I was thinking I’ve had my shot. I’m an old man and all I can do is help a few people find hope and meaning by helping them find sobriety and/or a new life of faith in God.
But helping some pretty negative and defiant people in these ways didn’t seem to me to be related to having lived a meaningful life. Besides, lots of the young men I meet with are proud and in denial about their addictions and control issues and very rebellious about the idea of really trusting God with their lives. Although I understand this since I have been the same way most of my life, it’s discouraging sometimes how many have to hit an iron wall before they are ready to surrender enough to get to the wonder of God’s adventure.
Recently a group of us were reading about Bill Wilson, who co-founded the multinational movement of Alcoholics Anonymous. We read that when Wilson had just gotten out of the hospital for the last time because of his drinking problem, one of his old drinking buddies came to see him. This friend, Ebby, had sobered up as a result of going to a soup kitchen manned by parishioners from Calvary Episcopal church in New York City.
Bill Wilson’s doctor had told him that he had to quit drinking or he might not make it. And further his doctor believed that Wilson could never quit drinking, except for one possible chance—that of having a spiritual experience of some kind. At first Bill thought Ebby had just “gotten religion.” But somehow the meeting with Ebby struck a chord in Wilson’s life. He went with Ebby to Calvary church and met the rector, Sam Shoemaker. As a result, Bill Wilson got converted to Christianity, sobered up and with Sam Shoemaker’s help, wrote the Big Book that described and inaugurated Alcoholics Anonymous as a movement—arguably the fastest growing spiritual movement in the world during the last sixty percent of the twentieth century.
As I sat there listening to the story unfold in the pages of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, I thought about Ebby, a newly sober alcoholic, working his program by telling his friend, Bill, about what had happened to him.
I thought how grateful Ebby must have felt at the end of his life to have had such a significant role in founding one of the most significant and transformational healing movements in the world. If Ebby never did anything else, that was meaningful, being responsible for the religious conversion and recovery from addiction of the man who founded this great healing community of A.A. would be meaning enough for a lifetime.
But as the story continued, I realized that Ebby probably never even knew what happened because of his simply doing what he was taught to do to stay sober himself—telling another alcoholic how he (Ebby) had found sobriety by surrendering his life to God.
I remembered that Ebby probably didn’t know the amazing effect of his walking a few days with his old friend, because I’d heard that Ebby went back out and drank himself to death. Ebby’s life did have great significance because of working a simple program for a short time. But I also realized that whether Ebby knew it or not, those few days eventually gave meaning to lives of probably millions of men and women around the world.
And after that meeting in which we were reading about Bill Wilson’s beginning with Ebby, a man I’d mentored years ago, who had moved away from Austin, and whom I hadn’t seen in several years, walked up, and we had lunch. I learned that the young man was not only still in recovery but had gone to seminary and was now being ordained as a minister. I was struck after lunch by the transformation in the man’s life. His deep faith and enthusiasm about his work touched me profoundly. And as he left after lunch, I realized that if I never do any of the exciting things I once did, that my life would have great meaning because I encouraged this one young man and helped him get sober by working the same simple program Ebby was working when he had lunch with Bill Wilson over seventy-five years ago. And I was very grateful that the Rev. Sam Shoemaker taught Bill Wilson the kind of spirituality that is at the heart of the life Jesus taught his disciples.
Lord, thank you for a life in which each person we love and help along the way gives our lives significance and meaning to you and sometimes to other people we may never know. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” Philippians 2:1, The Message
“Don’t begin by traveling to some far off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public concern. Go to the lost confused people right here in the neighborhood. … Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need any equipment. You are the equipment.” Matthew 10:6-10, The Message