This past week has been difficult for me and for most of the people I love, including my family and friends who do not necessarily identify as “left leaning,” “feminist,” or any other label that I tend to wear as a badge of honor. Like many others, my family is personally affected by the policy on children of same-sex couples. Two of my brothers are gay and joined our family in their late teens and early twenties because they were rejected by their biological families, in part, because they are gay. They have been in our family for over 20 years and to say that they have blessed the lives of our family would be a gross understatement; we have learned to love more and widen our hearts.
News of the policy, and subsequent articles, blog posts and interviews, has left me feeling sad, challenged and angry. Yet, I find myself able to attend church services and perform my calling. Yesterday I started to wonder how these two disparate ways of engaging could coexist within myself? I realized that I was employing a skill I was taught over twenty years ago when I began my road to recovery.
In Twelve Step meetings, participants are encouraged to listen to other addicts and find community within the safety of the rooms. Initially, almost every addict feels that they do not belong in recovery and that somehow they are not as addicted or “out of control” as the other attendees. Veterans of recovery encourage new members to “take what works, and leave the rest behind,” knowing this approach will help addicts benefit from the meetings even when they are unable to acknowledge the extent of their disease. I don’t remember when this practice became so ingrained in me but it is one of my most significant souvenirs of sobriety. I am increasingly aware that it helps me navigate many difficult situations, including church.
Each Sunday I try to find something- anything- that will help me progress along my spiritual journey. I look for “what works.” For me, these are theologically based beliefs and practices that bring me closer to Christ. By engaging in self-reflection I can spend my energy trying to spiritually refine myself, the one person I actually have control over. I purposefully “leave the rest behind,” or let go of remarks that are not theologically accurate or comments that may even be hurtful, typically spoken out of true ignorance. When I am emotionally ready, I circle back to the troubling pieces of information that I have heard or read and attempt to grapple with why I felt disturbed and, if necessary, how I can work to affect change. Typically, it takes me weeks and sometimes months to process something that is disconcerting for me. It’s certainly not a perfect skill set and I am not advocating that everyone adopt this coping strategy. Each of us has our own method of dealing with pain. But the Twelve Step approach is how I can attend church with the hopes of spiritual fortification, even on the Sunday following a policy announcement that is particularly relevant and painful for my family.
This past Sunday, as my extended family gathered for our weekly dinner together, I participated in and listened to a beautiful, chaotic, lively exchange of theology, policy and opinions. I observed that the adults were animated and engaged while the grandchildren listened and asked questions, and then weighed in on the discussion. It made me happy to know that these children were witnessing faith in action, in all its complexity and messiness.