I heard an important message Sunday at church. It was part of a series on the book of Proverbs and the pastor began with this warning:
Sometimes it doesn’t work.
Sometimes we do all the right things, make all the right plans, follow all the right advice, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s and still things go sideways. To quote one prophet, Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.
The sayings in Proverbs, the pastor went on to say, are not so much promises but probabilities. Following the wisdom found in Proverbs will better situate a person for a fulfilling, rewarding life than not following its advice. But nothing in life is a guarantee and sometimes you’ll bite into a coconut cluster when you were totally expecting caramel.
In the same way that Proverbs cannot promise a smooth-sailing life, working the steps of recovery will not guarantee rainbows and unicorns. I can be working the perfect program but still get laid off tomorrow. I can recite the most beautiful amends to someone I’ve hurt and still be kicked to the curb. I can rise each morning and seek to connect with my Higher Power and hear nothing back in return. I can strive to give back to the world what I’ve learned and be rejected or ignored.
Neither Proverbs nor the Steps are a talisman promising good luck if rubbed just the right way. And thank God for that.
Thank God because who wants a Proverb or a Program that works like a vending machine? Actually, as I type that question I realize that at times many of us want exactly that. We want to be able to recite a verse or work a step and because we have done X we can be certain that Y and Z are sure to follow. Deep down we want to feel we have earned our reward. Yes, we may want that at times, even most of the time, but thank God that is not what we get.
Because here’s the deal. Not one of us ever has nor ever will work a perfect proverb or program. Not one of us ever has nor ever will get it right enough.
Moms and dads, on a scale of 1 to 10, just how often are you operating at a consistent 10 when it comes to training up your child in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6)? I often strive for a 10 but there are days when I know I just phoned it in.
Fellow addicts, on a scale of 1 to 10, just how fully are you turning your life and your will over to the care of God as you understand God? I often strive for a 10 but there are days when I realize I’ve been running on my own steam and stubbornly clinging to my own will.
I am so thankful that both Proverbs and my Program are probabilities for a better life rather than promises because if they were promises than that would mean I would be accountable for perfectly performing those promises in order to get the promised prize. My relationship with God would be based solely on how well I performed each transaction, how perfectly I lived out each proverb, how precisely I worked each step.
Probabilities, on the other hand, create room for grace.
Grace, God’s unmerited favor and goodness towards we who strive and stumble through life, makes up for the days I’m operating at a 5 at best. Grace enables me to be gentle with myself and let go of worry about the future because while I know I may never be a consistent 10 when it comes to parenting, God our Father, is.
Grace is those moments you see your child respond to someone with compassion and you can’t remember having done it quite so beautifully as they or had no idea they were watching if you did.
Grace is what makes up the difference on those days when I know I haven’t had time to work a great program but I’m sober today and a text from a group member reminds me that I am not alone.
Understanding that my program, like proverbs, is made up of a list of probabilities releases me from the bondage of performance anxiety. So long as I am setting my sail in the direction these steps suggest I can be hopeful that I’m going to make progress even if – no, when! – I don’t do it perfectly. The Big Book, in the chapter titled How It Works, after listing each of the 12 Steps has this to say:
Many of us exclaimed, “What an order! I can’t go through with it.” Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.
So, if you are struggling today with keeping a bunch of promises and worried that your sub-par performance is going to sink you or those you love, know this: Because of Grace, if you continue taking it one day at a time, moving one step at a time in the right direction, the probabilities that you’ll make positive progress are really, really high. Don’t give up.