Monday, December 20, 2010
Over dinner in a funky restaurant on Haight Street (as in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District) this week, Scott, Louise and I compared notes on the sermons we would deliver this final Sunday before Christmas Day, 2010. She had been working on hers just that afternoon. I liked her title: “Presents or Presence?” I stole the word play; made it the conclusion of my Sunday morning Christmas message. It seemed to work.
Maybe it’s because these past few months I have found myself immersed in the challenging world of the recovery community.
What a decade. In another week, we’ll close out the first ten years of the new millennium. Looking back, the Y2k fiasco of 12/31/1999 turned out to be a farce. The failure of early programmers to make the current year field four digits instead of two did not have the calamitous effect that many predicted. But ten years later, one could make the case that the decade ranks among the most calamitous of them all, beginning with the surprise attack on New York City and Washington D.C. in 2001. While the instigators of that horrific assault believed they brought down an entire economy with the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers, Americans rallied for the next five or six years. It was a stunning turnabout – sizzling hot economic growth. But we ignored the most fundamental rules of sound financial management, creating a towering but flimsy house of cards that would in one short week fold up into itself bringing the market, major financial institutions and governments to their collective, fiscal knees. We’re still counting casualties.
According to Steve Bancroft on 60 Minutes this weekend, we are hardly out of the woods. We’ve been through the market bubble, the housing bubble, the jobs bubble and all of them have burst. Still reeling, our economy faces yet another daunting Goliath: the imminent collapse of many State governments. Revenues have dried up. Reserves are long gone. Impossible liabilities of entitlements and escalating cost of services threaten to sink our most populous States. Our young David has been wielding his sling, but he’s running out of rocks.
In this quagmire, more than a few of us have found solace in compulsive behaviors that in the short term bring some sort of relief; dulling the pain, calming the fears, quieting the anxieties, short-circuiting the panic attacks and getting us through the night. It’s an avoidance tactic we are ready to embrace, given the enormity of the challenge outside our door. But finally there is a price to pay, a demon to face, when that compulsion becomes addiction.
Without seeking it out, I’ve been across the table now from several who have faced or are facing that demon, that Dragon, that other Goliath we call addiction. We’ve had long talks about avoidance and denial and self-medication. We’ve explored the depression and the shattered dreams and the broken relationships and the self-deception. We’ve tended to the wounds. We have also found hope.
It’s possible to detoxify the spirit as well as the body. The two are inextricably connected. When James Taylor said decades ago, “They’ll take your soul if you let them,” he identified a dynamic that continues to this day. Addictions are soul stealers. People in recovery are listening to Taylor’s warning as he completes the thought: “Ah but don’t you let them.”
Addicts are not the only people on planet earth who deny, self-medicate, withdraw, rationalize and sabotage relationships. The self-confessed addicts I am coming to know have a lot to offer the rest of us. I’m learning from them. There is liberation in truth telling. There is forgiveness. There is mercy. There is grace. Some Prodigals do come home. There is restoration in a good night’s rest. There is a Higher Power waiting to be tapped.
So there will be presents under the tree this weekend. Hopefully, they will be meaningful and express both generosity and sensitivity. The gift will say, “I know you.” “I value you.” “I affirm you.” “I love you.”
But maybe, this Christmas, there will not just be presents; but presence. My buddies who are now committed to recovery will be present as they have not been for months, even years. They will be rested, clear-eyed, alert and aware in ways that have eluded them for too long. Their presence will be welcomed and cherished by the people who love them the most. For some, it has been a long wait.
So we anticipate a Christmas to savor and to cherish. Our three children will all be with us along with their spouses and all ten grandchildren.
There will be presents under the tree. And beyond that, I plan to be present.
They called him Emmanuel. God with us. The present became present.
So maybe with all those presents wrapped and ready, presence is the greatest gift of them all.
This Christmas, be there.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010