This past month I found myself in a not-so-surprising set of circumstances.  My life seems to run in a cycle of working myself into exhaustion only to collapse.  I completely identify with Henri Nouwen’s confession in his book, In The Name of Jesus, “. . . I came to see that I had lived most of my life as a tightrope artist trying to walk on a high, thin cable from one tower to the other, always waiting for the applause when I had not fallen off and broken my leg.”  My collapse this time found me in the office of a counselor whose name is Tino.  He looked a lot younger than me and I wanted to dismiss him rather quickly as someone who wouldn’t be able to help me.  After all, I’m special, complicated, and certainly in need of the most brilliant and seasoned of counselors!

I can’t really explain what happened during my times with Tino.  He told me that he was simply going to talk to me as one alcoholic to another, as one lover of Jesus to another, as one broken person to another.  He freely acknowledged his inexperience in counseling and his powerlessness over his own addictions.  He talked about Jesus as if they really knew each other and related to each other in the mundane, daily realities of life.  He quoted familiar Scriptures that I had memorized — probably before he was out of middle school!  I rolled my eyes at him, dismissed some of his questions, and explained to him that I taught the material that he had asked me to read.  He never responded out of power or control, but always out of powerlessness and humility.  I was reminded again of Nouwen’s words, “Jesus refused to be a stunt man.  He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his hand in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say.”

And this is what happened.  Slowly, Jesus became manifested through Tino.  I knew that it was Jesus because I began to leave counseling — not thinking about myself or my counselor — but thinking about Jesus.  I became willing to be led where I really didn’t want to go.  I was able to confess — without shame — my self-hatred, arrogance, hard-heart, and disobedience.  Time and time again I was surprised by truths that were not new.  Two revelations completely undid me and shifted something in my heart that I pray continues. 

During one of our times together Tino told me about trying to manage life on his own, being convicted, and apologizing  to God.  There was something about his humble confession and treatment of God that reminded me of Romans 1:  “People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives.”  I left counseling knowing that there was a lot I needed to apologize for.  I long for a daily surrender to treat God like God.  I’m afraid that there are too many days when I get up and live as if I can do my life without God.  That is a dark place, and today I am grateful for my own powerlessness over my addictions to performance, people-pleasing, alcohol, and control.  Richard Rohr explains that we don’t make up our minds to become powerless.  But God, in His mercy, allows circumstances and reality to “get at us” to reveal our vulnerability to try to make life work, only to discover that we are powerless because powerlessness (knowing I am not God) converts us.  Rohr writes, “We can’t convert ourselves; we get converted.”  Tino’s stories about his own powerlessness only magnified the conversion that is happening in his life.  I said to him during one session, “You have something that I want.”  I think it was, in part, his rest in Christ — speaking and living without anything to prove or protect.

The second surprise is so sacred I hesitate to write about it.  I do so only because I want to remind myself often — I need to remind myself often — of the Truth that came during this surprise.  Tino told me that if he could give me his own peace to replace the chaos that I allow to creep into my life, he would do it.  I remember thinking who does this — who gives up his own peace for another?  And then, of course, I thought of Jesus who did give up His own life in exchange for mine.  “He took the punishment, and that made us whole.  Through His bruises we get healed . . . . And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on Him, on Him” (Isaiah 53).  I couldn’t talk after Tino told me of this gift he would give me.  I left and cried and prayed and apologized for trying to walk away from God’s gift of His own Son who exchanged His life for mine.  I pray that I can stay in this place of brokenness as well as awe and wonder for this gift — this gift that I can’t earn and that God won’t allow me to walk away from (that’s part of the gift!).  It is a net that cannot fail!  It shows up during seasons of great guilt and pain through the love and compassion of other broken people.  

During this past month I have experienced truly brilliant counseling — the kind that is willing to get out of the way to make Jesus known.  And I have received a gift that I cannot walk away from.  In discovering that the Truth isn’t found at the top, but down at the bottom, I am learning that climbing the ladder to success almost guarantees that I will miss Christ — who came down, “setting aside privileges of deity and taking on the status of a slave” (Philippians 2).  And when I miss Him, I miss everything!

“I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.”  John 10:14-15