A few months ago, I began attending Al-Anon meetings. If you aren’t familiar with Al-Anon, it’s a 12-step program for relatives and friends of alcoholics.
Like most 12-step programs, Al-Anon borrows the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous — the program just puts a spin on them so that they are meaningful not just for alcoholics, but also for the people who love them and live with them.
Al-Anon is not for everyone, but I have found it to be extremely helpful so far for my particular situation.
After my first Al-Anon meeting, I was certain that the program was going to be easy for me. My confidence came from the fact that the 12 steps remind me of basic Christian living.
In summation, the 12 steps basically say to come to believe in a higher power, to allow your higher power to continually remove your shortcomings, and to build a loving relationship with that higher power and with others. That sounds a lot like having a relationship with God, and allowing God to make us more Christ-like in the ways in which we live and interact with others, right?
So I was convinced that I had a leg up on everybody. I mean, I had already more or less done the 12 steps many times over just because I am a follower of Jesus. From where I was sitting, I was going to fly through the 12 steps and be on my way to getting better before I knew it.
Except, that’s not what happened.
As I read Al-Anon and AA books and listened to people talk in meetings about the steps, I found myself stuck on the first two: 1.) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable, and 2.) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The irony that a pastor was having a hard time with the idea of admitting that she was powerless and that she couldn’t do it without God was not lost on me. My sponsor and I had a good laugh about that.
But I don’t think I’m alone in this. We live in a “do-it-yourself, rely on nobody” type of society. Most cases of perceived weakness are considered to be moral failings. We aren’t supposed to ask for help — we’re supposed to figure it out ourselves.
We look at the people who aren’t making it — who aren’t succeeding and thriving as a result of their own effort— and we call them irresponsible. We call them losers.
So as much as we like our American Christian piety — we talk up our faith and proudly proclaim ourselves to be followers of Christ — we don’t like the idea of depending on God. We don’t want to surrender it all to God.
We’d rather participate in a form of idolatry by worshiping ourselves than worshiping God. Because to do that would require us to admit that there are things we cannot do for ourselves, and that we are, in fact … losers.
When I read the Beatitudes, I wonder if that’s what Jesus was trying to tell us.
I’ve heard the Beatitudes interpreted and preached in many different ways over the years. Some have called them descriptions of how people will be and how the world will work in the future Kingdom of God.
I’ve heard others say that the Beatitudes are specific commands — we should be merciful, we should be peacemakers, we should be meek, and we should be poor in Spirit. And I don’t think that either of those interpretations are wrong.
But maybe, the truth to the Beatitudes is simpler than all of that.
Maybe, Jesus is saying that to be followers of Him, we need to become defeated. That we need to be weak. That having trust in God is not a sign of having it all, but instead a sign of lack. That we need to be willing to forsake the trappings of society and culture, and we need to put every last bit of our hope in Him.
That perhaps weakness is not a failing — the way to a life well-lived is not to become the most self-sufficient person — but that weakness is actually the only avenue through which Jesus can save us and then work in our lives.
Maybe what Jesus is hinting at here is that if we are willing to admit that we are powerless and in desperate need of God, then we won’t have any use for pride and arrogance, and for the practice of trying to make ourselves our own gods.
Maybe the Beatitudes are really just a call to rejoice in our shortcomings and to admit that we are losers, and that being a loser is not a bad thing — if it means that we can be made holy and grow closer to God.
So let’s take some time today to glory in our weaknesses. To practice admitting that we are powerless and that we need to turn it all over to Jesus. To stop pretending that we can do it all on our own — or stop trying to live a life where the power of God is not central — and to become a loser for the sake of the Gospel.
Hannah Mullikin Lutz is Pastor of Ada Chapel Friends Meeting.