Often we see the Word of God as isolated messages stored in compartments that make it easier to digest and comprehend. When we step back and examine the big picture, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on God’s message from a different perspective. The message of salvation never changes; however, our ability to appreciate it expands as we change our way of looking at it. Imagine holding an intricate object in your hands and taking the time to examine it from all sides, getting to know it from each different angle. These various perspectives, when combined, offer you a greater understanding of the whole. This is the value we obtain as we step back and attempt to view the whole, and then step forward to carefully observe each piece that contributes to the whole. After inspecting the pieces, we can once again step back and embrace the whole, having become more familiar with each component part at a deeper level.
Life is journey. Recovery is a journey. Growth in our Christian faith is a journey. Embracing the concept of allowing life events to unfold as part of a journey facilitates our ability to learn and grow, especially when we see these events as part of God’s plan for our lives. The concept of a journey teaches us to acknowledge that there is a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Every aspect of the journey offers lessons for us to learn.
When residents enter our program, they are often confused and stuck in distorted and unproductive ways of thinking about the events of their lives, especially the events that have contributed to their addiction. They have become focused on a small part of life that has caused them to feel distressed, and they have forgotten to step back and look at the big picture. During individual counseling and/or bodywork sessions, we address this limited view and help residents reframe their lives and invite them to see the big picture. As a Christian-based facility we often help them recognize how God has been present through their hardships and struggles, and that each of these difficult moments gives them an opportunity to better understand their lives and grow closer to God. We offer our residents a Christian worldview which reframes the way they look at life, healing their pain and providing comfort to ease their loneliness and distress.
A Christian worldview helps you see life as a gift from God, and to recognize that this important gift also carries the responsibility of finding a Christian purpose – a way to contribute to God’s plan. You have the comfort and security of knowing that there is an eternal plan and that you are included in it. Life is not a random sequence of events that are totally beyond your control. Life is a journey that you take with God by your side, guiding you every step of the way – IF you submit to his plan and engage in the process that is offered to you. A Christian worldview highlights the value of relationships, helping you feel a sense of belonging by acknowledging God as your Father in heaven and Jesus as your brother and Savior. Consequently, from a Christian perspective you belong to a community that is based on goodness, and you have the privilege of being able to contribute to that community, causing it to grow and develop as you grow and develop.
We have discovered that many of the addicts/alcoholics that come to us for treatment are troubled because they feel they have no sense of belonging or they have no purpose. These realities cause feelings of emptiness, isolation, low self-worth, and even despair. They translate into behaviors like withdrawing from relationships with others or engaging in self-destructive behaviors. As human beings we have a fundamental need to belong and to contribute. When those needs are not met, we suffer. For some, that suffering leads to addiction – a state in which alcohol or some other drug fills the emptiness we feel inside and provides the illusion of comfort we so desperately need.
Many of our residents state they simply do not know what their purpose is in life. They have no idea how they are to contribute to God’s plan or make a plan of their own that gives them a sense of value and self-worth. Some residents enter our program having spent many years of their lives doing something that helped them earn a living but their career is now leaving them with a lack of fulfillment because they fail to see that God was present in their lives.
One of our past residents had been a successful businessman for years; however, his success left him feeling empty inside and the stress of this reality caused him to develop a drinking problem. As he engaged in our Christian community, he discovered that his emptiness was the result of having no relationship with God and no sense that he had contributed to God’s plan. This “aha! moment” began to eat away at him to the point where he felt repentance – sorrow for his sin. In addition to feeling genuine sadness for having disappointed God, this man also started to beat himself up which led him back to issues of low self-worth. [Yes it is true – even people who appear to be highly successful harbor issues of low self-worth!]
During a bodywork session with this resident he was able to see that even though he had not been consciously mindful of God’s presence in his career, he had, in fact, been closely influenced by God throughout his life. This man had a remarkable intuitive sense for creating beauty. He had used that talent to host magnificent events for others, inspiring them to enjoy the beauty of God’s created order. During the session he allowed himself to be connected to God the Father as the Creator of heaven and earth. Through this experience, he saw his life and his career in a completely different light. Although he had been consciously unaware of his closeness to God over the years, he was immediately able to see how his work had been influenced by the creative power of God the Father. This facilitated a profound bond with God in that moment and it let him see his life from a different perspective.
These “aha! moments” create profound transformations in the lives of our residents. They facilitate the death of an old way of looking at life and an opportunity to experience new life. This transformation occurs through the mystery of the dying and rising of Christ at Easter. When we embrace Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, we too have an opportunity to find new life. That is what recovery is about – letting go of old destructive patterns and embracing new, healthier patterns.
From a Christian perspective, the Easter mystery is made manifest in the process of recovery. Those who are authentically engaged in recovery embrace the dying and rising of Christ, and they learn to live that reality in their lives. The seasons of Lent and Easter allow us to bring the beauty of this process into our conscious awareness. At St. Joseph Institute we use the season of Lent to immerse ourselves in the mystery of the Cross by delving into each of the 14 Stations of the Cross. We closely examine the aspects that contribute to addiction and unite our weaknesses to the healing power that comes from participating in this ancient devotion that celebrates the passion of Christ.
Each week during Lent our residents focus on two Stations of the Cross and open themselves to the healing that is available by offering up the events of their lives in union with the suffering of Christ. They are encouraged to develop an intimate relationship with him and come to know the love he has for them. They learn to take responsibility for the ways in which they have disappointed God, others and themselves. They experience the power of forgiveness and the healing that results from it.
Their Lenten journey culminates in the events of Holy Week when they commemorate the Last Supper and participate in the experience of having their feet washed just like the disciples of Jesus did on that holy night. They enter the passion of Christ on the morning of Good Friday and they walk the Way of the Cross with him. They reflect on his sacrifice and our salvation as they wait for the glory of the resurrection on Easter Sunday morning – an event that is celebrated in the beauty of our Forest Chapel.
Lent and Easter are holy times and we honor the spiritual experience available to all believers. We also allow that experience to manifest in their lives by providing a time for coloring of Easter eggs on Saturday night. On Sunday we invite them to share their Easter joy with their families by enjoying a delicious dinner together. Easter is a time of resurrection and new life – new life for individuals in recovery and new life for their families!