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…and eternal perspective.
Hi, and welcome back to Change of Heart.
Truth IS stranger than fiction. If I’d written a movie script three months ago entitled “The Great Toilet Paper Panic”, Hollywood producers would have rejected my script and said, “GET REAL!”
Then three months later…this:
Since Coronavirus, I’ve realized like never before that no matter how firm I think I am in my recovery, I must still be vigilant. Don’t get me wrong… I’m still confident in my ability to stay sober. That said…thanks to “social distancing”, much of my previous support system is GONE.
Not only is gospel learning “home-centered, church-supported”, but ultimately, so are my recovery efforts.
For a great many years I did not attend the temple, and for many more, I was not worthy when I attended. Exactly a year ago, during my first temple recommend interview in many years, my Stake President commended me for the dramatic spiritual changes I had experienced which made me completely temple-worthy for possibly the first time in my adult life. Then he asked me “Why have you been inspired to make these changes NOW? I didn’t have a good answer then, but the madness of March 2020 has provided me with some very concrete answers.
…Here’s my answer:
Quarantines, cancellation of public events (including our weekly church and addiction recovery meetings) and temple closures have taken their toll.
Without my trust in God and the spiritual growth I’ve enjoyed since returning to The House of the Lord, a major alcoholic relapse would be almost inevitable. Instead, I’m seeing the Lord’s hand in all of our current events and praising Him in gratitude for Christ’s atonement.
Even if we don’t recognize them, God’s fingerprints are EVERYWHERE in our lives.
2000 years ago, Jesus Christ taught:
“With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible”— Matthew 19:26 (emphasis added)
So, what is the impossible “this”? I suggest that the answer is unique to each of us. We each need to examine ourselves to know exactly what “this” looks like for us.
For me and my friends who struggle with addiction, there is at least one common thread. With all the “impossible” things going on today, you and I and our addicted, chemically-imbalanced brains need all the help we can get.
As Christ pointed out:
With God, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE...
Including sobriety during Coronavirus.
Living in the age of Coronavirus
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has changed the way we shop, the way we eat, the way we work, and in short, the way we interact with the world.
Are you living in the age of Coronavirus, or are you actually living in spite of the Coronavirus?
Just because the way we live has changed does not mean that life has ended. On the contrary, if we trust God, we will have an even greater appreciation for life. We can take joy in being alive, even in these difficult times. What did Jesus say?
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”—John 10:10
Unorthodox sources of inspiration…
I love popular literature and movies, especially stories that portray the struggle of good vs. evil.
One of my earliest posts (“Of Magic, Muggles, and Miracles“) was inspired by an episode in one of the Harry Potter movies/books. I’d say Harry could probably single-handedly solve our Coronavirus problem, but I guess practical magic is really NOT a practical solution.
In light of recent events, it is tempting to compare our current circumstance to The Hunger Games (Coronavirus gives a whole new appreciation for the phrase:
“May the odds ever be in your favor“).
However, I think there’s a far better message in another of my favorite movie series.
J.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings was an incredibly challenging read…a challenge I could never fully rise to. But when Peter Jackson brought the trilogy to the big screen, I totally fell in love with the story.
In the Lord of the Rings, the powers of evil forge a magic ring. The power of the ring casts the entire world into darkness, corrupting even the best, bravest, and most valiant of the world’s warriors, princes, and kings.
By chance, a Hobbit (one of the meekest and least warrior-like creatures in Middle-Earth) named Frodo comes into possession of the ring. The task to destroy the ring, rid the world of evil, and to ultimately save the whole earth falls to him.
“All that we have to decide is…”
Throughout the story, Frodo is completely overwhelmed with the magnitude of his task. At one point his mentor, a wizard named Gandolf, shares this wisdom with him:
(click “play” on the video clip below…)
Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me, I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
“There are other forces at work in this world besides the will of evil. Bilbo was MEANT to find the ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it…and that is an encouraging thought.”― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Have you ever felt like Frodo?
I have. When I was actively drinking, I whined incessantly, “I wish none of this had happened to me”. (My wife Julie will confirm this…I am really good at whining…and I did it often!) 😉
I didn’t think God heard or answered my prayers because he did NOT give me the answer I wanted. He did not take away my cravings and character flaws. He did not restore things that I had lost (particularly my career). To me, it seemed as if God was doing nothing.
God’s fingerprints are EVERYWHERE in our lives… my experiences facilitating Addiction Recovery meetings and providing peer support at the Davis Receiving Center convince me that the more the person needs “saving”, the more eager God is to bless that person with His grace.
Now I realize that God was answering my prayers. He told me exactly what Gandalf told Frodo: “Kyle, your adversity and challenges are not for you to decide. All that you have to decide is what to do with the time (and circumstances) you have been given”.
“Other forces at work besides the will of evil…”
Then God gave me encouragement (which I also chose not to listen to at that time)…
“Kyle, there are other forces at work in this world besides the will of evil. You have been given challenges that will test your very limits. You are experiencing these things because YOU ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO OVERCOME THEM. My beloved son Jesus Christ atoned for you…and that is an encouraging thought!”
I wish I understood then what I know now:
Christ’s strength is made perfect in your weakness, and your weakness is made strong in his perfection.
Let’s talk a little more about how this works.
This is Flax:
(Yeah, I know…where’d THAT come from??) 😉
Flax is the fiber that linen is made of. It is very soft. And so beautiful, don’t you think? Flax is a soft strand with a light blue flower that is very appealing to the eye. It is interesting that Nephi used flax to describe how Satan works:
“…and he [the Devil] leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.—2 Nephi 26:22 (The Book of Mormon, emphasis added)
Think about it…what a wonderful analogy! Satan puts a garland of beautiful, soothing flowers with their soft tender stems around our neck. The floral fragrance is soothing, and we barely even think about the fact that we have something around our necks. In fact, it is so soothing that we continue to let him to wrap even more Flax around us.
But then what happens? When Flax fibers are woven together they are called “linen”. Linen is one of the strongest of the plant-based fabrics. Eventually, the beautiful soft wreath of flowers around our neck becomes a strong, binding cord. And then…
Led carefully down to Hell
A couple of chapters later, Nephi tells us even more about Satan’s methods:
“…he [Satan] will pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away CAREFULLY down to hell.—2 Nephi 28:21 (The Book of Mormon, emphasis added)
I’ve always pictured Satan as being loud, obnoxious, and in-your-face, but what did Nephi just tell us?
Satan leads us CAREFULLY down to hell.
Here’s what it looked like in my life:
When I first started drinking, I didn’t jump right into drinking a pint of Bacardi 151 every night of the week. No…it was just an occasional drink, usually a sweet, smooth, not-too-strong cocktail of some sort…something with pretty colors and fruity flavors. Satan’s control over me was soft, pleasing, and non-threatening, like a garland of Flax.
It took YEARS for Satan’s flaxen cords to turn into rough strong cords that could bind me forever. But bind me he did. And so, for many years (more than a DECADE!!) alcohol was the most important thing in my life. I could see no way out of the noose Satan had placed around my neck as he led me carefully down to hell.
I have learned many lessons from alcoholism. One of the most important is this:
My personal strength has VERY LITTLE to do with my success in recovery.
Once upon a time, I took great solace in Paul’s teachings to the Corinthians where he said:
“… God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able…”— 1 Corinthians 10:13
Then I realized (over and over again) that I actually WAS being tempted beyond what I was able to resist. Addiction is insidious. It physically changes our brain function. It overrides all our best intentions and our better judgment. “I’ll never do it again,” we say, and then we do it again. And again. And again.
So, what happens when we ARE tempted beyond our own strength to resist?
What happens when our brain is cross-wired to think that we can’t live without certain substances or behaviors? If we continue to read a little further in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul gives us the answer. He says that:
“[God] …will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape…“1 Corinthians 10:13
Escape is at the very heart of God’s plan of salvation. From the beginning, God had a plan…a way for us to escape temptation and sin.
“…Heavenly Father knew that even if we exerted every ounce of energy, we could not make it home without divine help. Therefore, He promised, ‘We will provide a savior for you!'” (see 1 Ne. 10:4; 1 Ne. 13:40; Moses 1:6; 2 Ne. 25:23).–Elder Keith B. McMullin, (Welcome Home, April 1999 General Conference)
I, by myself, am NOT strong enough to overcome my addictions. But…with God, all things are possible. As I partner with Christ and take advantage of His Atonement, His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and my weakness is made strong in His perfection.
Our path to perfection was described perfectly by Irish author and playwright Samuel Beckett:
So, what about TODAY and the crisis that we are all facing?
Recovery is a life-long challenge
After 15 years of hard drinking and another 12 years of slow and painful recovery, I unexpectedly experienced a complete cessation of my cravings for the first time in my adult life. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they call this the “Pink Cloud”. It might sound good, but the Pink Cloud is a dangerous place. Remember those flaxen cords…?
Satan has been trying to ease that pretty garland of Flax around my neck again lately. As I watched the coverage of the Coronavirus crisis and checked in with Facebook friends recently, I had an eye-opening experience.
Shaken, but not stirred
For several days following the Utah earthquake, I was a little shaken up (literally as well as figuratively) and I spent WAY too much time obsessing over current events. Stressed and depressed after several hours of browsing my Facebook feed early one morning, I ran across this innocuous little post:
I have not had a drink in over 2 years. Nor have I kept a “stash” of liquor in the house for at least 6 years. But without even thinking about it, this simple little Facebook post sent me into a total tail-spin. My first thought was “OMG!! How am I going to get my rum??!”
Never mind the fact that this news was from Colorado and I’m living in Utah…for at least a few seconds, that old sense of panic for “the chase” was back in full force. Of course, I quickly realized my error and my thoughts immediately changed to “OMG!! My poor alcoholic friends in Denver… they’re feeling what I just went through.”
Experiences like this give me great insight as to how Christ’s atonement works and how he looks at us with longing and brotherly love when we slip and fall!
Where the rubber meets the road…
This brief experience was a wake-up call for me. In the last 30 days, we’ve been cast into daily events that are far beyond our previous life experiences. Each of us feels emotions and uncertainty that we’re not accustomed to. As addicts, these feelings severely impair our ability to cope with life. Slips and relapses become far more likely.
My fellow-addicts: what can we do to stay strong and sober in spite of our surroundings? And care-givers, what can you do to help your addicted loved-ones cope with these tenuous times?
Physical Distancing, not “Social Distancing” or “Spiritual Distancing”
Whoever coined the phrase “Social Distancing” got it all wrong. Although keeping our distance from others is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19, the act of self-isolation is LOADED with stressors and triggers.
For many addicts (including me), self-isolation is how our addiction manifests itself. As with many LDS addicts, I was a “closet drunk”. I’d white-knuckle my way through the day and then I’d go home, hide in my “man-cave”, and drink heavily. Being alone is a huge trigger for me, so SOCIAL distancing is not a good choice.
I was encouraged when I read the following news story…
The World Health Organization (WHO) has started using the phrase “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” as a way to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 from person to person, a move widely welcomed by experts as a step in the “right direction”.
At a daily news briefing on March 20, officials of the global health body said while maintaining a physical distance was “absolutely essential” amid the global pandemic, “it does not mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family.”–Saba Aziz, “Why ‘Physical Distancing’ is Better than ‘Social Distancing'”
While physical distancing is “absolutely essential” with COVID-19, it is equally essential to maintain a social closeness with the people and things that support our recovery. Local LDS Addiction Recovery meetings are now being offered online and by phone (detailed directions here). You can also call or FaceTime loved ones, level out your racing thoughts and emotions by journaling, spend some time outdoors, or practice yoga and mediation.
More importantly, as we “physically distance” ourselves, we must avoid “Spiritual Distancing”. We must recommit ourselves EVERY DAY to “turn our will and our life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ”. (LDS Addiction Recovery Program, Step 3)
Addiction IS “Spiritual Distancing” in one of it’s most extreme forms, and Christ’s Atonement is the ultimate key to recovery. Study God’s words, ponder and pray. Watch/listen to inspirational spiritual messages. (The Church’s YouTube channel is an AMAZING resource for uplifting media! Check out the “Hope Works” series for starters!)
A Message from God’s Prophet
As you probably know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had to implement some pretty drastic measures in response to COVID-19. As the church discontinued all public meetings, closed temples, and recalled missionaries from many parts of the world, President Russell M. Nelson took to social media to let the world know that “Social Distancing” does NOT mean removing yourself from your network of support, or from your spiritual roots. On the contrary, we are to serve and be served in a Christ-like way.
Ministering Like the Savior
“We have the great privilege of ministering to our neighbors wherever they live. Brothers and sisters, please take good care of yourselves and your loved ones, and look for opportunities to help those around you near and far.”
“Temporary changes in our normal routine may allow additional time to experience how precious home-centered gospel study can be.”–Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
President Nelson also encouraged members to find opportunities to minister to their neighbors and practice worshiping at home.
“I know the great and marvelous blessings that God has in store for those who love Him and serve Him,” he said. “I see evidence of His hand in this holy work in so many ways.”–Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
My hope is that each of us, no matter how bad things get, can “…see evidence of His hand…in so many ways.”
Ask God to allow you to see yourself and others as he sees, and then act accordingly:
Finally, remember that GOD LOVES YOU. You are his Child. He is your loving Father. Each of us has fallen from his grace, but that does not stop him from offering His Grace to us every day:
Angels are watching…
I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that ministering angels are all around us! I close today with this quote from Elder Holland. He reminds us that God’s ministering angels are charged with protecting each of us.
As always, thanks for reading Change of Heart! I am inspired by your stories…please share with me below, or PM me at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE. Here’s a final short “wrap-up” video for today’s message…hope you enjoy it!
And don’t forget: With God…ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!