Tunnel of Love

Released to move forward


A stretch of road appropriately named Highway 1 runs along the West Coast. Every time I drive the portion near Big Sur, California, I heartily concur with whoever gave it that number. I find it to be the most majestic and stirring of all highways. Winding between towering redwood groves and the expansive Pacific, the road seemingly dangles off craggy cliffs to the sea below.

One of the “can’t miss” spots is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The dusty, nondescript parking lot held little promise, and it was tempting to pull back to the road and continue the journey. Then the tunnel caught my attention. Although it was looming and dark, I had a feeling it was worth my time, and it seemingly beckoned me to enter. When I emerged on the other side, I was rewarded with a pristine and peaceful waterfall that casually dropped onto the sand that framed an emerald green cove. If there can be a perfect scene, I had found it.

Rooted in the Word

This year at Blanchard Alliance Church (Wheaton, Ill.) a group of brave women embarked on the emotional equivalent of that California tunnel and walked through a 12-step recovery program together. Often misunderstood, the 12-step program is firmly rooted in Scripture. A central theme of the work is that healing through the blood of Jesus is both available and possible. Woven throughout the various steps is a message of grace, forgiveness and repentance. The material focuses on transformation from within, which then equips the participant to move toward others.

Step 1 is recognizing our brokenness and powerlessness to heal ourselves or control our lives. The second and third steps are the birth of faith in us and a decision to let God be in charge of our lives. Step 4 is self-examination through the writing of a “fearless moral inventory.” Step 5 hones the discipline of confession, while the next step leads to repentance and asking God to remove the defects in our character. Step 7 is the transformation of our character. Step 8 examines our relationships and prepares us to make amends where necessary. This easily leads to step 9, which is the discipline of making direct amends to people where and if it is appropriate. Step 10 is maintenance of the progress made in recovery. Step 11 involves the disciplines of prayer and meditation to improve our contact with God. The final step calls participants to reach forward and out, with the ultimate goal of carrying this message of hope and healing to others while we practice the changes God has brought to us along the way.

“Working” the 12 steps involves prayerfully and faithfully completing the assignments and then sharing answers in community. There are many types of groups using the 12 steps, some including more Scripture than others depending on the format. There is much power in the transparency this process invites, especially in a church small group that includes prayer and ongoing fellowship.

A Firm Grip

As we began the year telling our stories, we shared the fear that inevitably rises up when one stands at the mouth of a tunnel and ponders what waits on the other side. Early on, one woman shared that she’d like to abandon the process, but Jesus had such a firm grip on her hand she felt released to move forward. That declaration was a victory and a high point of my ministry year at Blanchard.

As the months unfolded, I marveled at the women’s deep devotion to Jesus and their commitment to the process of moving closer to Him and further from that which had a grip on them, ranging from addictions to emotional and spiritual trauma. Moving toward the light and away from the darkness is a powerful and holy decision. With repeated assurance that Jesus was lighting our path, we gingerly took one step at a time . . . all year. We locked arms, listened for God and walked into the tunnel.

The Old Testament story of Joshua gave us encouragement and motivation. God commanded His people to get out of the desert and move into Canaan. Everything about that directive must have seemed counterintuitive. The Jordan River at flood stage was a formidable obstacle, and the leaders had to choose obedience over emotion. Humanly speaking, it made no sense. The wilderness Joshua was leading his people out of was about feelings and flesh. The promised land of Canaan was all about faithful obedience.

This was our process as well. Weekly we met to talk about the work looming before us. Even at the first step, there were multiple roadblocks, and resistance reared its head. We chose to turn up our palms and admit, on the basis of Romans 7:18, that we were and are powerless over the effects of our separation from God: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

Each subsequent step further into the “tunnel” seemed to mirror the experience of Joshua when he led out in faith. God became bigger, and we became smaller. Wednesday mornings we would often look at each other as the Israelites must have looked at each another on the river bank as the water rushed by. Collectively, we asked, “Is this really a good idea?” and “Is God going to show up today?” Every time, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

The Other Side

Lauren joined our group with little experience in the area of a formalized step program but with an intense desire to heal and move forward in her relationships. A history of abuse led to a crisis point when it was time to address the fallout of her difficult story. Cautiously, she asked God to speak to the places of brokenness that plagued her life.

Holding tightly to the promises in Scripture, Lauren came to believe that God would bring restoration. The more He revealed, the more she came to understand the power of the cross and the blood shed for her. As her shame dissolved, hope grew in its place.

Lauren slowly and bravely shared the details and complications of her story during the year, and we were able to surround and cover her in prayer. We formed “family groups” that allowed for greater intimacy to discuss our fears, questions and concerns. God provided the comfort Lauren needed to take steps forward in her healing, and her growth continues beyond the one-year commitment of the 12-step group. The movement away from hiddenness and shame toward acceptance and hope has been a struggle, yet Lauren is in many ways a new creation, moving gracefully into this next season of her life.

When I walked the tunnel leading to the waterfall in California, I realized that the fear came when I could not see the light on either side. Our work at Blanchard was about trusting God in that kind of extreme darkness. He taught us about release from the fear and disorientation that comes with not living in freedom. Just as the one-of-a-kind waterfall waited for me as I walked, so did a palpable sense of freedom take hold of me when I walked through step 12 with my new “step sisters.” A year ago, these women stood at a crossroads and they bravely invited their God to hold back the water and they said “yes” to light and “yes” to freedom!

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