What I learned from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting
Last night I went to my first AA meeting. It's not because I am coming out with an alcohol problem. It's because women from a local recovery house like to come to Sanctuary on Sunday mornings, and I wanted to support them. I wanted to get into their world a little. I found the AA meeting to be raw, inspiring, and spiritual -- in other words, what I wish more church meetings would be like.
This was the Young People’s group that meets on Wednesday nights at Clunie Community Center, the building where we hold our Sunday services. A Young People's group is targeted at people in their late teens and twenties. This particular group is big -- about 90 people were there last night, including the ladies from the local recovery house. Women generally sat on one side of the room, and men sat on the other. It was explained to me that this is intentional. Many people in the program are coming out of dysfunctional and destructive ways of relating to people of the opposite gender.
This Young People's fellowship is raucous at times. When Sanctuary was holding Wednesday night prayer meetings in another room of the community center, I used to rejoice when I heard cheering from the AA room. It meant someone was being celebrated because they were living clean.
The meeting is loud, but when people are sharing, it's all business. The men and women in the room are genuinely pulling for each other. And they should be. The process of recovering from longstanding patterns of addiction and learning to cope in new and healthy ways is the hardest thing most of them will ever do. As a person who presides over church services, I found it noteworthy that an AA meeting doesn't have a stage show with a band and microphones, and the "success" of the meeting doesn't turn on the quality of the main person speaking. It is really about the authenticity of the people and the progress they are making. The room felt pretty free from the trappings of American consumerism. And this ought to give us non-AA American churchgoers a reason to pause and wonder how seriously we are taking our own recovery from sin, including that of consumerism.
The meeting started with people who were celebrating various lengths of time sober (a week, a month, six months, etc.). When someone introduced him/herself and stated the number of days, everyone would cheer, even if that person had just relapsed and only had two days clean. I wondered if we in the church are this good at cheering others on in their life with God.
Next meeting participants read through various parts of the AA materials and traditions. I'm sure this gets repetitive, but the repetition is not a bad thing. It is a little like a church liturgy where the same prayers and Scriptures are recited every week. The point is for those ideas to become a part of everyone's mental furniture.
As the meeting progressed into the sharing time, I felt intensity that was not just emotional but spiritual as well. I sensed the presence of God there, even in the midst of people dropping F-bombs and using slang that could curl your hair. I believe God would prefer the profanity be left behind with the alcohol, but one thing I know to be true is that he looks at the heart of people and which direction they are going. One after another group members shared about how they were becoming more selfless, humble, thankful, and hopeful. They talked about God -- often very covertly, but God nonetheless.
One guy said he had spent the day fixing tires at work, hanging out at his house, and throwing a stick for his dog in the yard. All mundane stuff, but all incredibly powerful for someone whose normal day previously was drinking, sticking a needle in his arm, living either on the streets or in jail, selling drugs out of hotel rooms, and cavorting with prostitutes. He said guys like him belong in prison, but somehow (through a great deal of hard work, actually) he is getting to live this dream life full of beautiful, peaceful, miraculously mundane activities. He might be the most thankful dog owner I have ever met.
My take on AA after one meeting? A meeting is a deeply spiritual place, but it is spirituality of a very raw demeanor. (Is there any other kind, really?) An AA meeting is a gathering of people on the ragged edge. I love their honesty. I get a charge out of seeing people engage with their hearts in doing things Jesus would applaud. I think these are exactly the types of people he hung out with.
I’m ready to go back, and I would encourage you to go at some point. I listened and prayed the whole time. I rejoiced. A few times tears welled up in my eyes. I like what these people are doing. I could feel God there.
Since we moved to Clunie Community Center, we at Sanctuary have made it a habit to pray for the ladies from the local recovery house, the men and women of the Young People's meeting, and all those who are pursuing recovery from alcohol and drugs. Would you care to join in?
Lord, we thank you for every alcoholic and addict who is pursuing recovery, especially when it involves living more authentically with you. Strengthen those people in AA and NA groups. Give them everything they need for living clean. Draw them to yourself. Give them a taste for truly good things. We thank you for the freedom and peace you promise to those who follow you. Amen.