Our tastes of Heaven sometimes require a trip to hell — preferably roundtrip.
As a food and fitness speaker and author, I’ve spoken to a wide variety of audiences and have always felt like I was doing God’s work. But when I was asked to present to a group of a few hundred recovering addicts for one of the largest chemical addiction recovery centers in the country, I balked.
The director of the program believed in my message — food can be medicine, or it can be poison and eating a standard American diet full of processed, high-sugar, low-fiber foods makes it harder to overcome addiction. I agreed to the speaking engagement, but inside, I had a pit in my stomach. I didn’t want to face these people.
I thought, “God picked the wrong person.”
You see, I had plenty of experience growing up with addicts. Bad fit, me and them. I avoided them in kind of the same way that cowboys avoid rattlesnakes. As far as I was concerned, you couldn’t tame them, you couldn’t trust them, and you’d better keep your distance if you didn’t want to get bitten.
Prior to my talk, I attended a “graduation” ceremony at the center for addicts who had completed an intensive recovery program. As a neurosurgical ICU nurse who helped some of the sickest patients in the hospital find their path to healing, I could appreciate their stories of triumph. Another part of me — a wounded, cynical part — sneered, “What’s the point? Most of them will be back within the year.”
During the ceremony, I heard a familiar refrain about how drugs had ruined their lives and the lives of those they loved. Their stories brought back painful memories from my own past and how my childhood had been stained by addiction in my family.
Exit empathy. Enter judgment.
“What is wrong with you people?” I thought. “Why can’t you just follow the rules like the rest of us?” I hated my judgmental musings even as I mentally defended them with indignation. Clearly, I was the wrong person to meet face-to-face with a bunch of people who’d made choices I despised.
On the day of my talk, I stood in front of this group. My perfect red toenail polish peeking out of my heels looked as out of place as I felt. It’s hard to say who was shouldering the biggest chip, me or my audience. What I sensed in the room that day was resentment. Distrust. And frankly, the feeling was mutual. I knew the men and the sprinkling of women in the audience were perusing my physique and the quality of my clothes.
I was being judged by a jury of 200 recovering addicts. And I was judging them.
And then it happened. As if it were a time-release pill that wouldn’t work unless I surrendered my pride and narrow-mindedness, the quick prayer I’d said before my speech took hold:
God, please help me set aside my own needs, my pride, and my fear and focus on the purpose You have for me. Use me as an instrument; speak through me. If one person out there needs to hear Your message, open their ears. I am broken and angry, but You have promised that You can use anyone for Your purpose. So, here I am. Prove it. This is not about me. This is about the people in front of me. Finally, please give me patience with these people — like right now! Amen.
“I know what a lot of you are going through,” I began, as a woman in my field of vision twisted her body with an exaggerated harrumph that few could ignore.
“How would you know?” she asked. “Look at you. Your life is perfect. You can’t know what I’m going through.”
That stung, but I flashed back to something my husband, psychiatrist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel G. Amen MD, had said to me when I told him God had picked the wrong person for this talk. He said, “God picked the perfect person. You just have to tell them your story. You have to tell them the truth.”
With an exhale, I kept my tears in check, and asked, “How many of you are judging me right now?” then adding, “Because I’m certainly judging you.”
After an awkward pause, the hands — including my own — started going up. We were confessing to passing judgment without knowing anything about each other’s histories or deeper selves.
In that moment, I saw truth. And, as “the truth shall set you free” Bible verse (John 8:32) suggests, I could already feel it diluting the presumptions I had made about my audience. I no longer saw junkies or addicts before me. Instead, I saw wounded children. And my purpose suddenly became crystal clear.
If I could help just one person in this room, there would be one less scared child in the world. One less scared little girl who felt like an afterthought, like I did growing up in a chaotic home. One less scared child who would go on to become a scared adult in need of healing and forgiveness, like I had been when I found out I had cancer in my 20s, fell into a deep depression, and felt like life wasn’t worth living.
Maybe by helping these broken people, I could help change the world, one scared child at a time. Maybe I could even change me to overcome the emotional wounds from the past that were still haunting me.
In that moment, I realized that God had chosen me for this talk to me for a reason. The experience taught me a powerful lesson:
Sometimes God calls us to help those we don’t want to help so He can provide healing for the broken parts of us.
In other words, the help was for them, but the healing was for me.
Written for Faith.Full by Tana Amen, author of The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child.
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Sometimes the help we offer others actually helps heals us, too. Isn’t that the way God works? Have you found that, too, in your own life? ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full