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Finding the Smile

 

 
Recently a friend and I were talking about what life was like when we first got into 12-step recovery, and what we needed in order to break the bonds of addiction. I rarely talk about the beginning because frankly most of it is a blur, and it was a few decades ago! All I wanted to do was get off the streets and try to live another day. “Who knows,” I thought, “maybe even I could get a job and start living a normal life too?”

Some days it’s hard to remember I used to spend my time just trying to survive. The idea of a good life seemed too good to dream about. It was definitely out of my reach, and I certainly had done nothing to deserve it. Most days I believed life would always be dark, I would always be an empty human shell walking through this world as dead space. I was fortunate enough to find my way to a 12-step meeting. The only thing I remember about the beginning of my recovery was people were smiling, and some were even laughing. How could that be!?!!

In addiction I had lost the power to choose anything, everything I did was out of habit, whether to feed my addiction, keep a roof over my head, or keep all the secrets and shame hidden. It is exhausting to keep the dark truth of your life under wraps. Yet here I was sitting in meetings, witnessing the exact opposite! What was it about these smiling people that held my attention? Interestingly, they offered me the simplicity of a seed of a greater faith, just a little seed of some belief that maybe, JUST maybe, I could smile someday too.

As my friend and I kept talking about those early days of recovery, I heard myself saying, “Faith is what kept me returning.” Yet I knew it wasn’t faith in the typical way we think about it. As our conversation continued we started asking questions of ourselves. What exactly is faith – then and now? Has it even changed? How has it changed? Where does it come from? How do I get it? Up until when I got clean, I had really only heard of faith within the context of religion or God, yet in the beginning of recovery there was no space for God.

Rather than believing in something I couldn’t see, it was necessary to see something first before believing. I have learned this a foundational piece of my #faith formation.

Most of my life I had heard faith described as believing in something you can’t see, the evidence of things not seen, or as a “knowing.” Frankly, none of that seemed to apply those first few months of getting clean. While I understood it intellectually as a concept, I needed something I could see, touch, taste, smell and hear. Rather than believing in something I couldn’t see, it was necessary to see something first before believing. I have learned over the years, this is a foundational piece of my faith formation.

If I was to stay clean, get healthy physically, mentally, emotional and spiritually, I needed to see some proof that this could work for me too. Very often I hear this kind of thinking as the “wrong” way to do faith, yet I have discovered for some people, and likely for all of us at some point in life, it has been necessary. I don’t deny there is the element of faith that is about taking a leap without necessarily knowing the outcome, this just wasn’t one of those times. I believe it’s a necessary part of my walk of faith, to see something – and then believe. As time ticked by, one day at a time, one month at a time, one year at a time… I watched people smile, become more peaceful, get jobs AND keep them.

I witnessed people falling in love, making friends, making families, and learning to tell the truth. I listened as people told their stories – the WHOLE story – and then get loved up. I heard them talk about their most shame-filled secrets, even illegal activities – and they got loved even harder. Not perfectly or gracefully, but always passionately. This was faith for me.

“Ultimately, faith is no more than the willingness and bravery to be ultimately concerned, fueling that fire of concern with everything that matters. The mystery is that taking the risk to be so ultimately concerned in itself makes us more whole. And what is compassion, but being ultimately concerned about something other than ourselves? In actuality, miracle is the process of ultimate concern, and one aspect of miracle is what happens when love makes us cross over into the sharing of each other’s pain.” – Mark Nepo

I realized faith is a journey, not a destination. It’s not something I get, it’s something that awakens within me. It grows as I grow. Faith is sometimes needing to use my senses to know there is hope. Hope is a future endeavor, it keeps me looking ahead, while faith is right here and now. Faith is the doubt I feel when I need to eventually take a leap into the unknown. Doubt is the foundation of my faith because it enables me to put myself into the hands of another when necessary, knowing that what happens to me in life will, in the end, be right for me.

Faith means I will always find people who are smiling.

Rev. Kelly Isola, MDiv, is a dynamic evolutionary leader, speaker and writer, with a passion and commitment for awakening and inspiring individuals worldwide to a greater realization of their own divinity. She is well-known for her work and teachings of living the two-fold path of an engaged spiritual life – embracing the inner path of wisdom and spiritual healing, as well as demonstrating the outer path of compassionate service. Visit Kelly Isola’s website here.

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