACCEPT herself in all sorts of sizes, shapes and measures.

For us addicts to believe (really believe) that we are MORE than just the sum total of our “numbers” requires confronting our diminshed self-esteem and deep down feelings of toxic shame. I’ve found that the 12 Step recovery process offers me the tools to face, confront and transform my body shame.

Yes, what my weight does and what my body is doing IS one way to judge the progress (or lack thereof) of my recovery effort. But whatever my size or weight is NOT the sole measure of my worth as a person. Many of us have struggled with NEVER feeling “quite good enough” — and our weight, our waistline and our muscle mass were ways we found to prolong and intensify our lack of self-worth.

So why am I journaling about being “A Perfect Size Me”? Because not too many weeks ago my own struggle with body image reared it’s dysfunctional head in the process of responding to an online personal ad.

I find it aggravating that many gay men (or at least many of the ones who write personal ads) are terrible “body bigots”!  “No fats” and “height-weight proportionate” are phrases in gay men’s personal ads that I have come to despise!

So back in early September I had an incredible “e-mail conversation” going with a guy who’s personal ad I had responded to. Based on my description of myself (minus my weight) “Jonathan” wrote: “Alrighty Mr. Dave.  you’ve got me interested!”, along with the encouraging line, “You sound like someone I’d love to get to know.”

Later the same day, my potential future boyfriend wrote: “Oddly enough, I’m anxiously watching my emails today in hopes of finding another note from you.” And yes, the whole day I was “anxiously” awaiting his next missive in my inbox.

And then Jonathan made a request that struck terror in my body-shamed heart: “So, do we exchange pictures at this point?” 

Jonathan sent his picture.  His picture was impressive. Indeed, by my standards, he was georgeous!

For fear of immediate and instant rejection, I hesitated to send my picture.  But I sent it anyway, with the resolve that my current size (remember that I’m over 80 pounds below my top weight — though dozens of pounds from my goal weight) was (to paraphrase “E.”) “A perfect size me — just for today.”

I only receive a few more messages after I sent Jonathan my picture.  It hurt.  Then again, when doesn’t rejection hurt?  I wanted to overeat to “stuff the pain” of his rejection.  But I didn’t.  And I haven’t.  And I’m back to looking for love on the Internet.  And I’m committed to be totally up front about my weight — just for today.

Because of my experience with Jonathan, I no longer “wait” to OUT myself about my weight when I’m responding to other guy’s personal ads.  I mention my weight (without a silly humorous tone (which I have used to hide my fear of rejection) and with an explanation about my recovery process (e.g., “This weight loss of mine isn’t a diet. It is a way of life”).

From day one, this blog has offered a MALE perspective on recovery from food addiction.  So this journal entry is NOT about “politics”.  Plenty of other blogs deal with political matters…but NOT this blog.
I Have The Right To Come Out Of Shame

Being Gay Shouldn't Have To Hurt

In recovery most of us addicts have found that we have had to deal with shame. Much of the “shame baggage” that I have carried around during my life has had to do with my being gay. So for this reason alone, I feel it IS appropriate to (finally — approximately one year after beginning OveractiveFork) come out about my sexual orientation. I’m gay.

You may not approve (good for you!), but I’m still gay.  You may reject me for being honest about my sexual orientation (your choice, to be sure!), but I’m still gay. I sure hope that you don’t overeat over my being gay — because even if you chose to overeat over it, I’m still gonna’ be gay. 🙂

Clay Aiken was recently paid the obscene sum of $500,000 by People magazine to come out.  I’m coming out to you, dear readers, for FREE!!!  Such a deal! 🙂  More importantly, I’m coming out to set myself free from the fear of having this detail “leak out” at some point in a future journal entry.  I’d rather be direct and “come out”, rather than live in fear of being “found out”.

Acting out with my addiction has usually involved my being indirect and/or passive/agressive.  In recovery I’m learning to face my fears and be direct in dealing with “life on life’s terms”.  As with all aspects of my recovery process, this IS a “process” and I face it and move forward (or backward) just one day at a time.

I think my recovery process (yours too?) has been a constant stream of “coming out experiences”.  First, I came out to myself that I’m powerless over my addiction (NOT that I was “fat”, I knew THAT already — and so did most of the world for that matter).

Then, over the years, I’ve come out to myself and others about the extremes of my behaviors with food. I’ve also opened up about my sense of shame, the degree to which I’ll isolate while acting out my addiction and resentments and I’ve even come out about my sexuality to fellow addicts.  So coming out ony my blog is NOT the first time I’ve come out.  It is just the first time I’ve come out to you.

If you are a male food addict reading this journal entry, let me assure that my sexual orientation is NOT intended to be a reflection on you!  I hope you will be able to relate to what I write, even though our sexuality is not identical.  The sources of my emotional pain may be very differrent from your sources, but the bottom line is that our shared addiction is not a respecter of anyone’s sexual orientation: it causes pain to gays, straights, bisexuals and transgendered persons alike.  In that sense, it is an “equal opportunity addiction.”

While I could write volumes to describe the intense feelings of shame that I’ve felt because of my sexual orientation, a few lines from (of all places!) a song made popular many years ago by The Partridge Family offers some insight into the shame/pain of  feeling “different” that I have felt.  The spoken words part of the song Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted read:

You know, I’m no different from anybody else
Start and end each night…
It gets real lonely when you’re by yourself
Now where is love, and who is love?
I gotta know.

And then the words from the song’s chorus ask:

Doesn’t somebody want to be wanted like me?
Where are you?
Doesn’t somebody want to be wanted like me?
Just like me?

Like it or not. Believe it or not. Gay people like me are “NO different from anybody else”. And despite what some religious people teach and what some bigots believe, I do have a right to “want to be wanted”. Yes, someone “like me”…”Just like me.”

In my recovery journey I’m re-teaching myself that I am “lovable, loving and have a right to be loved” — which is totally opposite of the messages that I’ve been taught and what I’ve “caught” about myself over the years. I was taught that we “queers” are “different” and in a BAD way.  I was taught that our love — that my love — was vulgur, nasty and even sinful. So at the depth of my being I have felt toxic shame for whom I love.

In case you aren’t familiar with the phrase “Toxic Shame”, John Bradshaw and others within the 12 Step movement have identified this painful sense of oneself as the source and fuel for all (self-destructive) addictive behaviors.  People who truly love and care about themselves rarely self-destruct with food, booze and other substances and relationships like those do who have felt the anguish of toxic shame. Of course, non-gay people feel toxic shame and have been shamed just like us gay folks have been, so I don’t mean to diminish the intensity of the toxic shame that my straight readers have felt and are feeling to this very day.

I’m grateful that the 12 Steps point me towards God to heal me of the pain of toxic shame.  In the process of working Steps 4 – 12 I have found a wonderful framework to “face, trace and erase” (= heal) from my toxic shame, one day at a time.

For as long as I’ve been working on OveractiveFork, I’ve wanted to share about my spirituality. I’ve held back from doing so up until this entry out of fear that something I would share about my spirituality might offend you.

Talk about a goofy, senseless fear! I finally figured out that my fear is “goofy” and “senseless” because…

— I’m not responsible for your being offended. It is your choice and your right to be offended.

— I’m only responsible for sharing my story. I need make no apopolgy because my spirituality is somewhat (or a lot) different from yours.

— I’m sharing my story, not yours. My story doesn’t diminish yours. Your story doesn’t diminish mine.

— If you don’t find something “offensive” in at least some of my journal posts then I’m probably doing something wrong. 🙂  I’ve certainly not hesitated to post thoughts about carbohydrates that are no doubt greviously offensive to carb-phobic individuals! So why should I also of a sudden be afraid to offend my readers?

So here is my truth: I’m a Christian. Please note that this statement is not intended to imply that you should be a Christian. I wish you were a Christian, but that’s between you and the Lord. I’m not here to debate. After all, God does the real “converting”, I don’t! 🙂

I’m not even here to preach. Instead I would like to allow a man who taught me how to preach (among other things, I’m a “recovering seminarian”) do the preaching for me through one of his more popular sermons.

I wont be offended if you don’t want to read Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker’s sermon Befriending Your Weakness.

Embracing My Addiction

Embracing My Addiction

On the other hand, if you are looking for some wisdom and insight into how to connect the painful reality of your addiction with the power of a God who is greater than you and your addiction, then please DO read on!

The short version of Dr. Shoemaker’s sermon, in my words, goes like this: As an addict I had to REALLY get honest about the REALITY of the pain and outright INsanity of my addiction before I could experience God’s strength to overcome my addiction, one day at a time. Being in denial about my addiction prevented me from truly seeking a Power Greater than my own in order to overcome it. Why seek to “overcome” something that isn’t all that bad?

Getting REAL about my addiction got me to the point where I began to experience recovery. Embracing my REAL (and very broken) self (which in turn is helping me to LOVE myself “warts and all”) is what keeps me in reacovery.

Two suggestions: If you do indeed choose to read the following sermon, please consider printing it out and then take the time to read it with as few distractions as possible so that it really has a chance to “sink in”.

And now, true words of wisdom from my friend, Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker…

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Befriending Your Weakness
by H. Stephen Shoemaker

(© 1989, 1996, 2002 & 2007. H. Stephen Shoemaker.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.)

Can we talk? It seems to me that in church we work hard to hide our weakness and do most of our suffering in lonely solitude. We spend our days hiding from ourselves, from one another and from God. The gospel invites us to another way.

When you’re young you think God uses your strengths. That is true. God uses your talents, your excellences, your triumphs. The older you get the more you realize God also uses your weaknesses. This is the beginning of wisdom.

Picture Simon Peter. On the day of Pentecost — surely in his prime — he preached and 3,000 were converted. Some sermon, huh? And the church was jump-started by the Holy Spirit into its world encompassing mission. But was that sermon a greater witness than the day years later when Peter was crucified? Upside down, he requested, for he did not think himself worthy to be crucified as our Lord had been, right-side up. Remember Jesus’ words to Peter by the seashore the day He recommissioned him?

“When you were young you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”

Indeed.

Jesus images aging: another girding you and carrying you where you do not wish to go. As someone quipped: Old age is not for the squeamish. But the image is a more encompassing one for all human weakness. In this discussion of weakness, let us examine a “spirituality of weakness,” a spirituality which makes it possible to Befriend Your Weakness.

I

Two texts point the way. The first is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson entitled “Compensation.” If you want to watch a great mind thinking read an essay by Emerson.

Compensation is a truth of the physical world: an animal with poor sight has extraordinary hearing, a strong right eye compensates for a weak left eye, and so on. It is just as true in the realm of the human spirit. Emerson begins with an arresting sentence, at least from the point of view of a preacher:

“Ever since I was a boy, I have wished to write a discourse on Compensation; for it seemed to me when very young that on this subject life was ahead of theology, and the people knew more than the preachers taught.”

When I read those words they had the ring of truth for me. The lives of people have taught me more on compensation than books of theology, and you have known more than I have taught.

One of those compensations he said is this: “Strength grows out of weakness.” The good, he said, “are befriended by weakness and defect.” It sounds almost too pat, especially if you have suffered the torment weakness and defect bring, more especially if you are suffering terribly now. How could we ever be “befriended” by such? Then he offers a sentence that could have come out of the Book of Proverbs:

“As no man had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him, so no man ever had a defect that was not somewhere made useful to him.”

That’s an interesting paradox of life: strengths that trip us up, weaknesses that become useful to us. He illustrates with a famous fable, perhaps you’ve heard it. It’s about a stag, a beautiful deer who admired his horns but disliked his feet. But when the hunter came his feet were what saved him, and afterward, caught in a thicket, his horns destroyed him. Therefore, Emerson concludes, every one “in his lifetime needs to thank his faults,” because as he confronts his weaknesses, “like the wounded oyster, he mends his shell with pearl.”

A person goes to sleep in good times — is this not true — but as Emerson adds:

“When he is punished, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts, learns his ignorance, is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill.”

This compensation is not as easy nor as automatic as Emerson in his brilliant prose makes it sound, but it gives us real hope nonetheless. A caution: rarely do we quickly see compensation at work. Emerson explains:

“…the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the understanding…after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts.”

At the time all we can cry is, “O the loss, the loss, O the cost, the cost!” But in the strength of faith and by the remedial power of God’s Spirit, we go on and over time are given the gift of compensation.

Is this true? It is our hope for wholeness and usefulness and our only escape from bitterness or destruction.

II

Emerson’s essay is the first text; the second is the “luminous dark” of II Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul was suffering the humiliating weakness of his “thorn in the flesh.” The image Paul used is more terrible than its translation suggests. Not a small splinter, a giant stake. Not mildly irritated, Paul was impaled by an affliction at times too great to bear.

We do not know what this thorn was. The history of the exegesis of this verse reads like a medical dictionary: everything from foot disease to eye problems, from epilepsy to obsessions, to manic depressive illness.

Whatever it was, it was no mild private irritation. It was an agonizing, public, and humiliating affliction. It was, to use Paul Scherer’s phrase, a thorn “lodged in the sinews of his apostleship” because it hindered his plans and made him a laughing-stock to his adversaries, the super-apostles. If he is so afflicted, they scoffed, “How can he be an apostle?”

The next verse is one of the bravest in the Bible. “Three times I prayed for this thorn to be removed.” Three times, he prayed, but his prayers were not answered. He was not delivered of this thorn. The three times represent hours, maybe years, of agony. God, take this away! How can I be who you want me to be, do what you’ve called me to do, with this thorn?

Out of the silence of heaven finally came the answer, not the answer Paul wanted, but all the answer he needed. “My grace is sufficient for thee”, the Voice said. “My grace I give you. Myself I give you in your infirmity, and that will be enough.” The first hint of that answer must have been hard to hear. Lord, that is not what I asked for! But as the answer came and came again, Paul hit bottom with this thorn, with this thorn and all those unanswered prayers and he heard at the bottom of the darkness the rest of the answer:

“My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Strength made perfect in weakness. Such is the mystery of the gospel and the mystery of grace. God’s strength is poured into our weakness, His grace flows into the hollow places of our lives.

III

The first text, Emerson, the second text, II Corinthians, the third text is the lives we have observed which give witness to this truth. It has almost been without fail. A person has been a great help to us, ministering to us with wisdom and compassion. Only later we discover how much they have suffered in life. Where did they get their wisdom and compassion? Out of their suffering.

The young man suffered a business failure. Years later he tells of the good it has worked in his life, a good he could not have seen at the time.

With all of us, it is our strengths that bring us success, and those same strengths trip us up. It is from the failures of our strengths that we learn our weakness, and from our weakness learn a truer strength.

The 12-step movement has been witness to this truth of the gospel. Meeting in church basements across America, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have often been more “church” than what happens upstairs. They’ve discovered the door to healing in that moment when they say finally, “Over this I am powerless,” and they call upon a Higher Power.

What they teach us is that to this point, whatever our weakness, all our efforts to get strong enough, smart enough, disciplined enough have failed. Ironically the harder you have fought your difficulty, the fiercer its power has become. Finally you admit that over this you have no power and you call upon God.

This is befriending your weakness. When you befriend your weakness you admit it may be with you always, and you learn to live with it day by day as friend, not enemy.

When you befriend your weakness you join the human race. This weakness is your doorway into your true humanity. Before, you pretended to be somehow different, better than most. We have this ideal illusionary self, a pretend self, and its pressed-down twin, our disinherited self.

God wants to love your real self, with all its strengths and weaknesses. If God can befriend your weakness, why can’t you?

When you befriend your weakness you for the first time take responsibility for it. You may have denied your weakness; or you may have said: That which I have no control over, I have no responsibility for. These are dangerous, illusionary, self-destructive paths. To this point all our efforts to get strong enough, smart enough, powerful enough to get control of the problem has failed. Ironically, the harder you have fought it, the fiercer its power has become. Finally you admit you have no power and call on God’s power. This is befriending your weakness.

When you befriend your weakness you join the human race, a human broken race dearly loved by God, and admit your brokenness. When you face this truth you discover community, for we all are broken in some way. It is our strengths and pride which separate us; it is our common brokenness that unites us.

When you befriend your weakness you let God’s grace be your sufficiency, both for pardon and for power. You begin to let God’s strength work in your weakness. The following story is told of a certain Baptist pastor in Virginia:

“One day a badly intoxicated man staggered up to the pastor on the street and announced, “. . . I’m one of your converts.” The pastor replied, “Well I’m not surprised. You look about like one of my converts. Next time, let’s let the Lord do it.”

Befriending your weakness is calling on a Power beyond you.

When you befriend your weakness you, for the first time, become — responsible in your weakness. You’ve fought your weakness as an enemy. That has only made your enemy stronger. You may have given in to the weakness and said, “That which no control over I have no responsibility for.” Dangerous logic. We are a responsible self in our powerlessness as well as in out power.

To be responsible in your weakness is to accept your weakness as part of your humanity loved by God and learn to live happily and at peace and responsibly in your powerlessness.

I do not know where your broken places are, but everyone has those places. And these broken places would be our deepest community; and they would be our best opportunity to experience the grace of God. Is it possible, asks the poet David Bottoms, to fall “toward grace?” It is not only possible, it is the gospel story.

My grace is sufficient, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

IV

Famous lives have become testimony to this truth. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s mental breakdown, Helen Keller’s blindness and deafness, Flannery O’Connor whose illness with lupus forced her back home to Georgia to live with her mother, but whose best fiction was written in the country of her affliction.

How about Stephen Hawking, the world’s greatest theoretical physicist, who teaches in the chair of physics at Cambridge which Sir Isaac Newton once filled. He is widely known as the smartest man in physics since Einstein. His book, “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” is a phenomenon, a physics book that became a best seller. What’s more amazing is that he has Lou Gehrig’s disease and can now move only one thumb. He gets around in a motorized wheelchair and talks and writes through a portable computer he has designed.

Hawking can speak only through that computer and can write only 10 words a minute, but he has made some of the greatest contributions to science since Einstein and is on his way to making the next great contribution in our generation. It was the onset of the illness itself which pushed him from being a brilliant prodigy with great promise into being the leading scientist of his generation. He says of his life: “Science is a very good area for disabled people because it is mainly the mind.” Befriending your weakness.

Those are the famous examples, but I’m just as stunned by the witness of hundreds of people in every day life, out of the spotlight, who’ve befriended their illness and live with courage and skill and compassion in the face of a myriad of weaknesses: depression, handicap, physical suffering and loss.

The nurse who has suffered terrible mental pain who converts this suffering into compassionate service.

The teacher, herself abused as a child, went to seminary to become a missionary, but now follows God’s calling as an excellent elementary school teacher.

The recovering alcoholic, a physician who now lives as a wounded healer, helping others befriend their weakness and receive and receive the healing graces of God.

The single person devoting her life to hundreds of boys and girls.

The woman in the nursing home afflicted with time converting her long days to the love of those around her, to prayers and to great witness of faith to her family.

The man who has forged his loneliness into a life of service.

God can use your strength, but if that were all God had to work with He’d have precious little raw material. He also uses your weakness.

It is the broken earth that receives the seed, the broken seed that gives forth growth, the broken bread that gives life. And it is your own very weakness into which the grace of God is poured and from the broken vessel of your life poured forth into the world.

So, befriend your weakness, don’t fight it, or curse it, or ignore it, befriend it. That’s what Jesus has done as He came to this earth. He’s befriended our weakness, every weakness. He’s befriended the whole running, limping, laughing, weeping, broken and beautiful human race. And He invites you to join it today and discover as you do the mystery of the gospel — grace sufficient and strength made perfect in weakness. “For when I am weak,” Paul said, still stunned with the news, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Blessed be the name of the Lord, who came in lowliness and befriended our weakness, was Himself broken on a cross, and was raised to life to live with God and in us. Come, O Friend, help us to befriend ourselves that we might wonderingly say with the apostle, when I am weak, then I am strong. Amen.

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