NA and Youth Ministry

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What I Learned from an NA Meeting

Last week, I attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting as a part of an Addictions class I am taking for my counseling degree.  On my way there the skies had opened up with shocking lightning and torrents of rain, and I was anything but glad to be trenching through small swimming pools to make my way into the hosting church’s fellowship hall. I was skeptical at the forty or so empty chairs that I saw.  “Who would want to brave this storm?” I wondered.

Well, not only was every chair full by starting time, but additional chairs had to be retrieved from the closet.  Some folks looked comfortable and cheerful, glad to reconnect with buddies, and others sat alone, looking unsure and withdrawn.  I thought, “this reminds me of the beginnings of youth group- some of the kids are veterans who thrive on this stuff, and others aren’t quite so sure how they ended up there.”

The meeting began the same way it begins every week.  A man introduced himself in the ritual way (“I’m ____, I’m an addict”) and asked if there were any newcomers.  There was a moment of pause, and then I shot my arm up in the air.  “Hi, I’m Liz,” I said.  And the response was not unlike the type of chorus of grace I imagine being welcomed into heaven with, “Hi Liz, we’re glad you’re here.  Welcome.  So glad to have you.” 

Different folks then read out the defining principles of the group (the truths, the hopes, the foundations of the group), and then the floor was opened for people to share whatever they wanted to share for three minutes.  After someone spoke, again the chorus would sound of “Thanks for sharing. Keep coming.  Glad you’re here.”  But here’s the surprising thing: though repetitious, it was genuine. 

As a man shared about his relapse one week ago, you could feel the respectful sorrow of the group for him, while at the same time feeling their immense ‘for-him-ness.’  Their gladness at his desire to come back to the group, and to start over, to keep on going with their help, was palpable. They were not going to let him feel that he was alone.  He was one of them, and their honesty and encouragement proved that.

Over and over, people shared about the way God had met them in their powerlessness, at their utter worst, lowest, and most undone-feeling.  They shared with a soft humility and gratitude, but also a very solid belief that they had not become and did not continue to be narcotic-free without God’s help.  They shared with awe, with respect, and with invitation and hope for the rest of the group. They shared bluntly. They shared with humor.  But, oh, the honesty!  I was drawn in by the honesty.  I was ready to jump in and say, “Hey, I may not be addicted to narcotics, but I know what it is to be addicted- to running from pain, to trying to fix myself, to pleasing people, to avoiding facing deep longings.  And I am honored to sit here with you folks.”

Honestly, it was one of the more powerful gatherings I’ve been to in a while.  God received the credit.  There was confession.  People left their pretenses behind, sharing both their struggles and their celebrations.  The group honored each individual’s story and their very presence.  Grace and welcome were the atmosphere.  We ended with a prayer after celebrating the newly returned addict’s first keychain (marking the new beginning of his journey of sobriety).  And I was given a hug by a 40-day-clean, tattooed man wearing a stained white tank top.  Never have I felt so ready to be a part of a group, so inspired and ready to return. 

So what might it mean to carry over some of the beautiful parts of this meeting into our youth ministries?  How are some of these elements already reflected in yours?

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