A second idea that helps move us into the realm of grace is ridding ourselves of the notion that grace is an excuse to live riotously. For some people, grace sounds like an invitation to behave very badly. After all, what difference does it make? If God, or whatever my concept of a higher power is, accepts me unconditionally, then I’ll live any way I want.
The fact is, grace changes our wants because it changes us from the inside out. Grace has a certain gravity. It draws us to something higher and better. It creates hope, for, at some point, we have at least an inclination that we don’t want to live like this anymore. In my experience, grace doesn’t invite relapse. It enables genuine recovery.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th-century abbot, put his finger on why this is so. He said there are four degrees of love between the self and God. The first degree is the love of self for the sake of self. We’re born with this. It’s self-centered and entirely necessary and helpful until we grow a little older. The second degree of love is the love of God for the sake of self, a distinct improvement because
at least God is in the equation. However, it’s still self-centered, for we love God for what we believe God can do for us. The third degree of love is the love of God for the sake of God. We love God simply for God’s wonder, beauty and light. What could be higher or purer than that?
Bernard’s inspiration, and the point at which he most helps the recovering addict, is in the fourth degree of love: the love of self for the sake of God. At this point, we simply agree with God’s assessment that we are indeed loveable and redeemable. The chaos we’ve created doesn’t determine our worth. God determines that, and grace is the metric. Therefore, I can agree with God and love myself, scars and all.
I mentioned earlier that every addict brings into recovery a load of self-loathing. No one makes much progress with that kind of burden. Grace removes that load because it assures us that our addictions don’t define us. Acceptance by the most powerful force in the universe means we no longer need to use a drug to numb the bitter disappointment in ourselves. Instead, we’re able to relax and become the sons and daughters God intended us to be.
Now a couple of closing words to family and friends: Grace must never be equated with enabling. Family members have the right and personal responsibility to draw boundaries, and no one should mindlessly condemn a boundary as a lack of grace. Families of addicts need to recall that the father in the parable of the prodigal son never went into the far country to drag him back home. He waited until “he came to himself.” Keep the light on but the door locked if that’s what you need to do.
Finally, I’m constantly amazed by how often harm and healing come from the same person. Grace allows the addict who destroyed so many relationships to comfort, encourage and help the very people he or she hurt so badly. The family member who for long years had nursed open wounds inflicted by the addict today speaks with tender compassion about the blessing that son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father has become. I’ve witnessed it so often — and I’ve lived it.
Grace pools in the wounds of every one of us, addict or not. At some point, we all need to limp into that wondrous circle of light for healing. We unclench our fists and open our hands, receive the gift, and become new. And that truly is amazing.