His words were softly spoken, but I clung to every word. Maybe because this is how he began…
“Hello, my name is Jim. I am on the board of directors here at No Longer Bound (see previous post Adam part 1) and I teach this class once a month (Family Recovery-group counseling session for families of addict). My son completed this program a couple of years ago. And I have been the example of the family success story of a recovering addict.
Until 3 weeks ago when my son relapsed and I thought about leaving this organization…”
I listened to everything he said. Much more attentively than I listen to sermons on Sundays. I felt his words.
And you would have too. Because of one thing:
Jim did not leave NLB (obviously, as he was there yesterday sharing), but he did share with us very real and very raw emotions/wounds that he felt recently. And it was so refreshing to listen to someone be so honest with us. He didn’t have it together. All of us in the room knew it.
And he was still teaching that day.
During the 2 hour session, Jim had us break into groups to go through some questions related to the material for the day. Brittany and I turned and became 2 of 8. We met Austin. Austin is 25 years old. In just a few more days he will hit the 7 month mark for being in the program. Surrounding Austin was his mom, dad, and his wife. Each of his family members in tears as they spoke…as Austin spoke. Another lady in our group asked his wife, “How have you been doing lately?”
“Its…..”, tears on, “Its……been real hard…”
And I listened to every word from each of them. Because of one thing:
Question #2: When did you decided to change YOU?”
Austin told us that he remembers the exact moment. That he was in a jail cell with a crack addict. And as clear as day that was the moment he knew he wanted to change.
Austin’s dad: “You knew at that exact moment?”
Austin: “Yeah. That exact moment.”
Dad: “That’s amazing.”
And I didn’t doubt a word of it. Because of one thing:
Crazy that the same session that Jim was required to teach was based on this verse from Philippians 4:
verse 6 (ASV): “In nothing be anxious (worry); but in everything by prayer and supplication (a humble petition) with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
As we talked with Austin I began to think more about this verse that we had read at the beginning of the meeting. I began to think about how in my life I read the verse as is above, but I typically live out the verse (which means I believe the verse) as follows:
verse 6 (Jason’s Life Version): “In many things (especially what you consider a big deal in your context of living) be anxious (worry); but in very few things (daily food, speeding tickets, football games) by prayer and supplication (a humble petition) with thanksgiving (yeah right) let your request be made known unto God.”
Here is my resistance to that verse (the real biblical version):
You have no idea what I’m going through. So you can shove it…
Playing football was a dream of yours in high school and you were good at it, and it gave you a way to break out of being a quiet and dorky kid. And you gave it up b/c you knew it was making you into the person you didn’t want to become. And you had to answer all the questions from your coaches/friends/family on “why did you quit after 1 year? they want you to keep playing!”…don’t worry about it Jason. Just tell God about it. Thankfully.
Your mom and stepdad, who had been together your entire life, told you just a few days before Christmas when you were 15 that they were splitting up….don’t worry about it Jason. Just tell God about it. Thankfully.
You knew that you were going to have to tell your mom that you weren’t going to her wedding. That you weren’t going to live with her and her new husband. And that you didn’t agree with her decision that was going to change your relationship forever…don’t worry about it Jason. Just tell God about it. Thankfully.
Mom has cancer. Going to die?…don’t worry about it Jason. Just tell God about it. Thankfully.
Wife was noticeably downcast for weeks and it had nothing to do with you so you couldn’t do anything to fix it?…don’t worry about it Jason. Just tell God about it. Thankfully.
Deciding to move out of state, leave all your friends/family, resign from great jobs without assurance of you and/or your wife having any job once you moved? And you think GOD led you on this path?…don’t worry about it Jason. Just tell God about it. Thankfully.
Offer up $5,000 (non-refundable) of you and your wife’s savings without any factual shred of evidence that you would raise any of it back, just so that you could help get your cousin Adam into a 10 month program that he might not complete anyways? And your fundraising scheme is a 5min video that is on a handheld camera, unedited, 1 take?…don’t worry about it Jason. Just tell God about it. Thankfully.
My mind naturally goes to worry 1st. Prayer 2nd (or 5th) in situations where I have little to no control over the end result. Sometimes the situation simply “is what it is” and it is very hard for me to pull my head out of the contextual quick sand trap of myself and do anything other than worry. Much less pray.
And when I hear this verse I think:
You have no idea what I’m going through. You have no idea of what context you are speaking into . You have absolutely no idea what this situation is doing to me on the inside, because honestly I don’t really have any idea of what is happening to my heart as a result of this.
Who are you to say this to me?
And then on Saturday, something happened that makes no sense…
I got it.
Not meaning that I applied it (let’s not get ahead of ourselves) and lived happily ever after. But literally, I think for the first time ever, my eyes were opened to the context in which this verse was written.
I listened to a broken man teaching this class. A loving man, who in his brokenness taught this text. He had every right to throw up resistance to this verse and INSTEAD he said, “When Jesus showed himself to his followers he opened his hands and let them see the scars. This was real. This was very real. And yet many times I walk around with my arms out wide, but my fists tightly closed.”
In our group of 8 I listened to Austin tell the story of being incarcerated and sitting on a jail cell floor and somehow being judgmental towards his cell mate. The his cell mate reminding him of who Jesus was.
Then it all started making sense. I thought about the verse. And I realized that I had always heard this verse as if it was written by whatever well meaning person was saying it to me. I made myself believe that this verse was just part of some book called Philippians that a guy named Paul wrote a long time ago. Just some old book. Just some random verse. Trying to speak into the context of my life as a twenty-something.
Austin and Jim reminded me that this verse wasn’t written by my friends or acquaintances, but by a man who was chained in an ancient jail cell himself.
Paul wasn’t writing a “book”. With chapters and verses. He was simply writing a letter to a group of people who believed that Jesus was who Jesus said he was. Paul’s dedication to Jesus was so in depth that it got him into a lot of situations that are much worse than situations that I’ve faced:
– Jesus warned his followers that they would be beaten to the point of near death. Paul received this specific beating not once, not twice, not 3 times, not 4 times…but 5 times nearly beaten to death because he said Jesus was who Jesus said he was.
– Three times he was beaten with rods (flexible sticks tied together to maximize impact) because he followed Jesus.
– Once he was restrained in some manner and men were allowed to pick up rocks the size of baseballs and throw them at his face/body. They did this because Paul said Jesus was who Jesus said he was. It says that these men dragged him outside the city to the place where the dead bodies were left. They didn’t respect him enough to bury him, and the process seemed so violent that they assumed he was dead.
– He had been in a few ship wrecks. No coast guard and helicopters to the quick rescue. He says that in at least one of the accidents, it was so severe that he spent an entire day floating on the wreckage, waiting to be rescued.
– Robbed all the time as he traveled around from city to city teaching the people about this man Jesus.
And with all of that in mind, he is now in prison. Awaiting a trial that he isn’t sure will ever come. One limb chained down, while his hand wrote this letter to these people. He wasn’t trying to speak into the middle of Jason Avera’s twenty-something life.
Maybe he was writing a letter to this people not knowing for sure if he would ever see them again. Because following Jesus had led him through these horrible places, and as he writes this, the outlook doesn’t look too good. In fact, it looks considerably worse than anything I have ever faced. And knowing every single thing about the tragedy that surrounded his life since he began following Jesus and the fact that in the moment he was in prison:
“In nothing be anxious (worry); but in everything by prayer and supplication (a humble petition) with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
The sentence is far less repulsive with all of that in mind. When people quote that to me now, I will remember who actually wrote it. And what he was actually going through.
And I will listen and soak it in like I never have before. I will try and figure out how this makes sense in my own life, maybe for the first time…really. I will begin to try harder to allow Jesus to remove the scales from my eyes and allow someone who has been through far more and far worse than me to speak truth into my twenty-something life. And I will do this because of one thing: