I have a confession to make. I am not a very nice person. There are some of you who are mildly shocked or in denial about this. There are others of you who, unfortunately, know it to be true. I was once described by someone who knows me probably better than anyone else in the world as self-centered, hedonistic, and careless with myself and others. For the lion's share of my teenaged and adult years, that was an accurate description. I was usually pleasant and fun to be around, I think, but scratch the surface and I could bring on a world of hurt.
Not incidentally I drank in those days. A LOT. I started guessing that I might be an alcoholic around the age of seventeen. By twenty-five, I was convinced. I was also unwilling to do anything about it. I made a joke out of it. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never love anyone more than I loved alcohol and if there was never anyone who was 100% cool with this then I would just be happily single for the rest of my life. My heroes were people like Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde: witty, pithy drinkers who had fabulous lives, if you ignored the occasional suicide attempt. I was sure they could have been described as self-centered, hedonistic, and careless with themselves and others. I was in good company.
That was on the surface, though. As any alcoholic will tell you (and I'm sure Dorothy and Oscar would agree) there is an underbelly that is real, undeniable, and terribly, terribly ugly. I spent more than my share of nights swathed in guilt and steeped in shame, remembering things that I had done, people I had hurt, decisions I had made that had ended... let's just say badly. There are terrific gaps in my memory. Whole evenings and even people who have fallen into the abyss of my blackouts. It's an eerie feeling when you are approached by someone you presumably met, partied with, and parted as good friends and you don't remember anything about them.
I want to make something clear. During most of this time I was a Christian. I believed Jesus had died for my sins and I really did love Him. I apologized to him at least once a day, usually dozens of times. I vowed never to drink again. Sometimes I bargained that if He would just let me keep alcohol, my golden calf of choice, I would make other sacrifices or do other really cool things in His name. He was not convinced. Still, during this time, Jesus really did love me. He was not willing to leave me in the grips of a disease that I did not understand and could not control.
So he sent me Eddie. I was willing to drink even though it hurt other people, even people I loved. I was willing to drink even though I was killing myself. Then, suddenly, there was someone I loved, someone residing in my body, that I was not willing to hurt. God gave me someone to love more than I loved alcohol. So I quit, white-knuckling it at first, then seeking the help of loving, wonderful, flawed people who taught me how to let go and let God.
If you have never been a prodigal son or daughter, good for you. I mean that sincerely. If you have never wandered so far away from the will of God in your life that when you return to Him you are broken and filthy and ashamed, then you are very lucky. But in other ways, we prodigals are blessed. We know from experience how high, how long, how deep, and how wide is the love of Christ. It defies description. I came before Him with a past that made me unworthy to be anything but punished. I was willing to just be a servant in His household and He welcomed me as a daughter, bathed me in grace, clothed me in righteousness, and put a ring on my finger so that I would no longer feel ashamed.
I don't regret my past. It helps me relate to others and keeps me humble and grateful before my God. I still like Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker, but I don't want to be them when I grow up. And, somehow, I've become a pretty good person. I've heard people describe me as nice, kind, generous, and faithful. I like who I am in Christ. I'm active in my church and crazy in love with Jesus, but I hope I'm not self-righteous, am still pleasant and fun to be around. The really important thing is, though, that God loved me just as much when I was out there partying like it was 1999 (oh, wait, it was) as He does now when I am raising my hands and singing a song of praise. His love is unchanging, unshakeable, and true. He was waiting for me, a patient and loving Father, waiting for His beloved daughter to return. And He loves you too.