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The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story

FEBRUARY 6, 2024

/ Articles / The Rest of the Story

There is more to the story. And it’s, maybe, the most important part.

I’ve shared “my story” many times. If you’ve heard me teach or read my blogs, you’re probably aware of my story, at least the way I usually tell it. But it’s not the whole story. There is more to the story.

Here’s how I usually tell my story. After years of struggling with alcoholism, and making promises to never drink again, my wife, Gail, came home from a trip to find me drunk and passed out on our living room floor. She told me, “We need to talk” and I was sure that meant she planned to tell me that we were through. She had tried, but life with a chronic relapser was too much for her. We were done. It was time to pack my bags. But that isn’t what she said.

She held my hands, she looked me in the eyes, and she told me “I love you and I will not let go of you. I am not going anyplace, and you are not going anyplace, but something needs to change. Your drinking is killing you and it is killing us.”

In that moment, in her holding onto me and refusing to let go of me, I experienced unconditional love and acceptance in a way I never had before. I had spent my whole life chasing unconditional love. When I experienced it from my wife that day the desire to self-medicate years of emotional pain with alcohol left me and I have not had a drink since that day over nine years ago.

All of that is true. But it is not the whole story.

The rest of the story is what Gail and I started to do that day that connected us to the grace of God in a way that empowered my recovery from alcoholism. We prayed.

It’s not that we hadn’t prayed before. For the preceding seven years, as I’d tried to get sober, I had prayed and prayed. I know that Gail had prayed and prayed for me. What we hadn’t done before and what we started to do that day was to pray together. There was something powerful about praying together.

We set 7:00 a.m. as the appointed time every day. Whatever else we were doing, we stopped and met on the living room couch to pray. Initially, all we prayed for was my sobriety, but soon we used that time to pray for our family and friends and our church and our work and for all sorts of things. That daily prayer time became precious to us and got us through many difficult things that were to come over the next few years.

Though he is best known for writing Amazing Grace, John Newton wrote many other hymns as well. In one of those, Come, My Soul, With Every Care, he wrote:

Come, my soul, with ev’ry care, Jesus loves to answer prayer.

He Himself bids you to pray and will never turn away.

You are coming to a king, large petitions with you bring,

for His grace and pow’r are such, none can ever ask too much.  

It was through prayer that God empowered my sobriety. And there are many other “large petitions” that have been answered through prayer. It was prayer that brought about a miraculous result when Gail had cancer, prayer that sustained us through the deaths of family members, prayer that upheld us during my emergency heart surgery, and prayer that bolstered us through many other difficulties that otherwise could have crushed us.

In Psalm 107 the Psalmist wrote: 

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
    his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
    which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
    and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
    and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

Tim and Kathy Keller wrote in The Songs of Jesus, “Here are people threatened by forces far beyond them. Sea travel can be a metaphor for life. There are clear days in which we feel that we are in control, that our seacraft can take us anywhere we want to go. But when great storms come up, we realize we are helpless before the enormity of the waves.”

We were helpless before the enormous waves of my addiction and would have been ill-equipped to face the storms that were coming—the deaths of parents and a child, cancer, and a failed heart. There was nothing that we could do to save ourselves from the storms and raging waves of our lives.

But there was help. And from where did our help come? Our help came from the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

When those described in Psalm 107 were at their “wits’ end” (verse 27) “they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (verse 28). That is what God did for us as well.

I spent years caught in a hopeless condition. In the grip of alcoholism nothing I tried worked to set me free, not thousands of 12-step meetings, not multiple trips to treatment, not hours of counseling. When we were at our wit’s end and in our distress cried out to God, it was regular, daily prayer, that the Lord used to set me free.

Barry Smith

Barry Smith

Barry’s aim is to prepare the Church to minister well in prisons so that prisoners are prepared to minister well in the Church. This is accomplished through service in complementary […]

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