"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7
The following is a brief talk I gave recently in the morning worship services at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge. Rev. Brady Whitten, the wonderful pastor of that great church, was writing a sermon about our need to ask for help. He cited the apostles' asking for help with the daily distribution of food (Acts 6) and Jethro imploring Moses to ask for help in dealing with the people. Knowing part of my story he thought it might fit the theme.
I know a little bit about what the 12 apostles faced, and what Jethro faced, and what Brady faces. I was a pastor for 34 years, and I loved it, or about 80% of it. My career was spent among Baptists, and, I’m sure unlike Methodists, we have an occasional stiff-necked member who complains and is chronically dissatisfied. So it’s not always a glorious experience. But I’m genuinely grateful for those 34 years, mainly for the fact that I got to stand before a group of people on a Sunday morning and tell them of a good, and loving, and smiling God. I was blessed.
About 5 years ago I faced some mounting stresses in my life, some I’d been gathering up over the years. You know what made my stresses unique and different from yours? Nothing. Not a single thing. Life is difficult, whatever your calling or your occupation. Sometimes the burdens become so heavy, and we need to ask for help. I didn’t.
Asking for help isn’t easy, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Of course, that’s not true. Asking for help is really quite easy and should be very natural. But for reasons of pride, probably some fear, most of us don’t ask. That’s why I didn’t ask. If I ask for help, then you’re going to realize that I don’t have all the answers. You’re going to know that I’m not as strong as I want you to think I am.
So about five years ago, instead of asking for help, I decided to start drinking. Just to relieve stress, and to sleep. I realize now I was drinking to cover up my fears, resentments, anger, self-pity that I had been collecting for some time. I can see a lot of things more clearly now. I can see that my drinking was an act of quiet desperation because I had lost more and more control over my world and the people in it. That’s pure pride. I can see that now.
I was adopted at birth, so I don’t know anything about my genetic background, but chances are very high that addiction is in my family history, for little by little and suddenly I became an alcoholic. I’m an alcoholic. Here’s the face of addiction. But mine is also the face of recovery because a friend in my church came to me and said “we need to get you well.” I felt ashamed, guilty, angry, but there was enough of a sliver of the real me left that I felt relief. I didn’t ask for help, but I accepted it. I went to in-patient treatment for 90 days. It was the best experience of my life that I don’t want to repeat. Today, one day at a time, I work a program of recovery.
One of the key things we learn in recovery is the importance of asking for help. You see, addiction wants us alone. I was convinced that no one would understand, no one would really help, and I didn’t need anyone anyhow. That worked so well that I got to the point, not where I was exactly suicidal, I just didn’t want to wake up. I dreaded the sunrise.
Today I welcome the sunrise. Truly. Caring people helped me out of the shadows of addiction into the beautiful light of recovery.
I have a sponsor named John – my Jethro. I called him a while back and said “I just feeling fearful today.” John doesn’t have magic words to remove my fear. He’ll simply say something like, “have you prayed about this?” And “I’ll pray for you.”
The simple act of saying “I’m fearful” to another human being, of transparently revealing what some would call a weakness but you learn is simply a common human experience, that simple request for help diminishes my fear and sometimes it evaporates like a morning mist. And when it comes back I ask for help again.
I have been open about my alcoholism and recovery because I believed it might be the key for others finally to ask for help. People did come and ask for help, so many in fact that I resigned as a pastor and founded Chrysalis Interventions. I now travel all over the country at the invitation of treatment facilities to see their methods and get to know the staff. More importantly, I’m honored to step into the lives and homes of families all over the country who have a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a father or mother in the growing shadows of addiction.
I have the family members, in that little sacred circle one by one, tell how much they love that sick person, then what they’ve seen a drug or alcohol do them. Then I lean forward and say “will you accept the help we are offering you today?”
I believe that’s the question God asked me daily when I was in my active addiction. I believe that’s the question God asks each of us daily. Finally, finally, I said yes. And God put people in my life to help. I’ve learned through this wonderfully humbling experience that I can’t do this alone. Today I ask for help.
And life today is so much better, so much easier, so much more joyful because I ask for help.
We can ask God for anything, but we must realize that God almost always uses people to answer requests for help. This is God’s way. Asking reveals our need that can only be met by another person. Isolation is the real enemy, for it breeds a dangerous self-reliance. God created us to live in relationship, and asking for help deepens those relationships.
Dr. Terry Ellis
June 26, 2016