There was something about the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting that immediately impressed me. My friend had invited me to attend because he would be receiving his cake that day.
“Cake? Is there really going to be cake? Don’t toy with me!” I quipped.
It was his two-year anniversary of being sober. In the NA/AA/CA realm, people treat anniversaries as celebrations. And how do we celebrate markers in our lives? With cake, of course!
These events mark a new beginning, a fresh start, a rebirth. Not that people are magically free of their addictive nature or desires, but staying sober opens up new possibilities and a renewed outlook on life for them.
I was impressed by how the group celebrated my friend’s “birthday” with genuine enthusiasm – and not just his accomplishments. The guy who was closing in on a year received pats on the back from those sitting around him. The girl who had been sober for three weeks received hearty congratulations. I got the sense that each person understood how hard life could be, that each victory – no matter how small – needed to be celebrated, and how wonderful it was to be free from something that largely filled you with shame.
The gift of “now”
I was also impressed by the grateful posture toward life everyone seemed to have. Even if sobriety didn’t last, the gift of the moment was worth celebrating. And it’s always good to be thankful for gifts.
Does our outlook change when we recognise life – and individual moments – as a gift? As I read Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I hear him saying it should. “Your life is a gift, so live that way,” is a motif that appears repeatedly.
From the past to a new reality
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14).
For most of the people at the NA meeting, addiction and drugs weren’t part of the plan they had for their lives. Many factors contributed to their problems. But what defined them at that moment was that they were clean and sober. We were celebrating who they are now – not replaying who they were.
We’re quick to identify ourselves by what has happened to us or by what we’ve done in the past. Even if it’s something we’ve overcome, we have a propensity to live out of (or judge others based on) past reality.
“I was an alcoholic.” “I used to steal.” “That guy left his wife a few years ago.” “I treated my parents horribly.”
It’s not that we should forget those things or pretend they never happened; they’re part of what has shaped us. But by dwelling on them, we discount the lavish nature of God’s grace extended to us. Paul encourages us to see ourselves through our present victory in Christ rather than past failure or brokenness.
My friend didn’t need to be reminded of his drug addiction – he’s reminded of it everyday. That’s what makes celebrating the gift of the present so important. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, when we recognize something as a gift, we will treat it with “some form of humility and restraint.” It becomes valuable.
Seeing without judgement
There’s a beautiful image found in Colossians 3:3: “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Paul is saying that the story of our life is now intimately intertwined with Jesus. What God has done for us in Christ changes us from this point forward. It changes the way we look at ourselves. And it changes the way we treat others.
That’s exactly what I experienced at the NA meeting. No one judged anyone else for who they were or what they had done. Everyone was in the same boat.
I long to see that same spirit in the church – that we would recognize life as a gift. And regardless of where we’ve come from, that we would know we are all defined by a gift – by grace. The church is made up of people whose greatest victory is that we’re forgiven. Realizing this can change the way we approach those with whom we live, work and play.
Wouldn’t it be a beautiful witness to God’s work in our lives if we lived with a celebratory, grateful posture toward life? Our lives are a gift – may we live in light of that truth.