Several years ago, I was approached by man who asked me to be his spiritual director. He was in his mid-40s and almost everything about him radiated a certain health.
As we sat down to talk, I mentioned that he seemed to be in a very good space. He smiled and replied that, yes, this was so, but it hadn't always been so. His happiness had its own history . . . and its own pre-history. Here's how he told his story:
"I haven't always been in a good space in my life; in fact, it's been a long struggle to get where I am today. For more than 20 years, from the time I left high school until three years ago, I struggled with two addictions: alcohol and sex.
"I had them enough under control that I could essentially hide them from my family, my friends and my colleagues.
"As well I never acted out in very dangerous ways. I was addicted, but still had good control in my life. The problem was that I was living a double life - showing one life to my family and friends and living another life secretly (alcohol, pornography and pick-up bars) on the side.
"I never once missed a day of work and was always able to function at a high level professionally, but my life slowly began to fixate around my addictions - hiding them, lying about my activities, fiercely protecting my privacy, resentment towards anything or anybody who stood between me and my addictions, and daily anxiety, scheming about where I would go at night.
"I functioned decently within my work and my relationships, but my mind, heart and real attention were focused on something else, my addictions, my next hit.
"I'm not sure what the exact trigger was since there were a number of things that hit me at a point (my father's death, a couple of near escapes in terms of being discovered, some real shame, some graced moments of clarity when I sensed both my hypocrisy and the dead-end road I was on).
But three years ago I went on a retreat to a monastery and had the courage to have a long talk with the abbot.
He suggested that I go into two recovery programs, one to deal with alcohol and the other to deal with sex.
"I took his advice and all I can say is that it has completely turned my life around. I've been 'sober' now for three years and the best way that I can describe it is that now I see colour again. Nothing feels as great as honesty. I have never been this happy.
"I'm now living in the light."
We're called to live in the light, but we tend to have an overly-romantic idea of what that should mean. We tend to think that to live in the light means that there should be a kind of special sunshine inside of us, a divine glow in our conscience, a sunny joy inside us that makes us constantly want to praise God, an ambience of sacredness surrounding our attitude. But that's unreal.
What does it mean to live in the light?
To live in the light means to live in honesty, pure and simple, to be transparent, to not have part of us hidden as a dark secret.
All conversion and recovery programs worthy of the name are based on bringing us to this type of honesty.
We move towards spiritual health precisely by flushing out our sickest secrets and bringing them into the light.
Sobriety is more about living in honesty and transparency than it is about living without a certain chemical, gambling or sexual habit. It's the hiding of something, the lying, the dishonesty, the deception, the resentment we harbour towards those who stand between us and our addiction, that does the real damage to us and to those we love.
Spiritual health lies in honesty and transparency and so we live in the light when we are willing to lay every part of our lives open to examination by those who need to trust us.