Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk to my son’s confirmation class about alcohol and drug abuse. A few seventh graders were also there. In a previous position I held, I gave presentations like this on a fairly regular basis. But it had been a while and I wondered, now more than a few 24 hours down the road from those experiences, how it would go.
So I beefed up the presentation with a PowerPoint presentation and showed up with a little trepidation. (I think the last time I did this “PowerPoint” was a type of pen.) I told the class I was a little on edge and that seemed to get things going smoothly.
It was fun. I have never been one for a presentation loaded with facts and figures and I thought especially seventh and eighth graders may not appreciate that a lot either. So we wound our way through the lives of some people with whom I have come into contact and their struggles. (Yes, there was enough changed that no one could identify who they were.)
Then I came to the section when I talked about my own struggles with alcoholism and the consequences for my family. As I recounted experiences from my drinking days with stories I have told a multitude of times, my gaze landed on my son, who had lived through it all. I realized, and he mentioned it later, he had never heard one of my presentations. But there he was, now a pastor, being lead down what had to be a very uncomfortable memory lane.
As I drove away, I started to get that squirmy, uncomfortable feeling inside as the memories of my drinking days came flooding back. The pain I felt was not solely because of what I had done during that time; it was also focused on those who I had hurt–my family. Even though as a family we are only 25 days away from our 34th sobriety birthday, the pain is real.
Why was the pain as real as ever? I thought to myself that I had done the 4th and 5th steps of AA which have to do with making lists of all those I had harmed, become willing to make amends and then follow through. So all these years later was I discovering I did those steps all wrong?
The way I felt reminded me of King David as he wrote in Psalm 32 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. To put it simply, the guilt David felt was “eating him up.”
Is that what I was feeling? Was there still guilt from all those times I hurt my family through my drinking all those years ago? I am sure that was part of my reaction to giving the presentation. I am told that dealing with painful memories means you eventually are able to recall those times without all the emotions coming back. If I was not yet at that place, what is the solution?
Well, if I go back to David, he further wrote in the same Psalm then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. David went to the only source of real forgiveness–his Heavenly Father. Only he can forgive my sins as I come to him believing that Jesus died to pay for whatever I have done.
And if my conscience is still beating me up for my past–no I do not have to forgive myself. I know I will continue to sin and that alone will keep dragging me down. Instead, as it says in Hebrews, How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! I can know, no matter what I am feeling, the guilt of my sin is forgiven. Now I can live free from the burden of guilt.
Maybe I will always have times when my past causes me discomfort. Does that mean that God has not forgiven me? No. His forgiveness is perfect. Does it mean I need to forgive myself? Well, I need to accept the fact that I am sinful and as such I will always need forgiveness.
Does it mean I need to continually seek forgiveness from those I have hurt? Sometimes I mistakenly think that if I can have my family forgive me in just the right way or just the right number of times, I will no longer feel guilty. But then I am seeking that forgiveness so I feel better. That is not repentance.
Understand, I have never felt anything but love and forgiveness from my family throughout my recovery. The issue is my focus. If I feel guilty, that I need to take to God for the reassurance of my forgiveness. Then, as a response to Jesus’ love for me, I live out my thankfulness in how I treat my family and others. I do not live that way to make me feel better; I do not treat them with love to win their forgiveness; rather, I show love because in all honesty, I couldn’t live any other way after Jesus gave all for me.
The guilt will surface for me probably until I am fully in recovery in heaven. That I take to God. My family needs to see my love and appreciation on a continuing basis–yea, that needs some work. And the rest of my walk here on earth, well, Proverbs tells me that as I follow the path laid down by my Savior it will be like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. Ah, no guilt there! Now that’s life! Praise you, Lord.
Hope you come back sometime to see how God is continually working out my recovery.
I will wait you.