This is one of my heroes. His name is Greg Boyle, SJ. He is a priest from Los Angles, CA who started and now runs the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. I am such a fan that I’ve toured his ‘Homeboy Industries’ and eaten at ‘Homegirl Cafe in Los Angeles. And, I’ve been to the Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta, GA where he once led a retreat.
You might wonder why a middle-aged southern woman has such admiration for a priest from California who lives among former gang members. I would have to tell you that Father Greg helped me in one of the most troubling times in my life. His first book, “Tattoos on the Heart” was given to me by a friend early in my son’s active addiction. She gave it to me just before we boarded a flight to San Diego to visit her parents. I could not put it down.
I used to think that this book was the catalyst for changing my idea of who God is. Now, I tend to think that it is more accurate to say that he helped heal my vision of God. I started thinking about the book written by Charles L. Whitfield, MD, “Healing the Child Within”. Father Greg’s storytelling challenges me to look at the images that I have imagined for God. Many of the ideas that I’ve held have come from childhood where I was cautioned that God might not like an action that I was taking. After a while, I came to see Him as more of a policeman or scorekeeper than as a loving Father.
As I read through this book and I juxtaposed Father Greg’s vision of God with mine, I was hopeful. Maybe, trusting God had been so difficult for me because I had gotten the wrong idea of Him. Maybe I needed to consider where I’d gotten my information. Did it align with the God of the scriptures?
After considering these thoughts, I began to re-read several scriptures about God’s love for us. The common denominator was that God seemed to be begging us for closeness. I didn’t see all of those nagging worries that I’d held onto for so long. Instead, I saw a Heavenly Father who kept asking me not to worry. He kept reminding me how much He loved me.
It was these new ideas–this new vision of God that allowed me to grow closer in prayer. I stopped hiding and I started paying attention to Him. My understanding of His capacity to love grew. When I became troubled, I took these concerns to Him. I’ve started to trust. And, trust is essential.
If you have a family member or friend who struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol then you need to know that a relationship with God is essential. Step one of the Alcoholics Anonymous program reminds us that we are powerless over another person’s disease. Step two says that we “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” When they wrote ‘came to believe’ they knew that it is a process. It takes time. It requires a relationship. Trust must be built.
The second big idea that I got from Father Greg is this: I have a lot to learn from my addicted loved ones. Most of the time, the world says that they should be learning from us. We aren’t the ones with a problem. Maybe we don’t have a problem that involves drugs or alcohol. But, let’s remember that drugs and alcohol are a symptom and not the problem.
Instead of trying to ‘fix’ another human being, perhaps we should do the work that we need to do within ourselves. It is a radical idea. It reminds me of the life of Jesus. He didn’t do anything the way that the world expected Him to. The twelve-step program of recovery is a good roadmap for the radical way of thinking.
Since I’ve been working on my own recovery for almost eight years now, I’ve learned that the best thing that I can do for my addicted loved ones, is to love them and tend to my own heart. God will take care of the rest. It takes a while to get here. Somedays, I still slip up and forget that God is in charge. But, then I remember and things get better.
With God in charge, there is always hope. I am praying for you and your loved ones.
I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.