For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. ~ ROMANS 7:18
In the ensuing conversation, not only did the counselor's kind, patient line of questioning draw out several critical issues with the counselee's behavior and thinking... but the counselee's answers also revealed several outright lies she'd told earlier in the exchange.
Toward the end of the session, when asked if she would be willing to pray about the personal weaknesses exposed so far, the counselee declared, "I've already tried that, and it doesn't work. I've tried counseling, I've tried praying, and none of it works. The only thing that works is me. I can quit whenever I want to. I've done it before, and I can do it again."
(In case you're wondering, the counselee's husband suggested she seek counseling because she hadn't, in fact, quit the behavior in question.)
I chuckled all the way through the observation video... not because there was anything funny about the counselee's situation or struggles, but because she reminded me so much of the old me.
"Have you been drinking today?" she asked, pleasantly enough.
My body flashed cold. I thought back to the bottle I chugged right before I got in my vehicle and drove myself here without a license. I looked her in the eye and said, "No."
"I can smell alcohol on you," she replied, still smiling and still pleasant. "Just so you're aware, I can't let you start with the group tonight unless you're sober. So, I will ask you again... have you been drinking today?"
I shook my head, staring at the table, feeling numb on the outside. Inside, I was panicking. The sky was falling and the world was ending. My plan was falling apart. I was already calculating the $900 deposit I'd put down for this treatment program, and the $500 I'd spent on a lawyer to get my court date postponed, so I could start treatment before I was sentenced, so I could show the judge I was already getting help, so I could impress him with how sincerely I regretted my mistakes and how hard I was trying to change my life (this time). I needed to start with the group tonight, or all of my efforts and expenditures would be for nothing, and I'd have no grounds for getting off easy in court.
"We have breathalyzers here," the director said gently. "I can give you one right now."
"Oh," I said, staring at the table. I was too broken to protest, too defeated to fight. My life flashed before my eyes. It was over. My gig was up.
I didn't look up. I didn't want her to see the wild-eyed opportunity dawning on me. I nodded, careful not to nod too eagerly. I mumbled, "I did drink last night."
That part was true, at least.
The director smiled and nodded. "I got drunk right before I went to treatment, too."
I looked into her kind eyes, and I knew she could see right through me. But she was going to help me. And for the first time in my life, I didn't mind being seen.
In that moment, in a rush of unexpected, undeserved hope, I felt a sort of servile gratitude to this woman. I was no different from any other drunk who walked in her door and sat down at her table and lied to her face. Nothing about me said I'd turn out any better than the rest of the repeat offender statistics. There was no reason for her to show compassion to me. But she did.
That night, I sat in a circle full of other broken, numb people. I listened to the complaints and the denials. When it was my turn, I opened my mouth to tell them about my legal troubles. Instead, I said, "I have no integrity."
I had no idea those words were going to come out of my mouth. I started crying in a room full of strangers, and God started to heal me from the inside out.
This was not meant to be an easy question to answer. Nor is surrender an appealing conversation starter. The starting point, Wesley believed, is that all of us are desperate to be saved, and we can’t save ourselves. But who will be the first to surrender? Who likes to fall apart in front of other people? Who wants to admit to powerlessness? Anybody? Every urge we have as human beings revolts against the idea of exposing weakness or giving up control. “What do you mean, we can’t manage on our own?” we’re likely to object. “We are managing just fine, thank you very much—just look at us!”
Indeed, for some of us, life looks very attractive on the outside. And that’s been a big part of the problem.
Whether we mean to or not, many of us base self-worth on success and self-image on outward appearances. We’ve built up a collection of possessions or accomplishments, for instance, and we look like we’re much better off than we are. Or we’ve somehow become entrenched in popularity or politics in ways we can’t seem to escape. On the surface, we seem like we’ve got it all together, but inside, our moral failures haunt us.
We’re stricken with private guilt over an addiction or an affair or another matter that we’re hiding from the outside world. We exude confidence when we’re plagued with doubt and inadequacy. We claim to be loving Christians when our hearts are secretly hard and critical.
Whatever the particulars, we realize we’ve been living double lives. We’ve obsessed so much over keeping our private selves separate from our public selves that now even we get confused about which is really the true self.
"How are you?"
"How are things?"
Even for the open-minded, the vulnerabilities of surrender will hit different people at different levels. This is not intended to be a comfortable exercise for anyone. Many will quit before the miracle happens.
Are we willing to go where the path isn’t easy? Can we stand to be upset or inconvenienced if it means our very souls? Are we ready to take that first honest step toward God and other people? Do we want to be honest, or do we just want people to believe we're honest?
How is it with your soul?