Second Chances and Beyond
Posted on April 21, 2012
Sometimes there are no second chances; so forgive the past, remember the present, and prepare for the future. It’s the only life you’re given. ~ Unknown
I believe God takes particular care of small children and hopeless drunks. The former because they don’t yet know better, the latter because they probably should have known better but don’t appear to. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always that I didn’t know better, it’s that addiction is an incredibly strong force to reckon with. I believed I needed to be anesthetized on a very regular basis in order to survive my own past and even my own present. This force includes all kinds of addictions, of course. It’s just that in this society you’re much more likely to get arrested for public drunkenness than for public overeating. Our laws are funny that way. If will power were all we needed to conquer addiction, we’d likely all be sober, thin, and serene. Will power, as it turns out, is of very little use to us. The power to change is what we need and that has little or nothing to do with will power.
So, second chances are important. In fact, sometimes they’re necessary for our survival. In my own case, I’ve recently been given another second chance. Actually, this is more like my 21,535th second chance – thereabouts. It’s said that life offers us a second chance – it’s called tomorrow. Too many times in my life, however, I worked very hard at my attempt not to make it to tomorrow.
Just under four years ago, I found myself in a situation which, by most people’s reckoning, would have been a life-ending event. It certainly seemed that way to me. Every moment of every day was spent in abject terror. Every day found me wondering if that would be the day the other shoe would drop. I have to admit, every day also found me again planning my “escape” — just in case. Life appeared to be over anyway so, finally, why stick around?
Why, you may well ask, do you say things like this, Ben? It’s not that I’m trying to demonstrate that being inside my head isn’t always a pleasant place to be, though that is certainly true. I say them because I want to illustrate my belief that you can recover from the depths of absolute, mind-numbing despair. And not only recover, but thrive. I also want to illustrate that it’s far too easy to put up a front, leaving people with no idea anything is wrong. And if they don’t know a problem exists, there’s no way they can help. At the time, however, I was simply ready to die. It’s an awful place to be, trying to appear as though nothing bad is happening. However, I had learned my lessons well from childhood. A smile and a sunny disposition were part of the mask I’d always worn and I was prepared to wear it again.
A funny thing happened on my way to the gallows, though. A thought fought its way through all that terror. For just a moment, I wondered what it would be like if I decided to refuse to allow the terror to continue to rule my life. Refuse, as in, “I’m not going to take it anymore!” Could I do that? Was I really allowed to do that?
For just a moment, I gave myself permission to remember that I’d lived with this kind terror for most of my life and that this was just the latest frightening incarnation of it. But where does one go to get permission to refuse to be controlled by this kind of terror? I’ve said before that a friend once told me that “no” is a complete sentence. I’ve told you, also, that I was certain he was lying to me. And yet, what if this were true? What if I could say no? Would my world end? Would everyone walk away?
This time, something inside me urged me to go for it. Something inside me said I had nothing left to lose. Something inside me realized I was terrified of confronting all that fear. Something inside me finally decided I’d had enough.
Asking for help is a difficult thing, I think, for us all. I don’t mean asking others to do it for me, but asking them to help me through it. It’s said there are no stupid questions. If that’s so, why does if feel so stupid when I have to ask? Why does it feel so weak? The feelings are valid, but they are feelings nonetheless. If I can recognize the fear as a feeling, I have a chance of remembering that feelings pass and that it’s possible to move beyond them. This was one of those times when I recognized the fear for what it was, though I also knew I would be attempting a bigger step than I’d taken in a long time and that came with its own set of fears.
So, I asked for help. I knew the dangers involved in asking. After all, I’d attempted to deal with my own demons many times in the past. Each attempt had failed in one way or another – some of them in pretty spectacular ways. I was determined this time had to be different if I were to survive. Ever feel like you’re down to your very last second chance? This one felt like it had two — and only two — possible outcomes. Failure would almost certainly result in my own death – at my own hand, if necessary. The other held out the hope of some sort of serenity in my life. It would mean I could finally take the noose out of the trunk of my car. It would not mean nothing bad would happen, only that I’d discover I had the strength to find serenity in the midst of a still-raging storm.
In Matthew 14:28-31, we read, “28 Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ 29 And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ ”
For all of my life, I’d seen the wind, become frightened, and begun to sink. I was sinking still. Whether or not you believe in miracles, this passage still begs that very important question, “Why did you doubt?” Far from being a reprimand to his disciples, Jesus affirms a critical concept for all of us. Our own self-doubt is usually what cripples us most in life.
Too often, the things we need to do feel a lot like attempting to walk on water. A lack of trust in ourselves translates, sadly, into a distrust of others around us. How can it not? Fear spreads in an ever-widening circle around us until it can be difficult to see any good solution because we’re left to rely on our own ingenuity – ingenuity we’re already in the process of doubting. How can I believe that you have confidence in me when my own head keeps telling me I’m not worthy, not capable? First, I have to find it within myself to begin the process of believing there may be something worthy about me – some part of me that’s better than I think, some part of me that I probably already know is better than I think but can no longer remember. Then, I may be able to accept that you believe good things about me. Each time I choose to believe I’m not as bad as I think I am, I’m better able to remove the blinders and see my own world more clearly.
Some people say doubt is the opposite of faith. I couldn’t disagree more. To me, doubt is the beginning of questioning. Questioning, in turn, offers me the opportunity to reach out to others for answers I may not have or may not remember I have. Reaching out to others opens the possibility that I may ask for and, perhaps even accept, help.
Thomas Merton said, “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.” Yeah, easier said than done, Merton! He’s right, though, of course. But, where do I start? I’m pretty sure courage will be the last to show up for this party. However, Ambrose Redmoon said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Finally, I’d decided something was more important than the fear. It was a beginning.
So, then, which would come first – faith or hope? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1] Sounds like I was going to have to start with hope. Faith was something I thought I’d discarded long ago. The conviction of things not seen? I definitely couldn’t see how anything positive was going to come out of this situation. But when you’re at the bottom, the only way left to go is up.
In a sermon on faith, Dorisanne Cooper1 said, “You see, whatever you came in here with, it’s enough already – to offer someone hope, to plant a seed of forgiveness, to grab hold of strength to get you through, to hold fear at bay, or even to let it pass you by. In a culture that measures so much by quantity, there’s something about knowing the strength of that little bit that trumps the more, greater, bigger, better we so often seek in faith and everything else. Augustine said, ‘To look for God is to find God.’ Perhaps to live as God calls is to claim faith. With what you’ve got, you can do more than you ever dreamed. And whatever you’ve got? It’s enough, right now.”
I didn’t hear Dorisanne’s words for another two years after all the turmoil began again. And yet, the truth of what she said was already beginning to show itself to me in the act of beginning with a little hope that things might be different if only I could grasp a tiny bit of faith. Not faith that things could change, but that I could change. And that, as it turns out, was enough. It wasn’t that I believed things would turn out exactly the way I wanted. In fact, I felt pretty certain the outcome was going to be very bad — and with very good reason. Getting my heart’s desire isn’t the miracle of this story. The miracle came in the gradual realization that I could find some peace in the midst of this or any storm. The miracle was in finding I could let go of things that had tormented me since time began for me. The miracle was in somehow finding the strength to take a close look at things I’d tried so hard to forget and not allowing the terror to make me run away yet again.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to tell the whole story behind this saga. In fact, that’s not particularly necessary or even important. What’s most important about this story for me is the possibility of change. It’s also about having one or two people with whom I could share my exact fears. It’s about other friends who are willing to pray and care for you even if you can’t say why you need the prayers – no questions asked.
Miracles happen every day when I’m willing to recognize them. In fact, another miracle happens each day I wake up. If I so choose, each of those miracles can appear in the form of a second chance — no questions asked.
There’s nothing as exciting as a comeback – seeing someone with dreams, watching them fail, and then getting a second chance.
~ Rachel Griffiths