Grace is Gradual, or Calming the storm – then what?

07/25/2018 8:13 PM | Anonymous

The weeks leading up to my sober anniversary are full of particular kinds of reflection. I can more easily recall the awful days that led toward that crunch of clarity. And, as time rolls forward, my sense of gratitude grows deeper and richer. Retracing the line from then to now, I can begin to catch glimpses of how it happened.

Mine is a story I now hear from countless others; only the details vary. I grew up as a fearful child; I developed into a fearful adult. At the same time, I was blessed with enough gifts to construct large barriers of acceptable accomplishments, protecting myself from a world I experienced as unwelcoming.

When those fortifications of self-will failed, drugs became the duct tape that held me together. Until it didn’t. On that last day, through the din of shame and fear, I heard the gentle voice of a state trooper saying, please get some help, you don’t have to live this way. Could it really be true? There was a way out?

Here’s a question: How do we move from fear to faith? Fear and faith each seem to arise when we face the unknown, the challenging, the difficult, the threatening. On the surface, faith and fear seem like polar opposites, like fight or flight.

But, I wonder if fear and faith aren’t more closely related. Maybe it isn’t such an either/or proposition. Maybe faith doesn’t so much banish fear as make it possible to cope with it. Maybe the question isn’t about replacing one with the other. Maybe it’s not about never being afraid, but learning what to do when you are.

Several weeks ago, the lectionary featured an iconic story of fear and faith: Jesus calming the stormy sea. This is a story important enough to the early followers of Jesus to have been included in all four gospels.

Mark starts this passage with, “When evening had come,” he said to them, “let’s go across to the other side.” For this recovering addict, I can’t help but remember that gentle voice inviting me into recovery. And I climbed aboard.

Sometimes the trip has seemed slow and long. There have been life storms along the way: health, finances, employment, relationships. But I stayed in the boat. And each time I was able to ride a storm out, I grew. I had a bit more faith; I was less afraid. Until the next storm.

Today, I am occasionally plagued by doubts and fears, but I am no longer fully fearful. Life in recovery has taught me that moving from fear to faith to growth leads to new fears and new faith and new growth. After all, grace is gradual.

Life in recovery, the life of faith, is not a “one and done” sort of thing. It is, however, a “stretch and grow” sort of thing. Leaving detox doesn’t make you sober. Taking steps to live a changed life, a day at a time, does.

For this addict, what moves me from fear to faith is not a what, but a who: Jesus. That same Jesus that Mark describes as determined to free folks from all the things that keep us from God, even addiction. Jesus reveals a God who cares passionately for our wellbeing, and whose goodness is always at work beneath the surface of every storm.

When we accept the invitation to cross over from fear to faith, when we allow ourselves to experience these unhurried changes, we will discover that source of hope, that next supply of serenity, that gradual grace that enables us to take the next step. And the next, and the next; daily trudging forward with more faith and less fear.

Grace is gradual. And it’s glorious!

Paul J.
July 24, 2018

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