In Brennan Manning’s book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, he tells a story about confession. He found himself in a rehab center north of Minneapolis. The setting on this particular day was in a recreation room with twenty-five chemically dependent men and a counselor named Sean Murphy-O’Connor. A man named Max was in the hot-seat, a seat in the middle of the room.
Max was a nominal Christian, married with five children, owner and president of his company, wealthy, affable, and gifted with remarkable poise. Keep in mind that no alcoholic is truthful with how much he or she drinks. Sean knows this, and so begins his day of therapy.
“Max, how long have you been drinking?”
Max gives this long, detailed list of how much and what he drinks.
At the end of it, Sean, the counselor said, “You’re a liar.”
Max was offended, but composed himself quickly. Eventually, he admitted more than before. He kept a bottle of vodka in the nightstand, a bottle of gin in the suitcase, another in his bathroom cabinet, and three more at the office.
The questioning went on, “Have you ever been unkind to one of your kids?” Max asserted that he had a good relationship with them.
“But I didn’t ask you that.”
“When have you been unkind to your kids?”
Max suddenly knew what he needed to say about his daughter on last Christmas Eve, but said that he couldn’t remember the details. Sean, put the phone on speaker mode so that all could hear, and called Max’s wife for an explanation of what he suddenly could not remember. The conversation went like this:
“Hello ma’am. I’m calling in the middle of a group therapy session and your husband just told us that he was unkind to your daughter last Christmas Eve. Can you give the details, please?”
A soft voice filled the room (I’ll paraphrase), “Yes, I can tell you the whole thing…. Max gave Debbie some money to buy the nicest shoes she could find on Christmas Eve. On his way back home, Max stopped at the Cork-n-Bottle, a tavern a few miles from our house. He locked little Debbie in the truck with the engine running to keep her warm in the 12 degree weather. It was 3 in the afternoon. Max met some army buddies in the tavern and came out of the tavern at midnight. He was drunk. The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut. Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and on her fingers. When we got her to the hospital, the doctors had to operate. They amputated the thumb and forefinger on her right hand. She will be deaf for the rest of her life.”
Manning describes Max when he heard these words: “Max appeared to be having a coronary. He struggled to his feet making jerky, uncoordinated movements. His glasses flew to the right and his pipe to the left. He collapsed on all fours and sobbed hysterically.”
All of the other addicts left the room and no man will ever forget what he saw that day. Max was still on all fours. His sobs had soared to shrieks. Sean, the counselor, approached him, pressed his foot against Max’s rib cage and pushed. Max rolled over on his back. Sean told him, “Get out of here before I throw up. I am not running a rehab for liars!”
Manning summarizes: “The philosophy of tough love is based on the conviction that no effective recovery can be initiated until a man admits that he is powerless over alcohol and that his life has become unmanageable… For Max there were three options: eventual insanity, premature death, or sobriety…
Max later got honest and became more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate than any man in the group. Tough love had made him real and the truth had set him free (123-130).” If we are a prisoner of our pride, confession is impossible. Lies trap you because you have to live in your own false little world that you have created. You can’t allow anyone to see the true you. You have to keep up the show and keep pretending that you’re that person that everyone loves you to be.
How about getting real with your need this Christmas? You are only fooling yourself and no one else. See the real you, and rather than retreat into denial, own your problem, refuse to medicate with alcohol, and achieve a new intimacy with those you want to love over the holidays. Tough love can set you free.