But for the grace of God
The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.
— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
* * * * *
I spent a week of October in Southern California doing interviews with men and women who are working through this process of recovery. Twenty-five of them.
I sat across the table from them each day at the rescue mission, as one by one they told me their stories. Nearly all of them had had a struggle with addiction that had ravaged their lives:
* a former gang member with intimidating tattoo covered arms who can’t have his name printed or photo taken because of his violent past;
* a beautiful young woman, resembling an average college girl but who had been in and out of prison since she was 12, committing crimes just so she could go back to where she felt safe;
* an unemployed, homeless family — mother and father both recovering addicts — whose only alternative to living at the mission was to live with relatives who were heroin addicts.
At night, when the interviews were done, I drove an hour or two to spend time with my sister and her family, a brother and his family, and my parents. And I realized again how blessed I am.
Dave and I have nurturing, loving families who didn’t let go — and didn’t drag us down. Loving family, who follow God, whose presence in our lives is an encouragement, who never locked their doors on us, who gave — more than we could ever begin to repay — when we were most desperate.
That is the humbling difference between me and all the people I interviewed. No matter how different I may think I am from the woman who escaped an abusive relationship — and slept in her car with her toddler for eight months and got arrested for drunk driving and child endangerment and went straight to the Mission after being freed from house arrest — I am not.
Sometimes we give ourselves too much credit. We say we would never be like that because we’re smarter. Or because we’re hard workers. Or . . . and we discount the fact that God set us in families. We didn’t choose them. It was none of our doing.
Because in spite of the differences in our upbringings, in our families of origin, we speak the same language, these recovering addicts and me: But for the grace of God . . .
Each one of these recovering addicts told me a story of how God got a hold of them. Each one, tearfully expressing a deep gratitude for the grace I have known of all my life. Each one, rescued by this grace of God from a life of death. Each one, knowing exactly where they would be, but for the grace of God . . .
There is a danger in being raised in a good, loving Christian home. And there is a danger in having all of our needs met and never knowing hunger. There is even a danger in always making the right choices.
Because when we haven’t felt the vast chasm that separates us from God, we tend to take the bridge for granted.