"Be honest: in moments of clarity, of stone cold sobriety, do you ask how a good God could allow so much pain? Do you wonder whether Jesus is a figment of your imagination, whether God is real?...do you love and do you forgive yourself the way God loves and forgives you? Do you wonder whether God will ever speak again, and whether He ever spoke in the first place? Do you wonder whether it's just your noggin talking to you? Do you wonder whether God likes you? Do you hear your accusers casting aspersions, telling you that you're unloved, unworthy, a thing to be discarded?" These are the words tucked away in the second to the last entry of Seth Haines new book "Coming Clean". It seems only appropriate that they would be hidden in the last few pages of a two-hundred some odd page book. Not that the author is trying to hide anything...in fact he's insanely honest and vulnerable from the very first line, of the first entry, on the first day... but rather, it's ironic that it resembles the human heart... particularly the heart of this follower of Jesus. These are the types of questions that I keep tucked away deep in the recesses of my brain. These are the types of questions and wonderments that I have sometimes, but that I don't want anyone to know... because these aren't the questions of the super-powerful, awe-inspiring Christian....or are they?! Maybe these are actually the types of questions that when faced, lead us to the deepest truths of our faith!
Anyway, I think there's something about pure honesty that really draws people in. When someone takes off their mask, stops pretending, and is just real...even when it might not be acceptable, even when it might not be understood, even when it may cost them something... it captivates us (or at least me). Probably because it's so rare! But this is exactly what it was like reading this book. There were no false pretenses, no sense of trying to please the crowd and say/do what's right. It's just a man sharing his struggle, his pain, and his journey back to God...and it is POWERFUL!
Seth Haines is a man, a husband and a father...he's also a Christian, a true follower of Jesus, just trying to figure it all out. The story written in the pages of his book are wrapped around the two flagpoles of his youngest son's illness and his own struggle with alcohol... but there's so much more in-between, basically a whole lifetime. Haines states in the beginning of the book, "If faith starts as a mustard seed, maybe doubt does too" and throughout these pages he learns where those doubts of faith began in his life and how to begin to overcome them.
There's a culminating incident that leads him to make the decision to stop drinking (what that actually is, I will leave up to your reading pleasure to find out) but reading the story I felt myself cringing for him, because had it been me I would have been so embarrassed.. I would have felt like I had lost all control and respect and wouldn't want to show my face again. But he doesn't do that. Instead it becomes his opportunity, his moment of change. So even though, as he appropriately mentions, "our ghosts always seem to surface at the most inopportune times", maybe that's exactly what we need... to be thrown off balance at the worst possible moment to get us to the place of reaching for the help we need.
As Seth begins to walk into and through his own pain, he shares some of the most insightful things I have heard on the topic... and maybe it's just because here's a man not just spewing advice at something he's not even affected by, but rather he's talking from his very own walk. He says, "If pain took an organized, namable, tangible, physical shape it'd be an easy thing to put to death. It turns out, though, that to beat the shame out of you, you have to give the pain in your life contours". Basically you have to give shape to it... you have to figure out what it is. Then he follows that up with the comforting truth he received from his therapist, that "if you deal with the pain, you won't need the numbness"... which is the straight up honesty we all need to hear whether we go looking for comfort in alcohol, like the author, or food, power/success, men/women, etc. (something the author points back to many times throughout the book).
He even admits, "I am a Christian who has used systems and liquor to numb the pain that God might not answer my prayers, that he might not heal, that ultimately, he might not be present in my life. The pain is evidence of this idea of non-conformity, I have used these vices to kill the pain". Then he ever so inspiringly connects this pain to the story of Jesus in the garden of gethsemane and meditates on the idea that, "to ask for relief from God... this is human. To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering.. this is what it means to be like Jesus. This is what it means to yield to the mystery". Again, these aren't words of a pastor trying to convince a congregation, these aren't words of salesman trying to make a few bucks, these are the words of a man in the midst of the muck and the mire, crying out to a God he's not even sure cares to listen, and finding that God is closer than he ever imagined. And maybe that's what makes his thoughts that much more meaningful.
I am not one to be so open with my struggles. It's very hard for me to open up with even the closest of my friends, when it comes to the deep down, nitty gritty, messes of my heart. Yet in reading Haines story I was convicted by the idea that maybe it really does "take a village to break through to freedom". And I was reminded of a conversation I recently had with a friend where she said, "Maybe in being honest with your struggles and with who you are some people will walk away from your life and reject you for it, but those who stay, the ones that really matter, will get to know the real you and be able to love you in a more deeper, intimate way". Maybe this is why God places us in community... so we can share our stories and our struggles with one another, and that maybe in sharing what we've learned in them we can help one another through this journey of life (and maybe that's exactly why the devil works so hard to convince us me need our masks).
Seth Haines book is more than just words written on a page. It's life, and hope, and a hand reaching out to you in the darkness saying, "I know, I've been there, let me show you the way" and I am more than grateful that he put it out there for all of us to read (even if this is only the beginning of your journey)! Thank you Mr. Haines for your honesty... for being real... and for showing that in even in our darkest moments, we are never to far beyond the reach of God!