When I worked at Union Rescue Mission, I was sometimes in charge of the Dryout Room where men detoxed. That meant that every few hours I would go to the Dryout Room and check on the three or four men who were detoxing there. If they asked me to, I would pray with them, but most of the time they just wanted to talk.
Sooner or later, our conversations would turn to what they wanted to do when they checked out of detox. Generally, they wanted to join one of the mission’s ten or so recovery programs. Occasionally, they would want help getting into one of the county programs or into a program like The Salvation Army.
Robert was one of the exceptions. He wanted to go back to his home church and reestablish himself in the community. I knew of the church because I had preached there many times and because my very close friend, Ron Hill was the pastor.
I suggested that upon leaving the Dryout Room, Robert should come by my office and phone Pastor Hill. To my surprise, he did not want to do that. He explained his hesitancy with the following story which I will recount to you as he told it to me, in Robert’s voice.
“I was sitting in the chapel waiting for the service to start. I wasn’t paying attention to the things going on around me. I was hungover and feeling miserable. Then I looked up and realized that a group from my home church was on the chapel platform preparing to conduct the evening service. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice. I looked around, and to my shock, I saw an elder from my church. He was in the aisle to which I was closest, five or six rows in front of where I was sitting, visiting with various people seated in those rows.
I scrunched down in my seat hoping he would not see me. I hoped he would turn around and head back down front to the speaker’s platform. No such luck. He kept walking down the aisle toward me, stopping to talk to people along the way. I thought about getting out of the chapel, but I knew he would surely see me if I stood up.
Then he did see me. He looked shocked for a second and said, ‘Robert, what are you doing here?’
There was nothing for me to do except to come clean about my latest drinking episode. He wasn’t angry and he didn’t reproach me. He just began to try to figure out what he could do to help.
After talking to me for awhile, he went to get the chaplain that was on duty. The chaplain asked me if I would like to check into the Dryout Room. I said, ‘That would really help.’
That was two days ago.I feel like God wants me to go back home and work to get myself established again as one of the lay ministers at my church, but I am afraid they won’t accept me.’ ”
I said, “Robert, I know those people they will accept you. They will be glad to have you back.” Then I told Robert an important lesson I had learned about hiding my true self from other people.
I said, “For years, I had two selves. There was the false self I wanted everyone to think I was, and there was the true self I wanted to hide from everyone because I was afraid they wouldn’t accept me if they really knew me. The people around me tried to love the only George I had let them know, which was the false self. They hugged the false me, talked to the false me, loved the false me and did their best to let my false me know they cared.
The problem was that despite their best efforts to be loving, they could only love the self I presented to them. In the meantime, my real self was on the other side of the room sitting there in abject loneliness. I had to learn to allow my true self to be seen before people could love the real me. Only then could I begin to enjoy the love that was all around me.”
Then I asked Robert if what I had told him had made sense to him. He told me that he understood. Then he said, “When I was going to that church, I was a lay minister in training. I wanted to impress everyone with my spirituality. I patterned everything I did after Reverend Hill. I never really let anyone see the man I really was.”
I replied, “I am sure the people tried to love your imitation of Pastor Hill, but that was little comfort to you because the real you was not getting any attention. Why don’t you go back home to your church and be yourself. I promise you they will love and accept you.”
He took my advice. The last I heard he was doing fine.
Not being myself was a very hollow way for me to live. Letting the people in my program see me as I am, has gradually allowed me to improve my sense of well being. Being as honest and transparent as I am able to be, is allowing me to experience the extremely generous love of my family and my friends.