A New Year’s Resolution: Be like a Recovering Alcoholic on the Indian Road

I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor.  I am what the old Puritans would term a “physician of souls.” Vocationally I am a pastor.  Avocationally, I coach lacrosse. In both cases, I am focused on helping people change – specifically, from worse to better.  And in every case that any significant improvement occurs, it is because the athlete or spiritual pilgrim in question has accepted that they have something about them that is not “right.”  Maybe they trail their stick on defense or don’t get their hands up to shoot.  Maybe they are easily angered or have a tendency to gossip.  But until a person identifies something that is wrong, not simply “less than perfect” but actually “wrong,” they will always have a perfectly acceptable status quo to fall back on should their aspirations to change prove difficult and inconvenient.

This is what alcoholics understand – and they recite it like a mantra every time they gather: “My name is John, I am an alcoholic.”  Lasting change is premised upon their self-awareness of the wrongness of their condition.  When they believe they are no longer an alcoholic, bad things tend to happen.  So, if there is something the matter with your life that needs changing this year, identify what is wrong; name it and own it.  Recognize that it has defined you.  Be like a recovering alcoholic.

And walk the Indian Road.  In 1925, Stan Jones wrote a little book on his experiences as a missionary in India that went through twenty-three printings in its first two years.  It proved to be a significant and influential missiological book with an unexpected devotional appeal.  That book was, The Christ of the Indian Road, and in his second chapter he shares a part of a conversation he had with Mahatma Gandhi in which Jones observed that neither Hindu karma or Muslim kismet could bring about change in a person or a nation’s life.  Both of those, he believed were essentially defeatist.  But the cross is different:

“Now the cross never knows defeat, for it is of itself Defeat, and you cannot defeat Defeat.  You cannot break Brokenness.  It starts with defeat and accepts that as a way of life.  But in that very attitude it finds its victory.  It never knows when it is defeated, for it turns every impediment into an instrument, and every difficulty into a door, every cross into a means of redemption.  So I concluded, any people that would put the cross at the center of its thought and life would never know when it is defeated.  It would have a quenchless hope that Easter morning lies just behind every Calvary.”[1]

Own your brokenness and embrace the cross.  If human experience has any usefulness as a guide, you may be quite sure that setbacks and disappointments will be a part of your growth.  For the individual who merely aspires to be better, such challenges are opportunities to fail – to let themselves down.  But for the person who has truly owned their brokenness, every challenge and setback cannot be an opportunity to fail because Brokenness cannot be broken; the alcoholic does not become an alcoholic again.  Instead, such crises become opportunities to either remain the same or to grow – as Jones insists, they are doors to a better place.

Titus chapter three instructs us to stress the truths that we are sinners saved by grace; that we are really, really sinful and that God is outrageously merciful towards us in Christ.  This new year, renew your commitments to owning your brokenness and focusing on the cross of Christ.  And look at your difficulties – your trials and temptations, as opportunities to live a different life because of what God has in Christ done for you.  May your year be full of Easter mornings as you experience the lesser calvaries of life on this side of heaven.  May you find yourself living with a quenchless hope.

Your Pastor,

Bob Bjerkaas

[1] Jones, E. Stanley, The Christ of the Indian Road (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1925), p. 45.

N.B.  The picture was taken by a friend of mine who attended the church I pastored in Vermont.  She took this picture of a busy intersection in Kalimpong, India where she was serving as a medical missionary (she is a veterinarian – think cows and goats not dogs and cats).  This is her description of that intersection: “So these pictures tell a nice story of the contrasts of this place.  The first one is of the main intersection in Kalimpong.  I was sitting with Melissa on the steps of the corner shop waiting for Miku last week.  The clock tower that you can see has a broken clock, and traffic cops stand below it directing the mass of taxis, motorcycles and pedestrians.  You really have to be alert to cross the streets here.”  Note that there is no reason to believe that the man pictured is an alcoholic.

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One Response to A New Year’s Resolution: Be like a Recovering Alcoholic on the Indian Road

  1. Ruth Olson says:

    Thanks, Bob, you write so well, you think so well. You are our most favorite, first best minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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