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Practicing Resurrection: Step Six, Part One

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

I’ve been staring at this screen for about ten minutes, wondering which of the beginnings of this blog post I might use.

My thick notebook  from the year I taught these important Steps to the women of my Thursday Morning Bible Study is opened to the notes from my teaching of Step Six and the questions I had prepared for this Step.

The books on this topic are on the shelf by my desk so that I can refer to them as I write, and yet I sit here stumped.

The first time I took this Step with my sponsor, I eagerly declared that indeed, I was entirely ready to have God remove all my defects of character.  I was so proud to take that Step, so eager to have my defects removed and so convinced that with my taking that Step, it would all be done!

Years later, I bow before the enormity and power of the unconscious, the subtle ways of the forces that are within me, outside my conscious awareness.  I surrender to the infinite ways my habits collude with the outer world, my routine, my schedule and the people who are used to my codependent ways.  I admit that I want things like this to come easy; I want my willingness to be all it takes to activate the magic that moves me forward.   I acknowledge that I want the quick fix, the instant relief and the full throttle forward movement.

The first time I took this Step, I was young and naive.  Now, I have a lifetime of wrestling with the forces that are within me, but I also have a more sensitive and heightened awareness of how important it is to take this readiness issue one day at a time.

One day at a time, it is, and sometimes it’s an hour at a time.  Sometimes it is one footstep, one breath at a time.

I come from a tradition that taught me that all I had to do to gain entrance to heaven was give a verbal assent to Jesus, asking him to come into my heart to stay.   With that innocent and heartfelt child’s assent, I believed that I was saved from hell and saved for heaven, secure in the fold of those who were “saved”.

I look back on that child’s decision with great tenderness, for I believe now that I gave as much as I knew of myself to as much as I knew of God.

Later, I was to learn that salvation has a whole lot to do with wholeness and health, and that salvation was both event (the beginning point) and process, the lifelong path.

I was to learn that eternal life, as Jesus used it, had more to do with the quality of life than the quantity of life, and I was fascinated by the question of whether those condemned to hell forever also had eternal life.   Those narrow, constricted and shallow understandings gave way to a fuller and more merciful understanding of the wideness of God’s grace as I grew up and grappled with both my life’s purpose, my assets and strengths, and my character defects.

Perhaps the biggest leap forward in my understanding of the complexity of those demons, my defects of character, came in the years I spent attending classes at the Jung Center, learning about the enormous power of the unconscious, and the years in depth analysis with a Jungian analyst.

To come to an intellectual understanding of those blasted complexes and the tyranny of my Nervous Nellie ego was one thing.   To be in the grips of a complex, to struggle with the ego’s needs for predictability, status quo, familiarity and sameness and to face the truth about how comfortable I was in the prison chains of my own making has taken time, trouble, tears and anguish.

I so wanted my character defects to be gone and gone forever , and to acknowledge that I couldn’t just make it so by saying it so on a particular date I recorded carefully and sincerely has been one of my big learning curves.

I’m not saying that the “one time, fix all” never happens.  I believe in radical transformation and dramatic conversions.

What I am saying is that for me, I work out my salvation and my recovery with fear and trembling, one day at a time, just like the Apostle Paul.

The other thing I am saying with all of the conviction and sincerity of my mind, heart and soul and with the willingness of my child’s heart that invited Jesus into my heart as a child is that regardless of the parts of me that prefer the old ways of my codependency, the conscious part of me — the adult part of me and the longing of my whole being — wants to be free of the oppression of my character defects.

I want to be free from the thoughts and behaviors that hold me back, sabotage and mess me up, and free for the joyful, spontaneous, abundant joy that is possible.

I want to be free from the old fears that still lurk in the dark and the new fears that jump up and scare me in this season of my life, and free for the rich, deep peace that helps me walk boldly and courageously into the future.

I want to be free from the constricting worries, the negative energies, the old prejudices and biases that feed my complexes, and free for the wide and expansive open heart and mind of confidence in the goodness of God.

I want to be free from the pain of old wounds, the raw places of regret and the broken relationships that I cannot ever recover or repair, and free for the love of place and person to fill my heart to overflowing.

I want to be free from the burden of my own self-will run riot and free to trust freely and completely in the guidance and good will of the infinitely gracious God whose love and mercy, forgiveness and patience are apparently as wide as east is from west.

Listen to me:  I want to be free from the negative, critical voices of my childhood that told me it was a sin to dance, and free to dance not only to the beat of God’s heart, but to the beat of the music that thrills my soul and sets my feet to dancing!

I want to be freed from the role expectations of a lifetime and freed to live the one wild and precious life only I can life.  Don’t you want that, too?

I do want to be freed from my character defect, and the sooner the better.  But in this meantime, this time between now and when I shed my final resistance to being free, I rest in the amazing grace of the One who made me and knows how I am made.

And now, years later, I want that freedom enough to walk the walk and walk my talk one day at a time with the assurance that I am both free now and also in the process of becoming free.  My on-going prayer is, “Here I am, God.  Do for me what I cannot do for myself.  I’m ready when you are.”

What about you?

Have you made your declaration and taken Step Six?  How has it worked for you?

Did anyone introduce you to the important slogan, “One Day at a Time”?    Are you able to take things that slowly?

Did you make the mistake of saying, “O.K., I’ve worked the Steps.  I’m recovered.  I’m running my victory lap?”

Do you know the hard truth of the pithy saying, “The higher they fly, the flatter they fall”?

Who has held your hand when you had to come back down to earth and face that same old defect, one more time?   Who has been the face, the touch, the voice, the smile of God for you when you forgot humility and got all proud of yourself for getting to the Sixth Step?

Are you patient enough to work this program from now on, or do you want to get it done and move on?

Here’s the truth:  Recovery takes as long as it takes.

Guess what:  That is good news.

Guess what else:  We have as long as we need.

Grace to you —

Jeanie

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Practicing Resurrection: Step Five, Part 3

 

We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

If only we could confess in generalities, skimming over the surface of the exact nature of our wrongs and hinting at those wrongs.

If only we could come clean by praying one of those oft-heard prayers such as “Oh, God, forgive us of our sins, as we are all sinners and don’t deserve your forgiveness.”

Wouldn’t it be easier if we could get a print-out of sins with multiple choice options as to how bad what we did really was?

How we humans tie ourselves up in knots of our own making, trying to avoid looking another person in the eye and saying, “I did this.”

And yet, there is such grace to be discovered when there is a straight-forward statement with no blaming, no excusing or justifying and neither minimizing or awful-izing the thing we have done.  How liberating it is to say, “I did this” and to take full responsibility for the thing you have done.

How empowering it is to say what is true without editing to soften the effect, without worrying about how the listener is going to respond and without holding back.

A good sponsor is trained best by having been through the rigors of the 4th Step moral inventory and the 5th step confession and is likely nonplussed by whatever admission she or he hears.

The good news for those who tremble at the thought of admitting the exact nature of his wrongs is that the sponsor’s qualifications for being a sponsor begin with his own experience of having looked straight into the truth of his own defects, mistakes and wrongs, called them by the precise names and has survived the process.

One of the most important life skills that is learned by those who have been through this program is to take full responsibility of the exact nature of wrongs inflicted on others and on herself, and in the practice, the relief of telling the truth is indescribable.

* * * * *

In one of his most riveting lectures on his book Why Good People Do Bad Things, author and Jungian analyst Dr. James Hollis spoke at length about the problem of guilelessness.

Whereas the term “he is guileless” is often used as a compliment , the reality, according to Hollis, is that being guileless is more an unconsciousness about one’s own inner shadow, wrongs or evil.

Once we have faced our own inner demons, our wrongs and defects, our sins and failings, we are not so prone to project them out onto others.

Once we have admitted that we have the capacity in us to do what any other human has done or might do, given the right circumstances, then we are more likely to be able to admit the exact nature of our wrongs.

“There is a Hitler in each of us,” Hollis said, and while I shudder at that thought, accepting that part of being human in myself somehow liberates me to tell the whole, unvarnished truth about what I have done or what afflictive emotions have me enslaved to another human being.

As a person who is attempting to follow the teachings of Christ, I am well-acquainted with the part of myself that is the Judas and the Simon Peter, denying the part of myself that is made in the image of God, the True Self.

Hollis spoke, as well, about how recognizing and admitting the darkest parts of ourselves gives us better judgment about the dark intentions and actions of others, helping us to recognize that in others and protecting ourselves from inadvertently colluding with the evil in others because we are “just too nice to see it”.

To tell the raw, uncensored, unvarnished truth in confession to another human being can be one of the most healing and empowering acts of our lives.

* * * * *

A good confessor is one who is unafraid to hear the depths of pain, the cries of anguish and regret or the holy silence of sorrow in another person, and in that gift of listening, the one who is confessing feels the grace of being known.

It is in being known that one has the opportunity and the possibility of rising from the ashes of self-condemnation and appropriating the grace mediated through another human being. The more clearly you can speak and the more specific you can be, the more complete and thorough you can be, the more you clear the way for God’s grace to begin its transforming work.

It is in being fully heard with no condemnation, no judgment and no censure that the one who is confessing can begin to imagine a life outside the prisons of her own making and the sludge of unconfessed sin.

“That is the first time I have really felt love,” a person said after having taken this 5th Step.  “I have spent my life hiding behind all kinds of masks, scared to death that if anyone really knew who I was or what I had done, that person would condemn me and hate me.   For my whole life, I have felt separated from others because I thought what I thought and felt and did made me unlovable, but it turns out that I’m not the only one who has sinned.”

“Now I know that it is possible for me to be loved by another human being in spite of what I have done, and I never would have dreamed that was possible.”

It is in the relief of having said  spoken the unspeakable and surrendered the bonds of guilt and shame that one has the possibility of being liberated to become the person he was created to be.

It is in the exquisite words of mercy and grace, “You are forgiven”, that a human being has the possibility of being empowered to accept that God’s forgiveness really is possible.

Those who act as confessors — sponsors, priests, therapists, analysts — can actually give a person his life back by mediating God’s love, and in doing so, those confessors have the capacity to heal, transform, liberate and empower others in the name of Christ.

We are, after all, capable of being priests to each other.  We have the capacity to be Christ to each other, and in the mysterious ways of love, hearing the confession of another human being has the possibility of healing the confessor, as well.

It is a powerful thing, being a mediator of grace and mercy.  We dare not take the giving or receiving of it lightly, lest we miss the opportunity to be God’s hands and hearts and voices on earth.

* * * * *

Do I believe that God can forgive us without the involvement of another person?

Of course, I do!

Somehow, though, God has chosen to work through human instruments, and in thinking of the persons who have heard my confessions, I am reminded of a story that my friend and mentor, writer Madeleine L’Engle, told about a little boy who had been put to bed by his parents in an upstairs room.  Afraid of the dark, he called out, “Could someone come up here and be with me?”

After several reassurances from the downstairs and several repeated requests, one of the parents finally went upstairs to the child’s bedside.

“I’m afraid of the dark,” the child said, clutching his parent’s hand tightly.

“All you have to do is pray,” the parent said.  “God is here with you.”

The child thought that over for a few seconds.

“I know,” he said, “but sometimes I need God with skin on.”

We live in a culture that values self-reliance highly, but for whatever reason, sometimes most of us wind up in a situation when we need God with skin on.

There’s nothing that can take the place of a good sponsor who is willing to be just that to us as we dare to tell the truth for the purpose of being forgiven and moving on, changed by the power of being heard, accepted and loved in spite of whatever wrong we have done, or how many times we have done it.

What about you?

Who have you allowed to know you, really know you?

With whom do you feel free to reveal your dreams and hopes, your failures and wrongs?

How closely connected is being honest with yourself, with God and with another human being to being “comfortable in your own skin”?   How are you doing with that?

Have you come up to Step 5 and turned away?  What is that about?

Has avoiding doing the 5th Step hampered your process of recovery?   Are you happy with that, or would you prefer moving on through the steps of recovery?

If you have completed this Step, how do you feel about that?

What would you say to someone who is balking at confessing to another human being?

Describe the benefits you have experienced in taking this bold Step toward serenity, peace and courage.

Grace to you-

Jeanie

I love serendipity.  Just as I finished posting this blog, I opened my email and read this in today’s post from Inward/Outward from the Church of the Savior in Washington, D. C.  I add these words to reinforce the importance of Steps 4, 5 and 6.

Forgiveness Creates Community

According to Gustavo Gutierrez, to recognize one’s own sin implies also the will to restore broken friendship and leads to asking for forgiveness and reconciliation. The capacity for forgiveness itself creates community.


Source:

   Being in Relation

To live a “forgiven” life is not simply to live in a happy consciousness of having been absolved. Forgiveness is precisely the deep and abiding sense of what relation—with God or with other human beings—can and should be; and so it is itself a stimulus, an irritant, necessarily provoking protest at impoverished versions of social and personal relations.


Source:

 

 

 

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Practicing Resurrection Step Five, Part 2

We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The importance of a good sponsor in any recovery program cannot, in my opinion, be overstated.

In fact, I know when someone is really serious about recovering when he or she is serious about finding or choosing a sponsor.

How do I know who is right for me?”

Is it enough to say, “You’ll just know” or “You will be led to your sponsor”?

At first glance, those responses might seem flippant or superficial, but are they?

I rely heavily on two factors when I am consciously seeking a helper in any part of my life.

My gut instinct and intuition are generally pretty reliable, but they work far better for me when I am not actively engaged in whatever it is I do to keep myself numbed out, distracted or asleep at the wheel of my life.

The other factor is the faith factor.  One of the benefits in growing up as I did is that I was taught to rely on the guidance of God.   I saw that faith factor alive and operative in my parents’ lives, and so when it was my turn to begin acting as an adult, I asked God for direction as a habit.

Later — years later — that habit became something more, but we aren’t there yet.  (We still have a way to go to get to the 11th Step!)

It is said that “when the teacher is ready, the student appears.”   I have noticed that that same principle works when you are seriously looking for a sponsor or another confessor or teacher, and the ways that happen are as varied as there are people and relationships.

What if I choose a sponsor and it turns out it’s not the right one?”

The short response is, “You’ll both probably know it if it isn’t the right one.”

The more thoughtful answer is this:

A really good sponsor is not driven to accept a person to sponsor out of ego.  He or she doesn’t need the ego-gratification of that potentially powerful relationship, but knows, instead the gravity of the relationship and takes seriously the sacred and delicate relationship.

“The right” relationship of sponsorship involves time and energy for both persons, but when it really is right, what happens in both persons is healing for both persons.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances;

If there is any reaction, both are transformed.

Carl Jung

The first sponsor with whom I attempted to work did not work for me.  If I had known then what I know now, I would have had an honest conversation with her about the issues that prevented an easy and natural flow between us, but the truth is that I was so deep into my habit of not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings that I could not do that at the time.   Life circumstances made it possible for us to simply drift apart, and I regret that now.

Looking back, I think our tendencies to avoid conflict were equally matched, and that prevented either of us from dealing directly and productively with the ineffectiveness of the relationship.

Later,  I decided to ask a person who was a recovering alcoholic with long years of sobriety if she would work with me to help me understand the Steps and integrate them into my life.   At first, she was hesitant because my issues were codependency, but I persisted.

This woman was strong and, when necessary, she was tough, but more than anything, she was boldly honest about her life and fiercely courageous in helping me face mine.  I asked her to be my sponsor because I knew that her recovery and her faith had been tested in the hot fires of time and experience.   I wanted the best teacher I could find and I wanted someone who would tell me the truth and take my struggles seriously.

As we met together week after week, there were times when she would put her head in her hands in despair and lament, “If only you were a drunk, I could help you, but until you take ________ off the throne of your life, there is no way I can help you!”

(Fill in the blank with any number of names of people whose approval I needed or persons I thought I must please!)

I will forever be grateful for her willingness, patience and persistence, her honesty and her fierce commitment to her own recovery, even after many years.   I will never forget her kindness, mercy and gentleness when I took my Fifth Step with her on a cold winter day, sitting by her warm fire.   I will treasure her wisdom for the rest of my life, especially her tenderness when I was too hard on myself, too judgmental of my life and too unforgiving of my flaws, defects and mistakes.

Who could I possibly find that I can trust to hear my confession?”

Within that question lies the crippling tendency to think either that we are so bad or so special that we need a really special confessor.

“Terminal uniqueness” is one of the hallmarks in addiction, even when it is expressed as “I’m the best at being the worst person you’ve ever met” or “I have the best terrible story of anyone you know”.

The truth is that all humans have baggage.  All of us have issues, and we all have messed up our lives in one way or another.  We have all fallen short in one way or another, and we all tend to wander off like sheep, dumbly following who knows what?

A good sponsor is one who has faced and worked her own mistakes and failures, flaws and defects and has likely looked her own evil right in the eye and survived telling herself the truth.

A good sponsor has had the courage to have looked in the mirror and called the darkness what it is, but has also has the humility to embrace his own goodness, his own courage and his own strengths, gifts and abilities to himself.

A good sponsor knows that when he/she hears the inventory of another human being, he is holding precious material in his heart and hand and that he is an instrument of healing, mercy and grace in that person’s life.

The way my sponsor took my first Fifth Step so seriously didn’t communicate the gravity or terribleness of what I had to say to her.

The way she took the event so seriously communicated to me how much she valued my life and how deeply and personally she was with me in the process of my becoming whole and healthy.

A good sponsor is acutely aware that the worst thing anyone has done doesn’t have to be the last thing, and that the collective badness of all humanity is nothing to compare with the unlimited and unconditional love and goodness of God who longs to forgive and set us free.

I wouldn’t mind doing that Fifth Step if I never had to see that sponsor again!”

Come on, now.   Really?

Most likely, that person who has sat with you in the confessional is going to be one of the persons you will want to see most — and again and again.

When the confession of one’s life is done in the presence of someone who has done his/her own inner work and is committed to the health and wholeness of the person who has been willing to be vulnerable before him, love wins and grace covers the multitude of sins.

People who have done their own work are comfortable with persons who are doing theirs.

To be known by another human being — really known — is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Sometimes our light goes out,

but it is blown again into instant flame by an encounter

with another human being.

Albert Schweitzer

There is nothing like a good confession with a loving sponsor or confessor to blow the flame of life back into a struggling human being who has put his/her light under the bushel of addiction.

What about you?  Have you come up to the “admitting to another person” part of this program and stalled?  What is your biggest fear?

Or, have you had an experience with being known by another human being that you have found to be cleansing, healing, transforming and empowering?   What was that like?

Have you been the one who has listened to another’s inventory and found a lost part of yourself in the other’s confession?

Is there someone in your life before whom you can speak the truth, stutter out your wrongs, cry out your failures and mourn your actions that hurt another human being without fear?

May all of us learn how to be instruments of mercy, grace and peace in each other’s lives.

Grace to you — Jeanie

 

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Practicing Resurrection: Step Five, Part 1

We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

There is nothing like being asked to admit the exact nature of your wrongs that is more likely to slam you into a confrontation with your very own God-concept and your beliefs about forgiveness, mercy and grace, all of which may be largely unconscious to you.

Believing that God is a benevolent grandfather-type who looks the other way when you do something stupid or wrong doesn’t do much for helping you take seriously the nature of your wrongs.  Imaging God as a jolly old Santa Claus or a Sugar Daddy will always sabotage an authentic relationship with the Holy One.

Believing that God is a cruel judge who keeps a ledger of your sins in a big book, marking each infraction with a big, black marker can make you tremble when it comes time to face the inventory you have written.   Seeing God as the county sheriff, always coming after you can prevent you from taking seriously the path to freedom and forgiveness.

How many are the ways we conjure our God-images to suit our personal philosophies of life and how many are the paths we find to run away from ourselves and from God, often repeating our lifelong scripts of self-sabotage over and over.

This Step can be terrifying, and the truth is that many people stop here.

For whatever reasons, by the time I got to this Step, I was eager for the process.  I wanted to make confession; I wanted the burdens of guilt and shame off my back.   Since the first four Steps had already been so beneficial, I moved into this Fifth Step with both eagerness and terror.

Since that time, I have found that facing the truth about myself and telling the truth to another human being has been so liberating that I have made these Steps part of my on-going spiritual practice.   I found what my mother said was true:  Confession is good for the soul.

At first, I did have to stumble over my own God-image.  I had to do some thinking to separate the man behind the pulpit (my father and then my husband) and my mother from the nature and character of God.  I had to work at identifying the ways I had learned to project rejecting and disapproving humans onto God.  It took time to separate the condemning words I had heard as a child or adolescent from the compassionate words of God.

I had to get clear about who was not-God, and then, steeped in the biblical stories about forgiveness, mercy and grace, I a deep inner freedom began to grow in me, little by little, and it was that growing awareness of the true nature of God that made it possible for me to offer my wrong-doings, my sins of action and my bigger, deeper and more pervasive Sins that motivated me to do the things I did that caused separation between myself and God and myself and other people.

Hiding those afflictive feelings, attitudes, actions and habits caused me to do the things I didn’t want to do and prevented me from doing the things I wanted to do, but I found that it was revolutionary to come out into the light, beam the light of truth on my defects and flaws, tell the truth about my life and join the human race.

Instead of the judgment passages in the Bible, I chose to read and underline the many verses about God’s forgiveness and compassion, his grace and his mercy that are new every morning, extending as far as east is from west.   Instead of focusing on Judgment Day and my fears of having God read aloud all my sins in front of my mother and the rest of humanity, I soaked my mind in Luke’s account of the Waiting Father who met his wayward son with open arms and threw a party, welcoming him home.

And then there was the day that I heard one of my heroes, Frank Pool, tell me about his mother’s words to him.  “The goodness and grace of God is greater than all of the badness in the worst of us.”   Coming from a man whose faith I admired deeply, those words were full of grace for me.

Next week is Ash Wednesday, and for the Christian church, the season of Lent is upon us– yes, already.  In my religious tradition, we did not observe Lent, but I have embraced this season with gladness, relief, expectation and hope since my first experience with this these Steps.

This coming weekend, I am facilitating a retreat for Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, as they prepare for the Lenten season.   When planning the retreat, it came to me that Lent can be seen as a call of redemptive love from God and an opportunity within the Christian church to examine ourselves to see where we are out of step with God’s love.   More and more, I understand those places in me that are not yet in harmony with my True Self and with love are the very places God wants to restore my soul, heal me, forgive me and set me free to live more fully in the wider places of his unconditional love and mercy.

Instead of seeing Lent as a time to point out all of my badness, I am proposing that this call to Love is an opportunity to identify the places in our lives where Love is blocked or thwarted, allowing the healing balm of God’s great love for us to flow in us, for us and through us, transforming, liberating and empowering us to live more fully in a state of grace.

About that hiding my character defects from God?   How silly is that?    If there is nowhere I can go where God is not –if God knows my thoughts before they are conscious to me — it seems to me it’s time for me to stop hiding from myself and come clean to God one day at a time.

I think God knows, anyway — and that is a very good thing.

What about you?

Is it fear of God that keeps you from taking this Fifth Step?

Or, do you take God seriously enough to see the importance of admitting your sins and your Sins to him?

If you are resisting admitting your wrong-doings to God, what excuses are you using?

What does your resistance reveal about your God-concept?

Do you really believe — do you trust — that this Step that has proven to be life-changing for countless others might also be beneficial and perhaps even life-saving for you? — Even you???

My life experience is that the longer I avoid coming clean, the harder it gets, and the truth is that what I resist really does persist.

It’s just so much easier to say Yes to God’s love sooner.

And it’s so true that the hard way is the easy way.

Just do it.   Dare to fall into the compassion of God…..

Grace to you —

Jeanie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Practicing Resurrection: Step Four, Part 4

At the end of your life, you will be asked to account for the pleasure of life you refused to enjoy.

The first time I saw that quotation, I had to read it several times to make sure I had read it correctly.

Truthfully, the very idea of it did not resemble one thing I had learned about that end of life experience.   I had images of standing before God on Judgement Day and hearing him read all of my lifetime of sins over a loudspeaker for all of mankind to hear.  Mostly, I was worried about my mother hearing all I had done that I should not have done and those things I had left undone that I should have done.

Giving an account of the pleasures I had refused to enjoy?   Really?

It gives a whole new spin to making a fearless and searching moral inventory doesn’t it?

In an adolescent buzz, most human beings might make quite a list in a hurry, I suppose, but since I had long ago entered adulthood, I chose to take this part of my inventory seriously.

Honestly, I had to begin with getting in touch with what it was that defined pleasure for me, so conditioned I was to thinking in terms of taking care of my responsibilities, doing my duty, fulfilling my obligations, doing God’s will and…..avoiding pleasure.

Stop right here.   Ask yourself how you are responding to what I have written so far.  Do you think this is frivolous…..a waste of time….an effort in hedonism, narcissism or any other -ism?

Our life is a succession of Paradises successfully denied.

This quotation is attributed to Samuel Beckett.   The first quote was attributed to the ubiquitous Anonymous; perhaps Anonymous was too afraid to sign his name, or perhaps someone out there knows???

* * * * 

As I have worked with this idea over the years, I have come to understand that underneath the avoidance of pleasure is one of those Afflictive Emotions:  fear, guilt or shame, inferiority or inadequacy, hate or anger.

Refusing to experience and enjoy pleasure may indicate that I don’t trust myself to set limits or respect boundaries.

The avoidance of pleasure may also indicate a distorted view of God and the world.   It may indicate a feeling that I don’t deserve to experience pleasure, delight, spontaneous joy, fun and even serenity.

* * * * * 

Here are some questions that have evolved for me over time to help me with this pleasure issue.

Do I even know what brings me pleasure?   Do I know what it is I love to do?

Am I able to experience pleasure in the small gifts of daily life — a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the kind greeting of a stranger, the aromas of food, the festival of colors, textures and patterns, the brush of wind on my face, a warm bath at the end of the day?

Am I able to experience and celebrate the pleasure of a job well-done?  Do I enjoy my abilities to do my work, express my creativity, accomplish a task, connect with a loved one?

Do I take the time and the trouble to listen to music that pleases me?   Do I make time to read the books I love to read, see the friends who give me joy, cultivate my hobbies, pursue my interests, savor what to me are the good things of life?   Do I take pleasure in who I am and can I be satisfied with the way I am?

Am I willing to save the money and spend the money on things I truly love — without feeling guilty?

Am I willing to do the things in which I take pleasure even if others don’t?  And am I willing for my loved ones to do what they love to do without feeling jealous or burdened to like those things, too?

Am I able to know at a cellular level that I am the beloved child of God, made in his image — in whom God is well-pleased?  Can I be at home with myself and be OK?  Am I at home in my own skin?  (And what does that mean, anyway?)

I could go on, but these questions are starters.

* * * * * 

Here is what I have learned, taking my pleasure avoidance inventory:

As a recovering codependent, I am responsible for my physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual state of being, and that responsibility includes my responsibility to find the spiritual nourishment, the intellectual stimulation, the emotional stability and the physical practices that nurture, support and encourage serenity and peace for myself.

That responsibility for my own “wild and precious life”, to use Mary Oliver’s term once again, includes those things I enjoy that bring pleasure to me, day by day.

And when I neglect these parts of my life, especially the responsibility for pleasure, I can go off the rails into resentment, frustration, fatigue and even bitterness…..and that is when I turn to my addictive behaviors to soothe, distract and numb the pain of not getting that which is vital and even necessary to the care of my soul.

Here’s to pleasure!

Grace to you on this Second Sunday of Advent…..

Jeanie

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Practicing Resurrection: Step Four, Part 3

November 16, 2015

 We made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our lives.

So, what’s bugging you about your life?   What’s bugging you most?

Do you find yourself doing the same thing, choosing the same self-defeating behaviors, re-creating the same problems in the same kinds of relationships over and over?

Are you in the midst of a situation, demanding to know how you’ve gotten in the mess you are in?  (Hint:  To whom are you directing that question?)

“Most people flail away at the smoke,” a wise man told me, “but neglect to look at the fire or the cause of the smoke.”

Years ago, I realized that getting to the source of whatever addiction, self-defeating behavior or habit was going to be a great deal more helpful than simply treating the symptoms.    At the root of those behaviors that I cannot seem to change is often one of these afflictive feelings:

Anger

Hate

Inferiority/Inadequacy/Insecurity

Guilt

Shame

Fear

(Before you read on, take a minute to look at those words again.  Number them from 1-6, with 1 being the one that bothers you the most.  Hint: If there’s one that you think is no problem, watch out!  Look again.)

It was in a Yokefellow Spiritual Growth Group that I learned that whatever the outward problem is, if I can trace it back to one of these motivations, I could work on the problem at the source.

In Yokefellow, those basic feelings were called Sins, with a capital S, and through the years I have learned that other afflictive feelings such as resentment, pride, frustration, jealous and envy, greed and even forms of depression are often a mixture of one or more of those afflictive feelings.

It’s one thing to make a list of the people I resent, but it’s another thing to identify the basic core feelings that fuel the resentment.   Separating them out from each other helps to be more specific in the inventory process.

The behaviors that are problematic for us — a critical attitude, bullying, people-pleasing,withholding, using and abusing  processes, people or substances to numb ourselves and many other hurtful behaviors are all masks of the real problem, the Sin that fuels the problem.   We call the behaviors the sins, with a lower case s, not because they are not as important or as harmful, but to differentiate the behavior from the root cause.

Indeed, this process requires self-reflection and self-honesty, but they yield great benefits.

Once you have identified the root feeling or motivation, you may be astonished at how many other places that feeling causes you trouble.   Again, a ruthless self-honesty in this process is a path to freedom, but it should never be seen as a cause for punishing yourself.*

* * * * *

In this moral inventory, there comes a time to examine your golden shadow or to take a look at the ways in which you have hidden your talents and abilities, your gift or your purpose in life.

It is also helpful to examine the ways you have given your power away to others — either your power to make choices or your power to live your life according to your values.   You may have taken the easy road through life, doing what other people tell you to do or want you to do, living to please or placate others and missing what Mary Oliver calls “your one wild and precious life.”

(Hint:  If you often feel resentment toward others, take a hard look at where you may be giving your time, your resources, your personal power away to someone else.  Takers are good at finding people who easily give in and give up to their whims, and givers are good at finding people who will use them for their own purposes.  Always, there is a need for balance in a relationship; when someone either takes or gives all the time, the relationship is clearly off-balance.)

Some questions to guide this exploration are these:

  1. Do you feel that you have neglected taking responsibility for any part of your life  that belongs to you?
  1. How have you “hidden your light”, either living through others, fearing failure, blaming others for not “letting” you shine?
  1. How often are you jealous or envious of others’ accomplishments or achievements?
  2. What dreams about your life have you relinquished because you simply “never got  around to it”?
  1. Do you blame anyone in your life for any failure or problem
  2. What excuses do you tell yourself and others for the reasons for your failure to be, become or do what you want?   How is that working for you?

* * * * *

Always, the purpose of examining one’s own life is to assume adult responsibility for what you have done that has hurt others and what you have not done that you should have/could have done.

I will never forget listening to Dr. James Hollis, Jungian analyst and author discuss the problem of being “guileless”, which is a word often used as a compliment .   Dr. Hollis firmly repudiated the compliment and made it clear that to be guileless often means that you are unconscious either of your own flaws and defects and those of others.   Often, those who carry a Pollyanna attitude about life or those who make a career of never calling a spade a space simply cannot bear the thought of looking bad to others.

Childlike innocence in children is a beautiful thing, but that same behavior in adults can be dangerous, and Hollis urged those of us in his classes to be bold in dealing with the toxic waste dump of unprocessed feelings and motivations in our own inner lives  and to face the violence within our own lives so that we would not project it out or take it out on others.

As I write these words, I am heartbroken over the latest acts of terrorism in Paris, a city I have come to love.  As I have watched the stories unfold over the past few days, I have remembered  Hollis’ words after 9/11.   He had much to say about what could happen if the people who have inflicted violence on innocent strangers had dared to face the violence in their own lives.  The truth is that that which is not healed, forgiven, addressed, managed in our own inner lives will be sprayed out onto others, one way or another.  What happens in one’s inner life gets expressed in the streets, in the boardrooms and in the marketplaces of our lives as we take out our pain on other people.

For more about this, I highly recommend Hollis’ masterpiece, When Good People Do Bad Things.

The Fourth Step is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful and healing activities or personal practices I have ever experienced.  It is one of the clearest ways to inner freedom; it is the way of taking full responsibility for one’s life.

* * * * *

What about you?

If you feel that you have wasted your life, what is the way forward?

If you are caught in a trap of blaming others for the state you’re in, what would happen if you started taking responsibility for your own life?

What about those secrets you harbor and the things you are afraid to tell about yourself?

Have you ever heard the truth that says, “We are as sick as our secrets”?

Have you ever had the feeling that if anyone knew you, they wouldn’t like you?

Is there someone who has tried to help you that you keep pushing away?  What’s that about?

Are you dying with your song still in you, yet unsung?

What are the excuses you tell yourself and others about why you are the way you are and why you do the things you do?

Do you secretly long for another chance to live a day, a week, a lifetime in a better way?

Can you see this self-examination as an act of love you give yourself?

What’s the biggest fear you have about getting sane and sober, free, healthy and strong, serene and at peace with yourself, your addictions, your pain, your life?

In that same Yokefellow Group I learned the following words, which are full of grace and mercy for me.

I am neither bad nor good, but both,

and because God accepts me, I will accept myself.

I am neither selfish or unselfish, but both,

and because God understands me, I will accept myself.

I am neither loving nor unloving, but both,

and because God loves me unconditionally, I will love myself.

Grace to you–

Jeanie

  • *I have written more extensively on this process in my book Joint Venture:  Practical Spirituality for Everyday Pilgrims, published by Smyth and Helwys Publishing.
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Practicing Resurrection Step Four    Part 2  

October 23, 2015

We made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our lives.

 “I’m too scared to do an inventory of my life.   I’m afraid of what I will discover.” 

It’s appropriate to be cautious, setting out on an exploration of one’s life, and I always suggest that having a wise and experienced sponsor and having taken those first three steps  to persons interested in such an undertaking.

It’s wise to consider the challenge ahead seriously.  It’s important to set aside enough time for reflection and a plan for doing an inventory.

It’s helpful to plan ahead so that you give yourself the time to take as long as it takes, and it is a good idea to have a start-up time and a flexible end-time, and when you get bogged down or if you move from doing an inventory either to flogging yourself or making excuses for yourself, a good sponsor can help keep you on the course.

It makes a lot of sense, as well, to realize from the beginning that it’s pretty easy to slide over into telling yourself that “it wasn’t that bad” or “I am the worst person in the world”.

Either response to a moral inventory leads to a dead end.

It’s a good idea to have a sponsor who knows the program really well and who knows you really well so that he or she can tell you when you are blaming someone or something else for the pain you’re in.

Children blame.  Adults take responsibility. 

* * * * * 

There are all kinds of barriers that will seemingly rise up out of nowhere to keep you from moving through this step.   Here are some I’ve had to face:

Inability or unwillingness to see or to own responsibility for one’s own actions.

Over-responsibility that makes a person take all the blame for a situation.

Misunderstanding of the purpose of the Fourth Step….or of the whole program of recovery.

Fear     Fear     Fear

of doing it wrong

of finding out something that is too terrible to admit

of having to change

of thinking that self-awareness and self-knowledge will lead you to self-disgust

of thinking that following this program will somehow give others control over you

Commitment to living as a victim

Lack of practical aids — a sponsor, a guide, a plan, good support

Flawed understanding of God and sin and self-knowledge

Seeing only your liabilities, defects and sins

Fear of discovering the gifts and assets that are yours and taking responsibility for them

You may have your own unique and self-designed resistance to this moral inventory, but  at the heart of the process lies the question, “Do I want to recover from my ________________?”

If the answer is no, then you can keep on keeping on down the road you’re on, and with this reality:

We always arrive at the destination that is at the end of the road we’ve chosen to walk. 

* * * * *

               Question:   “Can’t we just leave well enough alone?”

Answer:      “Yes, when it is well enough.”

Here’s what I know for sure:  Cleaning up the inner  toxicity of my life — my guilt or shame, inferiority or inadequacy, anger or hate and fear — is one of the most loving things I can do for my family and the world — and for myself.

That which is not worked out or talked out will either be projected out, taken  out or acted out onto others, often the ones we love the most.

Guilt that is not forgiven will either be self-punished or repeated.  Count on it.

This step isn’t punishment, for crying out loud. It is about live in grace and mercy and freedom.

Step Four is about liberation, healing, transformation and empowerment to live the “one wild and precious life” you have been given.

So, have courage. Go boldly, and yes as fearlessly as you can into a clear-eyed, loving examination of your life — your strengths and your weaknesses, your successes and your failures, your good deeds and your mistakes, your loving acts of kindness and your sins against yourself and others.

My guess is that knowing oneself as one really is opens the possibility of loving oneself — one’s True Self — as one is taught to love one’s neighbor.

* * * * *

What about you?   What is your experience with the whole issue of admitting your defects, sins, flaws, mistakes to yourself?

Have you ever “gone to confession”, only to have it be a forced, phony expression of contrived contrition?

Have you ever done a “Daily Examen”?

What is your biggest fear in knowing yourself as you really are?

A Prayer for Self-Honesty

Oh, God,

how can I ever see myself

as I really am?  I am so good at hiding

from myself.

How can I stop

the wide spring, back

and forth

between

being too hard and too harsh on myself

on the one hand,

and then,

letting myself off the

hook,

making excuses,

justifying my behavior,

turning a blind eye

to the things

I don’t want to see?

(How can I finally understand

that just because I refuse to see

myself as I am

doesn’t mean that others

are as blind as I choose to be?)

Please grant me the grace

to see myself as You see me.

Please grant me the mercy

to accept all of mySelf…..even as You do….

And Please give me the courage

to come to You….as I am.

Show me who You made me to be

and who You intend for me to be today….

and help me to accept mySelf,

no matter how wonderful I might

turn out to be.

JM   11-13-03