Although it is human nature to expect judgment when we fail, grace seems to be the better road to true life change. Manning shares the following story that illustrates what a truly gracious community looks like:
"On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts gather for their weekly AA meeting. Although several members attend other meetings during the week, this is their home group. They have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several years and know each other well. Some talk to each other daily on the telephone; others socialize outside the meetings.It is those that have traveled the road of hardship that are the most likely to understand the pain of others. God's grace is afforded to even those of us that are the lowliest of ragamuffins.
The personal investment in one another’s sobriety is sizable. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is there because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together. Each meeting is marked by levity and seriousness. Some members are wealthy, others middle class or poor. Some smoke, others don’t. Most drink coffee. Some have graduate degrees, others have not finished high school. For one small hour, the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The result is fellowship.
The meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer followed by a moment of silence. The prologue to Alcoholics Anonymous was read from the Big Book by Harry, followed by the Twelve Steps of the program from Michelle. That night, Jack was the appointed leader.
"The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude," he began, "But if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it."
Immediately Phil’s hand shot up. "As you know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days."
The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.
"You all know the buzz word, H.A.L.T., in this program." he continued. "Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and . . . "
Phil’s voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table - moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room.
"The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year."
"Thank God you’re back."
"Boy, that took a lot of guts."
"Relapse spells relief, Phil," said a substance abuse counselor. "Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why."
"I’m so proud of you."
"Hell, I never made even close to seven years."
As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck and cheek. "You old ragamuffin," said Denise. "Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split at Tastee Freeze."