‘The leprosy in my neighborhood is addiction’
PONTIAC, Mich. — “You can’t be a Christian and do drugs.…
OKLAHOMA CITY — “Hi, my name is Tyler, and I’m an alcoholic.”
That’s not what I expected to hear in Sunday morning Bible class.
I thought we were doing 1 Corinthians this quarter.
One of our elders, Steve Brookman, had changed the class format to a one-on-one discussion with Tyler. I was surprised to see Steve taking such a public role. His mother, a beloved member of our congregation, had passed away just two days before.
But today was important. Tyler was right on the cusp of a milestone — a solid year of sobriety. And he had agreed to share his journey with us.
So our regular teacher, John Wilguess, stayed seated and masked as Tyler went to the front of the room and took a seat, socially distanced from Steve. Tyler took off his mask (I’m only now realizing the symbolism of that act) and told us how his flirtation with alcohol as a child had turned into an addiction.
He described the crushing grip the disease had on his life — how it followed him to South America and back, how it bled into his marriage, his job.
He didn’t drink socially. He drank “to maintain,” he said, to keep his hands from shaking. To function.
Finally, lovingly, one of our elders confronted him and helped him get into treatment. Tyler talked about withdrawal. Short version: “It sucks.” He didn’t mince words. He talked about relapsing, about how many guys he knows in Alcoholics Anonymous who have multiple one-, two- or six-month chips. He said he only ever wants one — the next one.
A few weeks earlier, I had done a 6 a.m. Zoom call with Justin and Jennifer Gerhardt in England for our Post-Pandemic Church series. They’re veteran creators of adult education content, and we talked about revamping our Bible classes as folks begin to reassemble. The Gerhardts stressed the need for quality content and urged churches to use the resources they have in their pews. It doesn’t always have to be a Corinthian commentary, they said. Bible lessons can come from a combat veteran discussing faith under fire or an elderly saint sharing how he prays.
Staying sober for a year is amazing. Staying sober in this year is miraculous.
As Tyler shared his story, he taught as one with authority. This was a masterclass on suffering. And lest ye think it had no connection to 1 Corinthians, see the Lord’s Supper fracas in chapter 11.
Staying sober for a year is amazing. Staying sober in this year is miraculous. COVID-19 lockdowns have created scads of new addicts — a pandemic within the pandemic. Alcohol sales have soared, and here in Oklahoma we’ve passed a law that allows grocery stores and wholesale clubs to sell hard liquor. The stuff you used to have to go to the package store to get is now next to the chip aisle at Target.
I don’t know how Tyler did it.
Scratch that. I do know. He told us. God showed up. He showed up in the patient love of Tyler’s wife, in the letters and texts he got from all of us. He showed up whenever Tyler prayed.
And he prayed a lot.
Tyler shared one of those prayers — the Step 3 prayer, page 63 of the Alcoholics Anonymous manual. They call it “the Big Book.”
“God, I offer myself to Thee — to build me and do with me as Thou wilt. …Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love and Thy way of life.”
Tyler said he hopes that his story will help others. It helped me. And it helped all of us to see what a post-pandemic Bible class can be.
That’ll teach, brother. That’ll teach.
ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.
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