Editor’s note: I had the blessing to hear this talk given at an LDS Addiction Recovery Program fireside in my area. The Spirit was very strong. Justin W. agreed to let me share his talk here. I have learned so much about the Atonement, faith, repentance, and God’s character from addicts in recovery. I am grateful for Justin and others like him who are sharing their stories.
In June of 2007 I sat in my jail cell and opened a Book of Mormon that I had pulled from the book cart earlier in the day. I was alone which was unusual because usually we had two men in a cell. There had been a transfer that day and I had not received my new “cellee.” As I sat in my chair and began to flip through the pages a book mark fell out. I recognized the various scriptures as the ones that I had learned and tried to memorize many years before in Seminary. I decided that since I had some time on my hands I would read each of the scriptures listed. I read through several passages until I came to Ether 12:27. It was a verse I had read many times over the years. It is a verse spoken my Moroni as he translated the Book of Ether.
“And if men come unto me I will show them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men who humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
I had lost my job, my marriage, my home, my membership in the Church, I had lost my friends, my children did not respect me, I didn’t respect myself, I had no hope, no happiness, and I had finally lost my freedom. All these things I had lost to an addiction that had entirely and completely crushed me. I was weak, very weak. As I sat there and cried, feeling entirely lost and alone and without hope I wondered to myself how could this thing – this addiction ever be strength to me?
Frequently my wife and I will hear someone saying that they are having trouble trusting God particularly when we are working on step 3. I myself have felt this way at times in my life. Perhaps you have heard someone say that they don’t believe in God – using the justification that if there was a God he would not let so many bad things happen. I have learned for myself that one of the reasons people don’t trust God is because things don’t always work out the way that we think they should.
A few years ago I was enjoying the new life I had found by working the 12 steps. I had a good job, I lived in a beautiful neighborhood, I had started a little business that was doing very well, and I had a leadership position in the Young Men program in my ward. I had watched many of these boys grow up and we had a special bond that had been forged through years of campouts, rainouts, service projects and merit badges. I had worked very hard to turn my life around and to become a worthy Priesthood holder. I guess in the back of my mind I thought that earned me some sort of a “pass” from tribulation. Boy was I wrong.
Almost out of nowhere events developed in my life that caused all that to change. Within a few weeks almost all those things were gone. Also gone was the spiritual strength that comes from serving. I had not been attending 12 step meetings on a regular basis and as my spiritual strength declined and my self-pity increased I lost my focus – and relapsed.
When I started working the steps again I had no problem with steps one and two. My life wasn’t completely unmanageable – yet – and I knew that God’s power could restore me to complete spiritual health, but when I got to step three – decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and his son Jesus Christ, or to trust in God, I said to myself you have got to be kidding me. I already tried that and look how that turned out. I had a tough time trusting God because my life wasn’t turning out the way that I thought it should. I even felt a little betrayed by God because he let this happen to me.
There are many misconceptions about the purpose of life. Nephi [from the Book of Mormon] saw a future time when many would say “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die and it shall be well with us.” A more modern translation might be “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Life must not have gotten that message because as we all know mortality is challenging and will always have the potential to bring us sorrow and frustration as well as happiness. When life doesn’t act like we think it should we sometimes make God out to be the bad guy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
All people who travel through mortality will experience difficulty, sorrow, and suffering, even those whose lives have been almost beyond reproach. Consider the words that the Savior spoke to the Prophet Joseph as he languished in Liberty Jail:
“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”
It appears evident that our Father in Heaven gives us difficult circumstances at times because it is for our own good. Wise King Solomon was aware of this thousands of years ago when he wrote these inspired words:
“My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.”
When Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden the Lord said “Cursed shall be the ground FOR THY SAKE.” Even the Savior himself – the most tender and perfect soul ever – learned from experience. Alma said of him:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
Our Heavenly Father is a God of high expectations. He wants us to become like him. His expectations for us are expressed by his Son Jesus Christ in these words: “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” Among the tools that are used to help us develop strengths, skills and Christlike attributes are trials, tribulation, and chastening. Because of our very limited and mortal perspective we may not always see the big picture and may even draw some conclusions that are not correct. A poem that is based upon a fable from the continent of India illustrates this principle well.
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” said he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” said he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” said he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
Each of the men correctly described their experience but because they only had a limited view – in fact they were blind, they all came to the wrong conclusion.
Almost immediately upon returning to 12-step meetings I began finding opportunities to serve others who were struggling. In order to really understand an addict you have to be one. It is an exclusive club, and having that inside knowledge uniquely qualifies someone to provide the type of compassion and guidance that is needed to enter the path of recovery. I was surprised to find so many friends still attending meetings – they were obviously a lot smarter than I was. They knew that this was a lifelong endeavor. During this time I met and married the love of my life – and before long I was a facilitator again with my beautiful bride at my side. At the suggestion of one of my dear friends my wife and I put in our papers to serve a mission and last year we were called and set apart. As my good Bishop put his hands on my head and gave me a blessing he told me that I had been allowed to endure such hard things so that I could better understand and love those that I would serve.
At that moment everything fell into place. I understood now the benefit of having been born into an alcoholic family with all of its destructive cycles; I could see a positive side to the addiction that had ravaged my life and the lives of those around me – especially my children. I could see the hand of the Lord in preparing me – sometimes through my bad decisions and sometimes through life events that He orchestrated to be an effective servant to my friends in recovery. I recognized – now – that had my life not taken such an unforeseen change in course just a few years earlier that none of these blessings would have happened. My Patriarchal Blessing promised me that I would have a choice wife that would be strength and a help to me throughout my life, I would also be a missionary and be privileged to help many throughout my life. These blessings had eluded me and I figured that I had lost those opportunities. Now I see that I never really was “off plan.” This really was the plan all along and God knew it. Before I was afraid to trust God because things didn’t happen the way I thought they should. Now I’m glad they didn’t and I have learned to trust God with all my heart, all the time, and in every circumstance.
Now, all these years later I reflect on that night in my jail cell feeling hopeless and alone and wondering how anything good could come from my addiction and I realize that it is the things I have gained through my recovery that make me strong. I have a close and loving relationship with my daughter and my sons, a beautiful wife who is also my best friend. The humility and compassion and nearness to Heavenly Father and my Savior, the new heart that I have, my friends, my calling, and the profound experience of seeing the hand of the Lord in my life are what the Savior meant when he said ‘then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
I closing I would like to read you the words of an Easter message the Church recently put out. It is entitled “Because of Him”:
“It was unthinkable, impossible, unfathomable, unprecedented, a single act that changed history, possibility, destiny, He was a carpenter, a teacher, an outcast, a leader, yet He did what no carpenter, teacher, outcast or leader had ever done, like all who preceded Him he lived and he died, but unlike all who had preceded him He rose from the dead, He lived again, He lives. Because he lives you and you and she and he and they – and we, all will live again. Because of Him death has no sting, the grave no victory, we can start again, and again, and again. Because of him guilt becomes peace, regret becomes relief, despair becomes hope. Because of him we have second chances, clean slates, new beginnings, there is no such thing as the end – because of Him.”