If All Our Sins Smelled Like Alcohol

Being a Lyft driver, I’m afforded a lot of unique interactions with people. As I was telling someone recently, the job is sort of like being an “ad hoc social worker on wheels.” You just never know who is going to come into your car or what their reason for needing a ride might be. 

Some people are coming or going to work. Some are late to work. Others are visiting a significant other. Many are headed out to the bars. Some have recently either damaged their car or lost their license. 

Some people want to tell you their life story. Others sit in complete silence. It’s truly quite the motley crew of people and experiences!

As you can imagine, everyone is not always dawning the best side of themselves. There have been more than a few riders who didn’t smell all that pleasant. This ranges from those who haven’t showered in a while to those who need to brush their teeth to those who smell of drug and alcohol usage.

During one ride, a man who smelled like alcohol was, in fact, going to buy alcohol. Seeing this, I was tempted to give him a list of local AA meetings. I think it’s a basic impulse to seek the genuine good of others by offering advice or help. But in some cases, it can also be a power play, whereby you treat the other person as “less-than”. 

Upon reflection, I discerned that I really didn’t know him well enough to start telling him what he ought to be doing. I also concluded that I might have him as a rider again and that we could continue our relationship.

Moving Beyond Judgement and Living a Life Guided By Grace

As I was driving with this man, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “You smell just like him.” I was not stunned by this but humbly accepted this revelation. I am not an alcoholic. But I am nonetheless a mighty sinner! 

What if every time I committed a sin of lust a certain aroma accompanied it? Or every time I used the Lord’s name in vain? Anytime I slacked off at work? Wished ill on others? 

My gosh, there is no amount of cologne or deodorant that could cover up my stench. If I truly smelled like my sins, who would want to be around me? What would people think of me?

My struggle to see my Lyft rider as a child of God is reflective of our inherent human tendency to categorize others and judge them as greater or lesser than us. It is also indicative of the tendency to believe others are always in need of fixing and we are exactly the right people for the job. 

Often times during 12-step groups, I’ll notice a certain “pecking order” of importance, usually structured in accordance to those who are sober and those who aren’t. Those who are sober usually dominate the conversation and lead most of the meetings. Some of this is because they tend to be the most dedicated and experienced members, but there is also a sort of “sobriety privilege” that ensues. 

I think that if this goes unchecked, it can be very unhealthy for groups because those who are sober can focus the energy of the group too strongly on their concerns and separate themselves from the struggles of those who are beginning the journey of recovery.

Recovery as a Journey of Grace—Not an Endpoint

As Christians, we should see the Twelve Steps as a tool to let the grace of Jesus transform our lives. Sobriety shouldn’t be seen as a place of arrival, but a starting point of an evolving life of grace. 

All too often, we see sobriety as the ultimate achievement and not the grace that Jesus lavishly offers us. This grace humbles us and makes us realize that we are no better than anyone else. And because we have been so blessed, we then have the opportunity to be a light to others.

The life of grace causes us to be gentle in our judgments of others and generous in the love that we offer the world. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t tell the truth or suggest that someone has a problem. I am just suggesting that there is a time and place for everything, and having a relationship with someone is usually the best place to do those things. 

I am thankful that the Holy Spirit gently reminded me that I am a humble sinner because it enabled me to treat my Lyft rider not as someone “who needed to be fixed,” but as a child of God. And it reminded me that I am just as dependent on grace as anyone else!

Do you struggle with feeling that you always have to intervene when you sense someone has a problem? Does this come from a place of love or pride?


Quarter Joe is a lifelong Catholic and has been in recovery for pornography addiction for nearly three years. He is passionate about the spiritual path of the 12-step model and the power of Jesus in the Eucharist in bringing healing and transformation.

Author: Chris