Q: I am in a great deal of strife. I have not lived a terribly admirable life, I'm afraid. I have committed sins of a carnal nature since early adulthood. I was raised Roman Catholic and always went to the confessional for absolution but then I would go out some time later and do the same thing, repeatedly.
Always remorseful but, with absolutely no justification or excuse, a repeat offender. I engaged in sex with prostitutes. Always ashamed and sorry but then I would commit the same transgression.
I married in my 30s. I am a drinker and that progressed into alcoholism. In my 50s, my old behavior returned — again, no excuses, no blaming it on drinking or anything else — and it led to the dissolution of my marriage. A tragedy. I hurt terribly a woman who loved me and deprived our adopted son of a mother and father raising him together.
I have tried to get sober for the past two years after the initial separation and am still trying. But I have still participated in my old behavior from time to time and this is just plain and simple adultery. I am in a deep depression for sometime now as I have lost everything due to my selfish behavior and see my life as hopeless.
My question, am I beyond redemption? I've always believed that God would always forgive us and afford us his grace and have encouraged others to believe the same. I want to live again, purposely and to count and be counted on. Thank you. — B
A: Dear troubled B: You are never hidden from God's grace. You have just temporarily hidden your own courage. That courage awaits your understanding of why you keep failing. Understanding this is the key to creating a new life where you will not fail again. Just as you need God's help to achieve salvation from the effects of sin, you will need other people's help to distance yourself from the causes of sin.
I would suggest that you seek the help of a competent therapist and work with that person to gain insight into your life and your fears. I am also a big supporter of AA and other 12-step programs because they are all supportive of the role that faith plays in mental and physical health.
Find a good support group near you and get a sponsor who understands you and is strong enough to confront your excuses with the truth. The key is realizing that you are not the only broken person in this world. The other broken ones who have gone before you will help, with prayer and repentance and God's grace, to make you whole again.
While I was writing to you, dear B, an email arrived from a woman named L. She wrote, "My father was a pioneering psychiatrist who practiced in Stamford, Connecticut, mainly during the '40s and '50s. He served during WWII, treating servicemen who suffered from 'shell shock' or 'battle fatigue,' conditions now known as PTSD. Thank you for your kind attention. I never miss your weekly column in Newsday!"
I cannot help but believe that her father was reaching out to you from Heaven through his daughter and through me. This is a prayer he wrote that his daughter shared with me. Perhaps you could pray this prayer every day as part of your new spiritual regimen.
"Let me live out my days in peace of mind,
Let me know calmness when the tempests roar.
Help me the springs of tension to unwind,
Grant me a haven on Thy sheltered shore.
Calm with Thy blessed hand my pounding heart,
Deep in my vitals quiet my quivering fears,
And when despair my being tears apart,
Help me, O Lord, to dry my scalding tears.
Grant me new insight when my vision dims,
Help me avoid suspicion and intrigue,
Help me invest with strength my shaking limbs,
Let me not yield to languor and fatigue.
Give me perspective to survey the scene,
Not through imagination's drunken eyes,
But with a vision sober and serene,
And with a logic temperate and wise.
And when emotion blinds me, and hurt pride,
Help me, O Lord, to think the matter through.
To jump to no conclusion 'til I've tried
To see the other person's point of view.
Help me to see my faults and to atone,
Help me to renounce the tyranny of nerves,
Let me not think about myself alone,
Change me from one who gets to one who serves.
And when the nameless terror shadows me,
Let me remember, Lord, Thou art my guide."
Dear B, You said you wanted one day to count and be counted on. That day is today.
God bless your journey.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.