Five Smooth Stones Redux

What a Shepherd Boy Can Teach Us About Stepping-Out With Faith in Our Lives and Recovery

Charles Stanley recently wrote a piece about David and his five smooth stones, and I believe the message is certainly strong for those in recovery.

David V Goliath

Remember, this is not the King and Warrior David, or the Psalmist David, but the Shepherd Boy David.   Most of us are at least tacitly familiar with the story of David and Goliath, as it has been a staple of Sunday school teaching for years.  It has sadly lost some power and meaning though, as it has become entrenched into the Western Canon as a watered down metaphor for the “underdog vs. the monolithic ‘big-guy”.   There is much more to the story than that for the alcoholic though….

For the full story please refer to 1 Samuel 17, but the synopsis is that the longtime foe of the Israelites, the Philistines are at it again.  Israel has defeated them quite often in the past, but this time the Philistines are led by Goliath, a “giant”, and their newest WWF fighting champ!

According to the Biblical record, Goliath stood “six cubits and a span” tall.  If an 18-inch length for a cubit is applied, this works out to a height of 3.2 meters or 9 feet six inches.  If the 21-inch length for a cubit is used this would be 3.5 meters or just over 11 feet!  (Note: A span is apparently nine inches).  Whichever tape measure we use, Goliath was big; especially considering archaeology reveals that the average height of a man in the Aegean and Canaan areas was 1.64 meters tall (5 ft. 4 ½ in.) during the Iron Age!

Of course, we all know the next bit:  This huge giant of a man, Goliath, stood out in front of the Philistines and taunted the Israelites across the field:  Send forth a single man on behalf of Israel to fight Goliath for all the goodies! Winner takes all!  (Cue the Deep Voiced Announcer:  “Let’s get ready to rummblllllle!!”)

But you know how it all ends:  David, the shepherd boy volunteers, hurls a stone, kills Goliath, goes on to become the King, and one of the most famous individuals in the history of mankind….


David’s Victory And Recovery

So, how does this so called Sunday School Story relate to the program of AA and our lives in recovery?  Perhaps no where better than here:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path….

With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God.

May you find Him now! 
 Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon. (BB pg. 58 and 59)

…So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. (BB pg. 62)

Our Powerlessness

From the outset, we must recognize our utter powerlessness over alcohol and those things that kept us in the drink.  Alcohol does not just represent a metaphorical giant to the alcoholic; it will literally kill us, but usually only after destroying our families, jobs, finances and everything else of value first.  In our active disease, our minds cannot leave alone what our bodies cannot handle; this fate eventually becomes worse than a loud-mouthed 9-foot warrior to the alcoholic lost in his or her cups!

And so we must do what seems foreign to so many in the grips of this existential threat:  We must turn ourselves over to God’s care, and we must do so with the complete faith and knowledge that only He can deliver us from these chains of alcoholic misery in the first place.  The founders were VERY clear on this point, repeatedly hammering it into the material of the Big Book.  They were also clear regarding the following:  It only is by daily turning our lives over to His care that we can stay sober.  Beyond just staying sober, this is the only way we grow in our faith, our serenity, and in our ability to help others.   But it takes the first full step of faith; that first step of faith is taken every morning.  (Give heed to the voice of my cry, My King and my God, For to You I will pray.  My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.  Psalm 5:2-3)

David’s Faith – Our Faith

So, going a bit deeper upon returning to our Sunday School story, consider again, young David:  A boy, probably a teenager, tending his father’s sheep gets called up to play music for King Saul.   David soon becomes Saul’s armor-bearer and gets to hang out with the men for a while-but he still has to go home and take care of the sheep, like a little kid on occasion (though he likely did it out of respect for Jesse, his father).  Now, along comes Goliath who not only threatens the Israelites, but insults their God.  All of a sudden everyone on the Israelite side is restless, irritable, and discontent…and fearful!   In other words, no one, no soldier, will face what in their minds, in their self-centered, self interested, fearful view is imminent death by stepping onto the battlefield. 

Except for David.  David quickly sees this man through the lens of childlike faith not as an enemy of gigantic proportions that threatened him with bodily harm, but as an enemy of the people of God, ergo of God Himself:

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17: 26b)

David is no fool-hearty hero “wannabe” here, and this is where secular society perhaps misses the point when they use this story as a metaphor for the underdog versus the bully.  David simply believes that this battle is already won because it is the only faithful outcome to consider.  All that this fight requires is that someone from the Israelites trust God and, go do it.  The modern metaphors would perhaps be better served if folks related this more like a Nike commercial-Just Do It!  That is the real message!

So David, “just does it”. Now consider the faith this took. He eschews the weapons and armor Saul thrusts upon him and takes up what he is comfortable with-the tools he has at that moment that he is used to.  Small, and seemingly inconsequential weapons better suited to defending a flock of sheep, he takes his staff and leather sling and collects five smooth stones.  Next, he squares off against Goliath, and after listening to the Giant hurl insults David proclaims the following:

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

And of course, David dispatched of the Philistine with one single faith-filled effort….

All In

There are so many sermons and studies built around the “five smooth stones” and they all have merit.  But in the end, rather than ascribe virtue to the stones that we take up as instruments of our faith we can simplify it thus:  David took five stones, but only used one.  He had no way of knowing how many rocks it would take to kill a man like Goliath, and he took his staff too; maybe he would need that as well.  David took the steps that made sense pragmatically, but he left all the rest to God.  David stepped boldly out, placing his faith in, and indeed his very life into the hands of God against an enemy that had defeated and threatened and placed fear in the hearts of many bigger men than him.

So too, it must be with us in recovery.  We cannot conquer alcohol or stay sober without turning our will and lives over to the care of God-completely and without reservation.  And while we may not be able to do this perfectly at first, once we admit powerlessness (that part we must do completely and perfectly in order to begin the healing) we then must place our faith in something much bigger than ourselves. The founders speak of turning to God who has all power against alcohol.  David reacted to virtual death as viewed through the eyes of grown men, not with the same fear, but instead with the faith of a child. Through trusting in God’s Grace and Providence, rather than his own power, his faith is vindicated.  

We cannot live with one foot in recovery and one foot in our old life; we must live a life divorced from our old thinking and habits.  Without help it is too much for us.  But there is One who has all power-that One is God.  May you find Him now?

The real message of “David vs. Goliath”:  David, believed in his heart the seemingly unwinnable battle was already won-all he had to do was step out in faith and do what he knew how to do (“the next right thing”).  He found God, he kept faith, he faced his fears and turned them over.  No one said it was easy, just simple.

God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!’’ (Third Step Prayer BB pg. 63)

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