If you have sat at AA tables with me anytime during the last thirty years, you have probably heard me use this analogy a hundred times. If so, suffer a fool to make it a hundred and one.
Before I came to faith in God, I was like a stone, hard and impenetrable. The grace of God was flowing around me everywhere, but my obdurate nature ensured that I would not drink from that stream. The fear of giving up the only security I knew, while subconscious, drove all my decision making. I was genuinely frightened by selfless people, people who had surrendered themselves to something higher. Yet that very vulnerability was also attractive and it began to slowly erode my protective shell.
As Bill W. puts it,
When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 53
Ultimately , in that moment of ego deflation, I called out to a God who was at once both inconceivable yet essential. And like many in that condition, I became aware of the genuine presence of God. It was an awareness not of the mind but of the heart, yet no less unshakable for it. The grace of God had penetrated that shell at last.
I lived in that reality for some time, but came to realize that faith in God alone was not sufficient. Those people whom I had seen abandoning themselves to God had something greater than I. The grace of God had filled me, but at that point I was more like a vessel than a channel. God had gotten in, but I kept Him for myself. But quietly, almost imperceptibly, the Steps of AA began to lead me toward a path of unselfishness, of giving myself without any thought of benefit in return. The phrase “you have to give it away to keep it” became less and less an aphorism and increasingly a guiding principle. Still, there was a fear that abandoning myself like that might mean the loss of something I was not willing to give up. This was where the jumping off point for me came, the actual taking of Step Seven.
The grace of God had eroded the other end of that vessel and made me into a channel of that grace, just as we learn in the Prayer of St. Francis. And here is the paradox. I was not merely a channel but a recipient in a way I had not previously anticipated. A vessel can only hold so much, but a channel can carry an inexhaustible stream. And whoever allows himself to become such a channel finds he is filled from that unending source.
This challenge I face today is, in any normal sense, insurmountable. I am in need not merely of a measure of grace, but an overabundance of it to give me the power to live each day as it comes. I always knew on a conscious level that I was being of service to those around me. But never over the course of those thirty odd years did I imagine what treasure I was laying up for myself. The outpouring of love that I have experienced these last couple of months has overwhelmed me. And you all, in giving of yourselves as you have, are no doubt drinking of that same stream. That’s the real paradox. No matter how much you surrender, the blessings you receive in return far outweigh whatever sacrifice was required of you.
My sincere desire is to be part of that blessing. Nothing would defeat me more than if I thought this trial was for no purpose. I am convinced that the joy that I experience in this time of difficulty will, in some unseen and and unknown way, lighten the burdens and gladden that hearts of those who face their own challenges.
[The Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – II Corinthians 12:9-10 New American Bible Revised Edition.
May the Peace of Christ dwell richly in you.