I met one of my dear friends on the street this week. “Joe” has remarkably changed his life the last three week. Joe has become sober from multiple substances that he was abusing. He has gotten a job. He has moved into a stable housing situation. He has begun attending sober meetings and working the 12 steps. Everything Joe told me was great, but it suddenly, but as I listened to him I realized that his words were saying one thing and his voice was saying another.
I interrupted Joe, “Can I stop you and just ask you a question?” He said, “Sure. Anything.” I continued, “You are telling me all these wonderful things, but your voice sounds frustrated and stressed. What is up?”
Joe looked at me for a while and then began venting. He was frustrated because the stable living situation that he could find was a boarding house that is also a sober house. “They expect me to do 20 hours of community service every week. They expect me to give them 48 hours notice if I’m going to be out after 9. I can’t do that stuff. If I’m not working, I’m at a meeting or with my sponsor working the steps. They just don’t understand!” His voice got more and more angry. I let him vent.
Joe suddenly stopped, looked conflicted, and said, “I know I need to be grateful. I should be grateful. Really I am grateful, but I didn’t sign up for this sober house. I thought I was just getting into a boarding house. I feel like just taking my next check and running away and saying ‘Screw this!’
“I’m sorry. I need to be grateful. I’m sorry.”
I thought about what to say and what to do next. I asked, “Do you have a Bible? Are you reading scripture through all of this?” He said, “Yes and no. I’m reading the Bible but I don’t have one of my own. I’m using my sponsor’s.” I knew this was something that I could fix, but I continued with more questions.
“What are you reading” I asked. Joe opened his diary and showed me passages that he had written down. Psalm 25. (To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me….) Matthew 4:1-11 (…Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.). Joe told me why he loved these passages and then added, “And I love reading Job.”
I responded and asked him, “I love reading Psalms. Did you know that a lot of the Psalms start out with intense anger and frustration being directed at God! Some of the psalmists really let God have it: ‘Why have you forsaken me? Where the heck are you? Why are you letting the bad guys beat me up like this? I hate this! And I’m pissed at you!’ And then they end with things like: ‘But… you are my God. I will trust in you even now. I will put myself into your care. I have no other hope, so I will count on you.’
“I am noticing that you are angry but that you feel like you have to be ‘sweet’ with God. I suggest that you approach God on your knees but with all your emotions intact. Let him know how hard it is. Let him know how betrayed you feel. Let him know how scared you are. Don’t just share the grateful side of you with him–although it’s wonderful that you can be humble and grateful. Dare to share your whole self with God.
“My favorite character from all the Bible is in Job. Elihu is his name. He’s a young man your age. He sits and listens to Job. He sits and listens to the old men who are supposed to be wise. Job cries out from the pity pot of life. The three men offer him sharp rebuke in the disguise of friendship. When Elihu has heard them out, he tells them, ‘I have waited because you are old. I have listened because you are supposed to be wise. But you have totally missed the point!’ And then he tells them the truth. I love that! And I can’t imagine how God must have smiled during his speech to Job and his three ‘friends.’
“And while we’re talking about Job. Remember that Job totally loses his temper and self control in the last chapters. He cries out, ‘You have forsaken me… I want to see my God and my accuser and my judge right here… right now… right before me.’ These are angry and frustrated words. And God listens… and God shows up. It’s horrifying and humbling. Job immediately falls to his knees and says, ‘I am nothing. You are everything. I’m sorry, and I was wrong. Forgive me.’ God does. And God restores him fully… better than ever, in fact. But notice that Job didn’t get there by being sweet or even by being grateful. He got there by being real with God. And I think it’s OK… I think it’s necessary… for you to be real with God, too.”
We prayed together. Joe also needed to tell someone here on earth (a case worker) that he is frustrated with the current living solution. We practiced doing that until he could do it authentically but not hurtfully. When he was ready, Joe used my cell phone to call the human he was angry with to be real with him as well. It was frightening to Joe, but he did it.
We walked together back to my truck, and I gave him a Bible. I wrote these words in it and presented it to him in the parking lot:
“I believe in you. You are a beloved child of God. In you, He is well pleased. Be blessed by this Word and become a blessing to others. In love… Terry.”
He read the words, looked at me, and said, “Thank you. This really means a lot.” We hugged. And he went to his job and to his meetings and to the next hour of his new life.
May God bless Joe today and every day. May Joe grow in his authentic relationship with God. May we all grow in authentic relationship with God, so that we can fulfill God’s purpose for us: enjoying God today and tomorrow and forever and becoming a blessing to all nations.