It doesn’t take snow to look and feel like winter. That winterish look comes from an accumulation of things. Piles of leaves blown into a sheltered corner. Brown grass. Leafless trees. The whistle of wind whipping around the house. The absence of color and flowers. The shorter days and longer darker evenings. Snow is simply the icing on the cake. By the time we reach the shortest day of the year, we’ve gotten fairly used to this new reality. Forty degrees starts feeling warmer, the 50s almost balmy.

In other words we adjust. That’s also what happens to us when dealing with serious and chronic illness, addictions, mental disorders, dysfunctions of one sort or another. We adapt. We get used to the insanity. It stops seeming so bad. We learn how to live with the uncertainity, the chaos. We find excuses for not changing, for pretending everything is OK. We desperately try to save face, make excuses. We do what’s needed to avoid conflict. Trying to keep the situation from getting worse, we fall into denial. Finally something happens that jars us into awareness, a new crisis, a death, an arrest, a divorce that breaks through the denial and can’t be explained away. We hit bottom.

That’s what is happening in our country today. We’ve grown so used to the dishonesty and insanity it doesn’t seem as shocking as it once did. In fact, many of us just laugh it away. We’ve been justifying unacceptable behavior for so long this new crisis doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary. In our desire to be loyal and supportive, we enable the dishonesty, the bullying, and insanity. We lose our own sense of morality and become part of the problem ourselves. If we were in our right minds we’d react differently, but addictions pull us in. They make us codependent, frogs in a pan of rapidly heating water.

When our family was struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, we did everything we could to put on a good front. We refused to acknowledge we had a problem that we couldn’t handle in house. We actually pulled off the illusion for a short time, deluding ourselves far longer. Like the signs of winter, the pain finally got so severe, we had to acknowledge that something was wrong. Terribly wrong.

Our recovery began when one person in the family finally said, “Enough! This insanity has got to stop.” First one, then another started attending Families Anonymous and Al Anon, then AA. Arrests and repeated times in treatment followed. We learned tough love, how to say that magic word ”no.” We kept loving our addicts, but stopped enabling them. Eventually they became strong enough to stand straight and tall.

Insanity is contagious and makes life unmanageable by affecting everyone it touches, the ripples going out in ever widening circles. Rejecting and condemning the sick person is not the answer, but neither is excusing their abusive and crazy behavior. There comes a time when we must simply say, “no” because “no” is the most loving thing we can do, not just for our loved ones, our president, but for ourselves.

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of theFairfield Mennonite Church

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