Early in my recovery I spent many hours studying the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-Steps. Bill Wilson referred to Reverend Samuel Shoemaker as a wellspring of the principles and attitudes that came to full flower in A.A.’s Twelve Steps. Samuel was also a founder of the Oxford Group a forerunner of AA.
But Samuel Shoemaker’s true calling was as a preacher. I came upon a quote from one of sermons early on in WWII.
“No war can ever be a clear-cut way for a Christian to express his hatred of evil. For war involves a basic confusion. All the good in the world is not ranged against all the evil. In the present war, some nations that have a great deal of evil in them are yet seeking to stand for freedom … against other nations which have a great deal of good in them but yet are presently dedicated to turning the world backwards into the darkness of enslavement.” Samuel Shoemaker Sermon “What are we fighting For?” 1940.
What I took from this quote is that I need to be careful about my thoughts and opinions of others because no one gets it all right. (And I am sure Rev Shoemaker would have dared anyone in the congregation to which he was preaching to think twice before taking that parking place.)
This reminds of a younger person with whom I was discussing his recovery efforts. He attended meetings sporadically, did not know any of the Twelve Steps, felt like there was a chance for him to try social drinking in the future and did not feel anything in his life style needed to change to keep him in recovery. I found it very difficult to try to “fix” his recovery into something I thought would work better for him.
I know that the longer I am alive the easier it is to see the issues in other’s lives and think that they could be doing better only if they would have done it my way or if only they could see how messed up they are in their life. And sometimes, way in the deepest corner of my mind, I can hear this little voice saying, I am justified in looking critically at others because I believe in Jesus as my Savior, I go to church, I read my Bible, my kids and their families are doing well and I am sober for a good number of years. I have earned that right.
“Alright John, remember that infamous river running through Egypt with its main tributary that obviously runs right through your heart?” Here I am taking credit for the positives in my life when Isaiah 64:6 is thundering in my ears. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Every person has the potential for good as well as evil. And every good I do falls short of the expectations of God. By definition, as Christian, I am a fallen human being whose only good comes from the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ and his saving death on the cross. How then can I have a holier-than-thou or attitude toward anyone? Self-righteousness is destructive not only in recovery but also anyplace in my lives.
Even more dangerous in my desire to look at my own good is found in the passage, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12. I was warned many times about overconfidence early on in my sobriety. That remains a priority even now. I need to keep my focus on what I need to do, not what I think I have accomplished.
If my focus is on what Jesus did for me, and then what I can do to say thank you to him, I will better recognize that all I have I owe to him. I can see how he has blessed me. But I need to be honest that I would have nothing without him. Might I reach out to others who have troubles? Sure, but not because I think I have it all right. Rather it will be because want to reflect my Savior’s love.
Come on back sometime to see how I am doing at this. I will wait you.
The video below shows two people who both needed to come to their Savior for forgiveness. One came after failing to live up to his high opinion of himself. The other came because of her sin and the hateful opinions others had about her. What they both needed could only be found in Jesus. I am no different than either of them.