03/20/2013 08:07 am ET Updated May 20, 2013

I Want to Care Again, Lord

The season of Lent portrays the dark night of the soul as a basic element in religious or spiritual experience. Psalm 51 says: "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." A basic element is that in Lent we are invited to remember that we are dust, and to dust shall we return. In writing these meditations I invoke the spirit of my book "Are You Running with Me, Jesus?" And as I approach my 90th birthday in June, I invite you to join me in a bit of Lenten meditating.

A friend of mine, Peter (not his name) was one of the most gifted writers in Los Angeles. But he never learned how to live with his demons. He lost his marriage, a career, a special place within two or three communities, and a hoped for center of peace. Nothing seemed to work for him: therapy, spiritual direction, or caring from experts and friends.

One afternoon I dropped by his house for an impromptu visit. He was in the kitchen seated on a stool, holding a bottle and sipping warm gin. He was mumbling unintelligibly and had lost his self-respect, driver's license, the literary agent who could sell his work and seemingly any sense of deliverance. Time seemed to run out for him. I've found that many people caught in addiction, or close witnesses to it, say they don't want preaching or moralizing. But they continue to ask for one thing: hope.

Their search for it can also mean pain and struggle for loved ones. A best-selling author's daughter became a drug addict almost overnight. Her family found out when she stole some art objects and family heirlooms in order to provide cash for drugs. She was close to embracing prostitution when intervention occurred and a search for recovery got underway.

Because I've seen so much tragic addiction at close range, including in my own family, I felt literally pulled into writing a prayer about its pain and also possibilities of healing. My prayer, entitled "I Sit Inside My Jail, Jesus," was reprinted in Bo Lozoff's prison classic "We're All Doing Time: A Guide for Getting Free," with a foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The prayer goes: "Here I am a model prisoner of my own will. Here I am the slave of self. Freedom is what I long for."

As I've lived close to various forms of addiction, and learned from them, I've found people trapped in addiction are often helped by someone caring who manages to listen without judging. Some even gradually become aware that all this can lead to a spiritual awakening. Two destinations they try to avoid. One is an ideal of perfection. Another is a prison of self-destruction. I talked to one person who described a relapse into addiction after two years of recovery. He explained the relapse occurred when he fell into what he calls "the myth of the cure, the fantasy of being above it all." In other words, he was striving for "a perfection that doesn't exist." Presently, he's been back in recovery for six months.

Spending time with different people in addiction and recovery has taught me a few key lessons.

First, acquire knowledge. Find out what's going on.

Work on understanding. Don't take anything for granted in a simplistic way.

Cultivate compassion. Don't assume moral superiority and sit in righteous judgment.

Learn humility. Prayer helps here.

For your Lenten meditation, here is the end of my prayer in "We're All Doing Time":

"But still I want a voice to cut through my silence. Let me hear laughter. Let me see a burst of light. I want to care again, Lord."

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