We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. – Step 2
The God of old is still your refuge: This God has everlasting arms that can drive out the enemy before you. – The Bible, Deuteronomy 33:27 (recalling a period around 1500 BCE)
Yes, we are carrying our own death warrant with us, but it is teaching us not to rely on ourselves, but on a God whose task is to raise the dead to life. – Apostle Paul, The Bible, 2 Corinthians 1:9 (c. 54 CE)
May the God of peace make you whole and holy, may you be kept safe in body, heart, and mind, and thus ready for the presence. God has called you and will not fail you. – Apostle Paul, The Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (51 CE)
The storm was brewing, but Dorothy had no idea what the day was going to bring for her (and her little dog, too). Toto was supposed to act like a mature, intelligent human being but instead chose to be a dog in his interactions with a wicked witch of a neighbor who did what she had to do to put the dog down. Too much for Dorothy, she opted to make a run for it. She ran into a traveling conman with a big heart who discerned the familial struggle she was in. He tapped into her love for her Aunt Em which motivated her to return to the house long before she was really ready. Once home, the storm caught up with her and she found herself on an adventure she didn’t know she needed – all to get back home. The Wizard of Oz was a great book and movie, not simply because of the surface-level storyline, but because it is our story, it is the human story describing the journey we all go through to get to our true home. We discover in our respective processes that we have a lot of fears to face, and a lot of ourselves to develop. We all have minds to develop, hearts to grow, and courage to foster along the way. We put our hopes in the wrong things and discover in the end that home was a wish and a few clicks of the heels away from our grasp. Sometimes, however, we get stuck in Oz.
During his ministry, Jesus taught about the endless, unconditional love of God everywhere he went. He taught with his life, his healing, his very person how powerful the love of God is to change and sustain life abundant. Likely on several occasions he told three parables (Luke 15) that drove the point about God’s love deeper and deeper. The first pictures a shepherd carrying for 100 sheep. One wandered off, and the shepherd left the 99 – a major risk – to go rescue the one that was isolated and in danger. When he got back to camp, he called for celebration. The second parable features a woman who lost one of her ten silver coins. Jesus portrays her searching high and low, sweeping under the couch and throw rugs for that lost coin of significant value. When she found it, she was so happy that she threw a party! The shepherd and the woman represent God here, who is willing to go to great lengths to find that which was lost and rejoices when the lost was found (instead of scolding the sheep or coin). Sheep are pretty dumb, and a coin doesn’t have a brain at all, so we may be left wondering how God might treat more intentional wanderers – would the love of God be present in the same way? Thus, the third parable. Do you know the parable of the prodigal son? Here it is in The Message translation:
“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Do you know this story? The focus of all three parables was the prodigious love of God who looks for those who are lost and rejoices when they are found, even if the “lost” one got lost in worst way imaginable. This is the happy ending. I imagine the disciples upon hearing the story the first time were sitting on the edge of their seat wondering how the story was going to play out. Surely for the first few times they were stunned by the implications of God’s grace. But the subsequent 100+ times they heard it – and shared it – I wonder if they were then free to examine other parts of the story, especially since they knew how it was going to end. Like when we watch The Wizard of Oz for the gazillionth time, we don’t get too worried about whether or not Dorothy will make it home even when the hot air balloon drifts away (spoiler alert). Because we are confident in the end of the story, we can slow down and appreciate the full story.
Rest assured in Jesus’ teaching: the nature of God is so loving and graceful that when we’re lost, God is all about us being found, restored, and healed up. When we’re found, God rejoices. No “I told you so” scolding necessary – our lostness exacted suffering enough. It might even help for you to read and hear these words aloud: “I will be welcomed home.” Meditate on that for as long as you need to really allow it to become a foundation for you before we look further into the story. It might take you a few minutes/weeks/years, but it’s worth it.
Resting in the security of a happy ending to our story, let’s embrace the sons. The younger sons gets lots of attention for his unthinkable request (Dad, I wish you were dead) and his reckless lifestyle which landed him in a pigsty. It was in that thoroughly non-Kosher, unclean space where he could finally hear what the Spirit of God was trying to tell him his whole life: come live at home. This is so often the human experience, isn’t it? We don’t really get it, we don’t wake up, until we hit rock bottom. Until we realize we are powerless against the thing that has us, we will resist health. When we recognize our powerlessness, however, and embrace it, a lot of things begin to open up. Surrender is a critical step to victory, and it is a really, really hard step. Richard Rohr writes:
The surrender of faith does not happen in one moment but is an extended journey, a trust walk, a gradual letting go, unlearning, and handing over. No one does it on the first or even second try. Desire and longing must be significantly deepened and broadened. To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us – and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body (20).
The younger brother in Jesus’ parable was “lucky” enough to find himself in a pigsty. There was no denying that he was at the end of his rope. People in the Twelve Step program speak of this as the “Gift Of Desperation” (G.O.D.): their lives became unmanageable and they really didn’t have much choice. They either moved forward to live or they would soon die (or experience many faces of death until their final breath). Are you the younger son? Do you recognize that pigsty smell? Can you see the mud mixed with all manner of filth that has accumulated all over your body? Are you able to hear the squeals of the pigs? By the way, alcoholics don’t get all the fun – you can struggle with some serious stuff and find your life a mess without ever touching a drink or a drug. Sometimes our particular Enneagram type gives a nod to our struggle. When we are in the extreme throes of the darkness of our despair, we are in the pigsty. Perhaps you have been to the extremes of one or two in the following graphic:
If one of these describes you, then you know this story. Are you ready to surrender? Are you ready to believe that there is a God who can help you out of the pit and into new life? To come home for each of you is to find your most painful wounds healed and your deepest needs met. That’s what the Jesus Way of life offers: a life that is whole and holy. That’s what faith is really about, as Rohr notes:
Mere mental belief systems split people apart, whereas actual faith puts all our parts (body, heart, and head) on notice and on call, and offers us a new broadband station, with full surround sound, instead of a static-filled monotone. Honestly, it takes major surgery and much of one’s life to get head, heart, and body to put down their defenses, their false programs for happiness, and their many forms of resistance to what is right in front of them. This is the meat and the muscle of the whole conversion process (20).
As you younger brother types are hopefully marching home, let’s take a moment and consider the older sibling in this family. As you can easily discern from the older brother’s reaction, he may have been living in his father’s house, but he was as far away from home as he could get. If you do not relate to the younger brother’s story at all, you are not off the hook. True, we are dealing with extreme examples here – one who can no longer deny his powerlessness and one who is in complete denial – but you probably fall toward one side or the other. The older brother type is on autopilot, unreflective and unaware of that which controls him (and has his entire life). He is unfortunate in that he apparently has not had his heart broken until near the very end of the story. Brokenness seems to be a prerequisite to transformation, the one step that we must get 100% right. As Rohr states, I think your heart needs to be broken, and broken open, at least once to have a heart at all or to have a heart for others (23). But we don’t like heartbreak, do we? In fact, we work hard to avoid it, the very thing that keeps us real. Because when we are honest about life – our life, Life itself – it is never “all good”. We may be in denial, but there are times when we tip our hand and those around us realize there’s some brokenness lurking in us.
In my PraXis groups this week, we wondered aloud about how to recognize our addiction when it’s not alcohol or drugs. What are we trying to quit? Our Enneagram is helpful in this regard as it directs our attention to how we think about ourselves and the world around us. I have found this question quite challenging, and yet I have found God to be quite faithful in bringing some insight.
I am a Type 3 on the Enneagram. I have been wanting to call myself a 7 – in part because it ranked #2 and is often mistyped as 3, but also because there are parts of Type 3 that I don’t want to be true of me. Turns out this is often a clue for what type we are – we don’t want to be that type! Each type has it’s own tendencies and coping mechanisms. Type 3’s are usually driven, successful, and efficient. We usually perform well, get along well with people, and are high achievers. And we also don’t want anybody to know about our failures and struggles because we deeply value what other people think about us. Success is really important, and if people don’t think highly of us (we often assume it to be predicated on our achievement) or think we are unsuccessful, it kills us. So we mask it, deny it, disguise it, and are occasionally deceptive about it. We’re always fine even if we’re not. We might even believe the lie we tell about how good we’re doing even if our pain is catching up with us. Can Type 3’s become older brothers? Absolutely! That stupid younger brother totally blew his role costing everyone around him dearly! What a failure! And now we’re celebrating him? For what? That he somehow survived the pigsty? It’s like celebrating Preschool, or 5th Grade, or 8th Grade Graduation – is this really a significant accomplishment? Threes can get pretty judgmental of others’ not playing their role to their satisfaction. When left unaddressed, threes can secretly writhe in pain as they wonder if they will ever be good enough to deserve love. If people really knew them – especially apart from their performance – would they still love them? This can lead Type 3’s to deep insecurity and a perpetual identity crisis as they shift their role playing as the scene dictates. It is a miserable, pigsty kind of place to live. But on the surface, everything looks great (because we try to look good). And, as stated before, we may even believe it.
The amazing thing about this story is that the Father sought out his older lost son, too, and made it clear why they were celebrating: there was death, and now there is resurrection. God is all about resurrection. The Father also made it clear for the older son that he was invited to not just live in the house – he was invited to come home.
The story ends hanging. We don’t know what the older brother does next. A real cliffhanger. A cliffhanger that we choose.
To come home means to wake up to what has held power over us for so long, to name it and something we are obviously powerless against, and look to God to save our lives. Slowly and surely, that is what God works toward. We actually see progress when we work with God toward it, too. But that’s future step stuff. For now, let’s just get out of the pigsty. For now, let’s discover, like Dorothy, that heading home is just a few easy clicks away.
When all of you is there, you will know.
When all of you is present, the banquet will begin (Rohr, 20).
*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram. Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”. There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test). In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps. You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats. CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand. In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with.