Several months ago I began meeting with men who are in recovery from addiction(s). At a local city Rescue Mission, we gather in a circle and talk about hope and faith and brokenness. My own experience with rock bottom has given me a greater platform of authority than my degrees. I have been there. I know what it's like to curl up in the backseat of a car and pray for death. I have acquired a taste for self-hatred, and I know the bittersweet warmth of destruction.
But I've also seen the sunrise from an abandoned truck stop in South Carolina. I have watched the tide roll in and out and in again from a thousand beaches and I know that a mild sunburn is good for the soul. I know that gratitude begins where entitlement ends. I have forgiven and sought forgiveness. I am still learning to forgive myself. I am one beggar telling another beggar where I've found bread.
It is in a circle of hope at Guiding Light Mission, where we gather around our stories and reach for resurrection and life. We pray for each other, and laugh and cry and surrender and repeat. Recycling repentance like a squeaky bicycle chain needing the oil of mercy.
I met "Steven" on a cold, Sunday night in February. He was one of three men who openly shared stories of accumulation and loss. He opened up about addiction and recovery and relapse and spiritual bankruptcy. He had a wealth of information from years of experience. Steven was faithful to attend our meetings, and brought his amplified bible with cross references. He showed signs of fruitfulness and hope.
We became good friends. I used to give Steve a ride to work after our meetings. He would be dressed up in his work uniform, carrying a sack lunch for his midnight shift. We exchanged encouraging texts throughout the week, and I found solidarity in his admitted propensity to wander...
Steven shared with me of his dream of opening a non-profit organization that could serve as a safe place for people to overcome their addictions. His own history with drugs had given him a heart for others who were hellbent on self-destruction. I gave him money and time and encouragement. He gave me friendship, and gratitude.
And then, without warning, Steven disappeared.
He stopped coming to meetings and did not return my phone calls. I asked the leaders of the mission if they had seen him, and they were equally concerned. Steven had refused a drug test, and packed his bags... He left the shelter and returned to the streets.
When I heard the news, I stayed awake all night tossing and turning. I prayed aggressively believing that intercession would be the intersection between failing faith and saving grace. The next few days I spent driving up and down Division Street through downtown Grand Rapids. I looked for Steven on every corner - in the eyes of strangers and cops and robbers and shopkeepers. I searched for him on social media, leaving messages for him at every turn.
Why do I care so much about Steven? There are a thousand other distractions that I could exhaust my energy with. Should I just leave the light on and hope he returns like a prodigal to the front porch? Or should I leave the 99 and go hunt down the 1 missing?
Here's why. Because I've been in Steven's shoes. I have run away to hide in my shame. I have covered my scars with the fig leaves of religion. I have quoted scripture in one sentence and cursed God in the next. I have violently defended the Name of my Savior, and then betrayed that name before the break of dawn.
And I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. But I was hunted down by goodness and mercy, followed by the Rescuer. I have known what it is like to be lost, and I have experienced the humbling grace of being found. I love much because I have been forgiven much.
I am still looking for Steven. And when I find him, I am going to give him a hug. And I'm not going to ask any questions, or for an explanation. I am not interested in a religious inquisition. I have no desire to extract from him the details of absence. I just want to find him, and then drag him to the Table, and break off a piece of bread and pass him a cup and ask him to do the same for me.
Post Script: I have always been attracted to the margins. The streets. Those whom have been made to feel unwelcome in the American Church.