A certain man carried an unrelenting burden: alcohol addiction on one shoulder, drug addiction on the other. One night, drunk and high, he could bear it no longer. He was, you could say, at his wit’s end. Sitting on a couch in his basement, he set down the bottle and the marijuana, picked up a pistol and felt mentally ready to end his suffering.
He didn’t consider himself a spiritual man by any means, which is why the next split-second surprised him completely. From somewhere he couldn’t explain, these words came to him.
“Please, God,” he whispered, “please help me.”
His children were upstairs at that time, unaware of the life-altering tragedy seemingly unfolding in their home. The young man paused. Suddenly a rush of emotion swept over his entire body and, without understanding why, he lowered the gun from his mouth and set it on the table. He reached for the bottle and finished it. He turned to the drugs, and, well, that was it.
When he awakened well into the next day, he felt completely sober, alert and changed. The young man hasn’t tasted alcohol or felt the surge of drugs in his body ever since that night — a night that happened 30 years ago.
In those first moments of sobriety, he knew God had done something in his life. He had tried recovery from his addictions twice before; he knew this time would be different. Why?
Because for the first time in his life, the young man actually had said a prayer.
In his famous devotional written more than 100 years ago, “My Utmost For His Highest,” Baptist evangelist Oswald Chambers noted that even Jesus’ apostles had to ask Him to teach them how to pray and wrote “Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man.” Whether someone is a Roman Catholic or, like Chambers, a Protestant Christian or especially a nonChristian, that certainly seems true.
What is a normal part of natural man and woman is the drive to make it on our own. When we’re kids, we want to do things without the help of mom and dad, and that only intensifies as we get older. We are driven by a desire for independence.
Perhaps that’s why so many young people choose to leave the Church and abandon their faith in those years of middle school, high school and college. More and more, the secular world has been stressing such independence the last 50 years. In many cases, kids can move beyond the ties to family, hometown, traditional values, religion and even belief in God at all because they have seen the generation of their parents do the same — and so much of what they see and hear from the world affirms that.
We are taught to pursue absolute self-sufficiency. To ask for help is to show weakness; it’s to show fear. Our world sure does frown upon weakness and fear.
But what everyone eventually learns is that weakness and fear also are parts of natural man and woman. No one gets to skate through life without experiencing them in some way. In those moments when self-sufficiency disappears, that’s when an atheist might become an agnostic, when an agnostic might because a genuine believer, when a lapsed Christian might desperately return to the faith of their youth.
“When a person is at his wits’ end,” Oswald Chambers wrote, “it no longer seems to be a cowardly thing to pray. In fact, it is the only way he can get in touch with the truth and the reality of God Himself.”
In the moment when one’s own strength and confidence end, then we find the beginning of God’s strength, His wisdom and His love. And here’s a sample of that wisdom: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The poor in spirit: They are the folks who gave up on trying self-sufficiency, who understand it’s perfectly human to be weak and afraid. They are the folks who can say, without shame, “Please, God, please help me.”
Eisenbath is parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.