I have a confession to make.

It’s one of those confessions that if I heard it in my first year sober, I’d be all like “get a real problem, man.” But, I’ll share it anyway because I think it weighs more than it looks.

I’m a church-goer. No, that’s not the confession.

It’s a Baptist church, although I identify more as a believer than a Baptist. I identify more as a believer than a Christian for that matter.

Each Sunday, I take my two children to the back of the sanctuary so they can be in children’s church. My son, as I’ve posted about, is a perpetual stage-five clinger. He sticks to us like a young marsupial. So, drop-off is never easy. What’s more, my daughter, his younger sister, has recently experienced a stranger-danger instinct explosion.

For half a year, I’ve been dropping them off and waiting in the hallway by the pastor’s office, where the coffee and cookies are. I have been waiting, you know, until the kids mellow out so I know they’ll be OK. And for this half year, it has been a mere happy coincidence that I—a loving father—am forced to wait near a massive supply of caffeine and sugar, scrolling through twitter to see what my #recoveryposse is up to.

As my children became more and more comfortable with children’s church, I’ve had less and less reason to sit there in the hallway and enjoy that smooth cup of Joe. But, I’ve stayed there nonetheless. In fact, last week, neither of the kids even cried or flailed a limb when I handed them over. Still, I go for my cup, and I sit, and I nibble a cookie, and I tweet.

I created this habit where I reenter church after the folks in the sanctuary “greet each other in the name of the Lord.” After they get out of their seat, shake hands with others and, as our pastor says, “meet someone [they] haven’t met before,” comes the sermon. And I love that part. I need that message once a week because we live in an upside-down world. And if you live in an upside-down world for long enough, you’ll begin to think that down is up. And that makes for a hell of a struggle to figure out the smallest of things, such as elevator buttons.

While I joke, it is the weekly sermon that informs me a higher power intends me to live apart from how the world would intend me to live. I don’t know any other way to draw breath and be happy than apart from this upside-down world.

So, I get my sermon fix every Sunday. And if I miss the greeting part because I’m doing my fatherly duty of children’s church drop off, then so be it, right?

I’ve come to the realization that one reason our world is upside down is because people are afraid to be close to one another, afraid to let others see how broken we are.

We are quick to lock up and forget about those who Christ called “the least of us.” We’ve got an educational system where administrators tell teachers how to do their jobs; a government that thinks it knows what’s best from a distance. We’re losing trust with our neighbor, while gaining trust in online shopping. It seems that most of our ills stem from not wanting to get proximate, get close, to listen and tolerate the beautiful ways in which we are broken.

I know too well what it’s like to keep people at a distance. I did it for the fourteen years of my drinking and using career. The Keys to Recovery newspaper generously printed my blog post on this phenomenon. I am very good at saying what I need to say in order to keep people at a distance. Keeping people at a distance is a problem for me. I’ve worked my ass off to stay sober for as long as I have, and I aim to stay sober. So, avoiding people in church—some of whom are new and eager to meet me—is a problem.

Everything is perfect from a distance.

Cue Bette Midler.

But I’m sorry, Bette, God is not watching us from a distance where all looks like peace and harmony, not the God that got me sober.

The God that got me sober filled the gaping imperfections in my life with grace. The God that got me sober closed the distance between me and the worst things I’ve done. The God that got me sober made me forgive myself first so that I could, more importantly, forgive others. The God that got me sober showed me the miracle of the mundane, the unspeakable bliss of just being alive. The God that got me sober tells me that I need to freely give away what’s been given to me.

The God that got me sober is invasive, penetrating, near.

What I’m getting at is that the God that got me sober was never at a distance. In fact, The God that got me sober was so near, that knowing God became knowing myself.

16 Responses to “Close

  • Thank you so much for sharing, sounds very familiar as I do struggle with mental illness, now i sometimes go out of my way to meet people, but I do find myself in a situation with my imperfectness many times, God has always showed me that get up, go and to be me, that imperfect person that was born for this world to not change but to embrace who we are and who we are around, it’s not always easy, that’s why we need that extra boost,or even quietness to realize we are born this way, and to change with God , not without him. Be like Jesus, but not to pretend to be perfect, There is no such thing as perfect, only perfect I see is when I see things such as a mini story like this that shows me I am not alone, but with others and God.

  • Brilliant as always Mark, this one made me cry. It touched on so many profound insights, some that really resounded with me: the oneness of of the human and spiritual experience, the way we make sense of this in a difficult, materialistic, and often cruel world, the connections and empathy we may be missing, and the human experience in recovery. Your writing is so powerful. Sending loving kindness your way.

  • Yes, yes yes, I seem to horrify my daughters when I gladly engage strangers in conversation. I enjoy it. It’s not something I could easily do if my eyes were cast down in shame. I admire God in everything today

  • These words: “I’ve come to the realization that one reason our world is upside down is because people are afraid to be close to one another, afraid to let others see how broken we are.”

    So true, Mark. Just last night, I had to pull myself together and go over to the neighbors house – a house where I did a lot of drinking, and where a lot of drinking was going on – because my son wanted to play with the other kids. I’ll admit, I didn’t want to do it. There are divides between us – lifestyle and politics. But, man, I had a great time talking with him and his friends, even as they slugged back drinks and I didn’t.

    I came away from that with a renewed understanding that “connection” is what makes things work. It’s what breaks down the walls and builds up the tables.

    Thanks Brother.

    • That’s a fine moment to have, D. We get all caught up in the things that divide us but there are far more things out there that unite us. Man, you had a busy day!

  • This is beautiful Mark. Thanks for sharing.

  • YES! Invasive and extravagant in His love for…Me?!!? Yes. One of the millions of ways I think I’ll never understand Him. He chooses US. Wow.
    No more excuse to hide in the hallway, huh? You can probably rationalize a great excuse. I’m pretty sure I have. ?
    I’m so glad you’re able to put your thoughts on paper, otherwise we wouldn’t know how very alike we are.

  • Oh Mark, this post is exquisite. I have a real aversion to church, but not to God. I think He is patiently waiting for me to “get over it.” Lol I love that you called Him God and not only Higher Power. God is personal, He is yours and you are His. Thank you God that you embrace the broken….without that none of us would be here sharing our stories! Let us all be a vessel of His love that we can pour out and share with one another.

  • Sometimes I read your posts, and they feel very personal, and I can’t really form words to respond. But I want you to know your post mattered. This is one of them. Thank you.

  • Wow, love your work! Powerful stuff!. The God that got me sober helped me love myself despite my flaws, failures and sins. He loved me like no other and today I can’t go a day without seeking His counsel first. Congrats on your beautiful sobriety 🙂

  • I agree 100% with you Mark. “I’ve come to the realization that one reason our world is upside down is because people are afraid to be close to one another, afraid to let others see how broken we are.” Letting others witness (and minister) to our brokenness is called community. You can’t have true community w/o the pain…. I am the prayer chain co-ordinator at my church and at times I feel so sad because most of us want to hide- People don’t want their names used- maybe just initials or they don’t want anyone to know the reason they need pray. I know it could be so much more. The privacy issue has gotten out of hand. Unbalanced. My opinion anyway.

    • I value your opinion. And i think you’re right. The breakdown of the American family is a real thing. I think the global family is threatened by invasive technology as well. It will take time for us to adjust. Thanks for stopping by! It’s great to read what you thought of the post.

  • This right here. Thank you so much man. Thank you.

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