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JAMES BEHRENS: Acceptance, encouragement, hope -- things we all need but cannot get without each other

I enjoy the people who come to our retreat house on the recovery retreats. They are down-to-earth, friendly and make a conscious effort -- indeed a way of life -- to be available to others in need of healing, of getting their lives back together.It might be said that they have learned to live to be of help to others who are where they once were -- and may well be again.

They do not expect perfection from each other, for they know, from experience, that the way to life takes a bad turn when perfection is the goal. In come cases, it can be a turn that has dismal, if not fatal, consequences.

They have learned -- and one might say are in the process of always learning -- that the way to life is a path that does not resist failure as much as learns from it.

That is why, I think, that the life stories they share with each other are important. They have all been in the same place, with varying scenarios, and need to hear from each other the healing words that say in effect, "I have been there, I understand, and I came back to life."

The story telling is real; the truth hits home.

If perfection is not expected, then what is?

Coming back. It is, I think, as simple as that. Isolation breeds a bad story. It is a story that is solitary, and in need of being told to others so that healing and a new beginning might be possible.

No matter what befalls a man or woman who isolates, the invitation to come back to the group is always there.

No one is forced to come. It is an invitation that is never taken back. Repeated relapses are not as important as coming back, listening and telling, trying again.

It is through the group that self-discovery is experienced.

We can mean and be so much to each other. Maybe we have to hit bottom before we realize that, before we are welcomed by others who are living and loving from their brokenness, and from that place, extend their hearts and arms and welcome us -- and invite us to speak.

The woman in the gospel took a great risk. Jesus knew her story, but she told the real one, the story of her heart, with the love she showed him through her tears, through kissing his feet.

He tells her to go, and sin no more.

I wonder if she was capable of that. And if she stumbled again, perhaps she came back, knowing she would find welcome, encouragement, and hope -- things we all need but are impossible to find alone.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.