Of Recovery, Renewed Faith ... and Rats!

I got involved with recovery many years ago, long before there was even such a thing as Summit Church. During that time, I often noticed that within the spaces where people gathered, among the many who seemed so desperate to experience change in their lives, there were always these few who seemed to glow. They seemed to possess a different kind of attitude. They communicated in noticeable tones of greater confidence and encouraging assurance. I eventually realized that these people had experienced something far greater than mere abstinence from that which brought them there.

In other words, it wasn’t that they had simply refrained from indulging in the behavior that spurred their arrival to recovery, they had actually got a sponsor, worked the steps and acted on the good advice of others; particularly in embracing the spiritual tenets of the program.

Ultimately, it was their faith in God, their relationship with God, which had made the difference. I couldn’t help but notice, there was a distinctive difference in the lives of those who had been transformed by the relationship with God versus those who simply showed-up at meetings. I’ve heard it said that in the absence of a relationship with Christ, the Twelve Steps are nothing more than words on paper. I’ve seen the truth of that, time and time again. That’s why I especially enjoy participating in the Recovery program at Summit Church. It puts the focus on what is the most fundamental aspect of recovery. Don’t get me wrong, attending meetings, learning from the experiences of others and hearing an encouraging message of hope is a very, very good thing to do. I simply have to acknowledge that in my experience, there can be no real recovery without experiencing the renewal of life that only comes from our relationship with God.

Before recovery, my faith fell somewhere between nonexistence and the occasional inclination that I was either despised or cursed by God. I’ve come to have a different perspective.

One of my favorite recovery-themed stories involves a pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War. He spent a traumatic duration as a prisoner of war with long periods of isolation. He was also tortured and nearly starved to death, but amazingly survived. He returned home at the end of war and in the course of a press conference, reporters asked him how it was possible that he endured through such a horrific ordeal. The veteran informed this audience, “Were it not for God’s love, I would have never survived.” As you can imagine, the reporters balked at this suggestion. Pressing further, they said that given his circumstances and suffering, how could he make any kind of assertion about God’s love? As for what this veteran encountered, wouldn’t that be the very opposite of an expression of love?

The veteran proceeded to explain that during his captivity, he had been confined to a dark and damp room. His captors would give him a golf ball-sized portion of rice which might be the only thing he would have to eat that day. It just so happened, on one day, a rat had made its way into his cell. Now normally, a rat’s presence will prompt repulsion, yet in this man’s isolation, he was grateful for its company. He would feed it a few kernels of rice and eventually grew to appreciate these interactions. But a time came when the rat didn’t show up as usual. Several days passed, and he had begun to worry. He actually missed the rat, to such an extent that he was overjoyed when the rat reappeared some time later.  Unfortunately, the rat seemed very sick and the prisoner despaired over the possibility that his little friend was going to die. He was consumed by grief. But the rat wasn’t sick, it was pregnant. Of all the places where it could have given birth to its litter of little rats, it chose the cell of this prisoner. This was where it felt secure, safe and nurtured. The man shed tears of joy as he witnessed the birth of new life, a remarkable moment in an environment marked by death and tragedy. During that press conference, the veteran explained,  “You want to know how I can acknowledge how much God loves me? He allowed me to become friends with a family of rats.”

I share this story because, on one hand, it speaks of how significant it is to have a support system when we’re confronting great conflict. How necessary it is to form relationships with those who are willing to be there, right beside us, when we’re in a very bad place.

But the story imparts another message on which I prefer to focus. And that is, that even in the worst of situations, God can use the smallest and most unlikely of things to remind us that we are blessed... that we are loved.... that we are not alone.  I carry that knowledge with me everyday… and I continue to participate in the Recovery program at Summit Church because I’m so grateful for the rats God has put in my life and grateful for the opportunity to constantly bear witness to the renewal of life.

I too was once a prisoner… but God’s love set me free.