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Practicing Resurrection: Step Seven, Part 3

Step Seven:  I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.

 

When ready, we say something like this: “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.” We have then completed Step Seven.    —  A.A. Big Book, p. 76

How much I long for this to be a one-time process.  I so want to pray this prayer and then move along, leaving the past behind.  I do not want to have to keep returning to this Step, and I want to finish recovery!!!

And then, I run into an older, wiser friend who looks at me with tenderness, kindness and compassion, and I know that part of my job as a recovering codependent is to make peace with a paradox:  I am to ask God to remove my shortcomings, and I am to learn how to live with my shortcomings.   I don’t much like that both/and deal, but look at this wisdom from an older, wiser friend.

Ring the Bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

The death of singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen last week made me sadder than I would have expected, though maybe sadness had been building up to last week. Repeatedly, I have read these words from his beautiful song Anthem in newspaper tributes to him, on Facebook and in e-mails from friends.  Clearly, that anthem has rung bells of hope and possibility, grace and mercy in the hearts of others.

In response to his death, I’ve been playing Cohen’s music on my Sonos, relishing the rich background vocals and instrumentals and finding comfort in his unique and compelling voice.   I’m paying closer attention than ever to the lyrics and remembering when I first heard each song over these many years that I have been a fan.

Years ago, a friend whose opinion I value highly placed a copy of one of his CDs in my hand after the Bible study I teach.  “I think you might like this guy,” she said, and so I took the CD home and put it on my player.

Though I have a wide range of music appreciation, I’m pretty particular about the vocalists I love, but when I love one, I’m all in and I want to hear everything that vocalist has ever done.

I must admit that it took me a few songs to understand why she thought I would like Cohen’s music, but once I got it, I was hooked on Cohen, not only to his mystical and mysterious lyrics, but to his arrangements.  Over time, I have increasingly appreciated his unique and powerful gifts.

The lyrics to Cohen’s Anthem seem to fit beautifully with Step Seven, even if they seem, from a superficial level, to be at odds with asking God to remove our shortcomings.  Cohen, by contrast, seems to be asking us to learn how to live with our shortcomings in a way that allows us to accept our imperfections and our shortcomings , but not letting them run and ruin our lives.

The logic — honed in a lifelong experience of working this step over and over — seems to me to indicate that this process of becoming sane, sober, whole, saved is a lifelong process.  No one ever gets all the boxes checked or to the finish line fully perfect.  It is quite possible that the desires to slip into old behaviors, the inclination to return to old tendencies and habits are always hovering over us, but so is truth that we are always on the journey of becoming whole hovering over us.  Salvation is something we work out with fear and trembling and recovery is an on-going journey, an unfinished project, a blessing in disguise.  And the journey is home.

I tremble when I hear someone declare that he/she has arrived, is fully recovered, has completely individuated and is “living the dream” of sobriety because I know, as my mother taught me, “Pride goes before the fall.”

Those of us who have worked a Twelve Step program for a long time are uncomfortably aware that while our shortcomings and defects may not have the upper hand today, a slip is always a possibility.   My codependency can kick in faster than I can blink my eyes, given the right amount of stress pressed on just the right complex.  My complexes can take over in a heartbeat, and the wicked thing about them is that they can convince me that  what I am doing is the right thing for me to be doing and makes perfect sense.

I live under the H.A.L.T rule:  I monitor myself so that I can know when I am edging up to the cliff of being too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired and take action to protect myself and prevent myself from going over the cliff into behaviors that do not serve me and, in fact, hurt me or others.

Sometimes now, years after I first took my first journey through these magnificent steps, I am astonished at how quickly I can regress into old patterns, but I’m also grateful when I can regain my balance, return to the first three steps and get back on program.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that relapses and regressions can be a necessary part of the recovery process.  I’ve learned that returning to the faith practices that build inner strength is actually a good thing . While the slip keeps me humble, it also keeps me on my knees and actively conscious that I am always standing in the need of prayer and help and aid.

Perhaps, then, this Step is not to be considered a “once and for all” prayer and practice, but an on-going practice and awareness that acknowledges the reality that we remain forever and eternally imperfect and subject to falling back into old patterns.

Back to an earlier verse in Cohen’s Anthem:

Ah, the wars they will

be fought again.

The holy dove,

She will be caught again

bought and sold

and bought again.

The dove is never free.

 Far from being discouraged that  I must live with my imperfections and shortcomings, Cohen’s words encourage me.   I am not a failure because I struggle with my darker angels, my insecurities, my scars and my wounds.  In fact, it is those very imperfections that I carry that can make me more compassionate to others, more connected to the human race and more kind and tenderhearted toward those who, like I, struggle toward redemption.  It is that I never am completely healed on this plane that keeps me on the journey, and it is the journey that keeps me alive and aware, discovering new horizons and exploring new possibilities.

So it is with this step that I have learned a powerful life lesson.  It is in accepting myself as I am — good and bad, strong and weak, loving and unloving, generous and selfish, critical and merciful, unforgiving and forgiving, humble and proud — that I can be at peace.

By contrast, it is living within the hard and unyielding bars either/or , perfect or imperfect, good or bad, pretty or ugly, worthless or worthy, dumb or smart, strong or weak that I am doomed to the prisons of my own making.

Frederick Buechner has famously said that “our worst thing doesn’t have to be our last thing, ” and that is pure grace to me.

Cohen says and sings mercy and grace like this in the opening stanza of Anthem.

The birds they sang

 at the break of day

Start again

I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what has passed away

or what is yet to be.

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

And I say Amen.

I love the slogans of recovering programs.  They are like straps on a bus or train that is lurching down the street or track, giving me something to hold on to while I’m traveling through my days.

I love it the idea that you can start the day over any time you need to, and I love the mercy in the slogan One Day at a Time.   I love the veterans of this program who remind me that sometimes, you can take it an hour at a time or a breath at a time.

I’ve breathed my way through many hard moments, wavering between my failures and self-punishment, and reminding myself of this scripture just before I slip over into familiar and seductive arms of my shortcoming that are always somewhere, lurking where I cannot see them:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. 

Lamentations 3:22-23

 

What about you?

Have you made peace with your shortcomings?   Or, are you still fighting them?

Can you accept that your imperfections may be some of your best gifts?

It is said that “What you resist persists”.   How might this come into play with this step?

What “light” has come in through your imperfections?

What ways have you tried to bandage or repair the broken places so that there are no cracks in your armor?   How has that worked for you?

Who has helped you most in accepting your imperfections?

When I first began an extended analysis with a Jungian analyst, he said to me, “We don’t want to get rid of your darker angels, for in doing so, we might be snuffing out the light that might come through them.”   What does that mean?   How does it apply to you?

A wise, older friend recently told me, “I hope you can hold your burdens more lightly”.   How might this be relevant to this step?”

How have your shortcomings turned out to be friends?

How have your imperfections moved you to wholeness?

What good has come from working with your character defect?

Grace to you —

Jeanie

And on a final note:   I always wanted to hear Leonard Cohen perform live, and so one of my regrets is that I never got to do that.   That is a reminder to me to seize the moments of doing those things that “I’ve always wanted to do”.   Time does finally run out……

 

 

 

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Practicing Resurrection:  Step 7, Part 2

I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.

“Ask for what you need!” was a popular piece of advice from counselors and therapists when I first began to work these Twelve Steps.

And doesn’t it sound so easy, tripping off the tongue?

It is, however, the kind of counsel that strikes fear in the heart of some human beings who have grown accustomed to “doing it myself” and “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

I’ve read that a cynic is a person who doesn’t want to be disappointed any more, and indeed, asking for help invites the possibility that you might be disappointed.   Sometimes, you just can’t risk that terrible feeling of the fear of asking or the possibility of being ignored, ridiculed or denied one more time.

 

Asking another person for help of any kind can evoke all sorts of inner resistance.   Some of us would rather die than ask for support, a favor, money or other good, while others freely ask and freely receive.

I take this Step seriously because while there are only eight words in it, every word opens up a revelation about my life experience about my feelings about God, my image of God,  getting my needs met and my past history in asking for what I need. 

* * * * *

This past week I encountered a person who gave me her own personal course in miracles.  “We have to demand our miracles from God,” she said, and something in me shivered.

Frankly, demanding a miracle from God didn’t quite fit with my image of how I stand in relationship with the Almighty, and for the rest of the day, I recalled other similar messages about how to make prayer work.

We are to go boldly to the throne of God.

We tell him what we need and tell him we aren’t leaving until we get it.

God wants to bless his children, but we have to claim the blessing!

Name it and claim it!  It’s your inheritance as a child of the king!

 Whew!

 I kept pondering those thoughts, and the still, small Voice in my head and heart kept whispering, “The Father knows what you need before you ask.”

My lifelong practice of praying “Thy will be done” has served me well, and while I used to think that Jesus’ words about asking, seeking and knocking were about getting the results I wanted, I have come to understand that those words are about faithfulness, persistence and patience in seeking God.  They simply aren’t about nagging God into giving you what you tell him to give you.

Clearly, my God -image, my temperament and my past history had bumped up against this person’s, and so I wrestled again with what it means to ask God to remove my shortcomings.  I just don’t see God as my cosmic bellhop and I don’t see prayer as giving God his to-do list.

First of all, I believe with all of my heart that  God wants us to bring our shortcomings and our character defects to him.  I believe that we can freely ask God for what we need.

I believe that it is his joy to remove  our shortcomings and those impediments to our knowing him more fully, living more healthy and abundant lives and loving him, ourselves and others more freely.

My experience is that God helps us with those things we cannot do ourselves, and sometimes he works with us to help us do together what we need to have done.

I have no problem asking God to help me in my weaknesses, and I have learned and re-learned that it is where I cannot do for myself that God works best.  The place of my inadequacies is the very place the adequacy of God moves in to aid me.

But……the truth is that I also have the experiences of asking for what I need and being denied, disappointed or ignored.   Periodically, those memories kick in and start yammering such debilitating things as these:

You know you won’t get it.  Why are you wasting your time?

You know you don’t deserve it.  Look at how many times you’ve failed!

You know it won’t happen.  I never has; what’s different this time?

You’ve asked so many times!  God must be getting tired that you can’t get it!

And….when that happens, I have to remind myself that this Step doesn’t ask me to ask the people of my past or my present who have let me down or disappointed me.  The Step doesn’t ask me to help myself or rely on my own understanding.

It does ask me to risk even when merely the thought of asking evokes the voice in my head that shames me or tells me that I should be able to handle this shortcoming myself.

The Step simply asks me to ask God.

And….when that happens, I have to return to my mental processes of thinking through the difference in my old God-image and the one I have formed through a life-time of revising my God-image so that it conforms with what I know to be true:

God is love.

God’s very nature is about mercy, grace and forgiveness.

God wants my health and wholeness — and the abundant life of love, joy and peace for me.

Through  many years of practicing Centering Prayer, I have learned that while it is important for me to take my requests to God, the real power in prayer is listening, watching and waiting for the guidance, the direction and the precise help I need.

We know God in many ways, and one of those is through nature.   In his wisdom, God provided night and day.   I count on the words of the prophet:   His mercies are new every morning.

Maybe God created mornings so that we could see the dawn of a new day and remember that in his mercy, we can keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking, and that that is OK.

What about you?

How hard is it for you to ask a friend for a favor?

When was the last time you risked asking for help when you firmly believed that you should be able to do whatever it was for yourself?

Do you call in favors for persons you have helped?

Do you hesitate to ask someone to do something for you or to give you something because you are afraid of what the cost might be if that person does what you have asked?

What is the one shortcoming right now that stands in the way between you and the abundant life?

How do you get in your own way, sabotaging your own peace of mind?

For what do you need to ask from God today?

Are you willing to state your request to God and leave the details up to him, or do you need to tell him how to do his job?

Is your trust in God bigger than your trust in your own abilities to remove your shortcomings?

Do you feel you deserve to ask God to help you?

May grace abound for you —

Jeanie

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Practicing Resurrection: Step Seven, Part 1

I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.

Then I was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin or desire not self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”                                                   –Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

 Read this again:    If only they could all see themselves as they really are…….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.

 Now, take a deep breath and notice how you react to that statement.

The first time I heard someone quote those words, I gasped.  Hearing those words of one of the greatest spiritual guides and writers of the twentieth century, my vision cleared and I could get breath down deeper than ever before.    I had to take off my shoes — figuratively– and bow my head because I knew that I was standing on holy ground, taking in those words.

That statement, my friends, defines humility, but it takes some rearranging of the furniture in one’s mind to allow the truth of it to sink down into your heart, and it takes some courage to live the truth of it in everyday life.

Merton’s definition of humility doesn’t quite square with the street definition that most of us have carried around in our minds, burdened by knowing we should have humility, but not really wanting it.  (Hint:  Always watch the “should” word; it’s laden with guilt and shame, dread and resistance.)

Humility.

I want to be known for having humility, but allowing that state of being to grow in me is not so easy.   In theory, I want to be humble, but I’m not a fan of being humbled and I pretty much run from humiliation.   As a lifelong member of the Christian community, I know that humility is something I should want, but in my history, humility was too often too much like shame.

Part of the problem is that my mind, heart and will have been formed in a culture that places high value on self-reliance, independence and self-will, so to come to the point of having to ask for help requires that I admit that I need help and then I have to take the risk that if I ask, I will be given what I need.

In our culture, humility is sometimes associated with weakness, and sometimes “strong” people think they can run over those who are humble.

Another problem in this humility thing is that I have to get over my shame in order to humbly ask for help, and when I say “get over” what I mean is that I have to step around it or over it and in spite of it if I am going to muster the courage to ask for what I cannot accomplish myself, but truly think I should desire.

It’s the shame of having the character defect in the first place that binds me to my fear, and it’s the shame of having to admit the defect and my inability to obliterate it by myself — in my own power, out of my super-abilities or with my hard work.

Sometimes I find I can’t even pray my defect away, but then I go back to that scripture about “praying amiss” and I remember that if in my praying, I am focusing on my defect, I’m praying to the problem.   I should be better at praying a-right, shouldn’t I?

You know how that is.   If someone says for you not to think about the number 7, that’s all you can see:  7  7  7  7.  If you focus on the problem you’re trying to banish from your life, it will become stronger, dig in deeper and taunt you more because this principle works:  whatever you think about, you will become.

Jesus himself said it:  As you think in your heart, so are you.

To really understand humility and to work this step, I have to return to examine again the importance of how I relate to God, my God-image, God-as-I-understand him.

When it comes to humbly asking God to remove my shortcomings, an image of God that is of a loving, forgiving, merciful and gracious God goes a long way to making it possible for me to ask for his help.

Here’s what I think humility is not, then,  Humility is not groveling before God.  It is not declaring how horrible I am and how I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, tolerance or love.

Humility isn’t slinking around, ashamed and self-flagellating either with words or a whip.

Humility isn’t repeatedly reciting my lists of wrongs over and over.   It isn’t holding on to an image of myself as a zero, a good-for-nothing, unworthy of forgiveness, carrying a black stain around in my soul.

Humility is standing before God, opening my mind and heart to the Almighty, confident that as a creation made in his very image, created a little lower than the angels, beloved unconditionally by God, I present myself to him as one who has direct access to the Creator of the universe.

Humility means that I am strong enough to admit and confess my shortcomings and defects, my failures and my frailties to the One who understands how I am made and wants to help me.

Humility means that I can say, “I did that” or “I feel this” with the assurance that until I can say the hardest facts, I am bound by them.  It is in saying the truth that begins the process by which I can be freed from the shackles that bind me.

Humility means that I do not have to hide my shamefulness behind excuses, justifications or fears of God’s wrath.   It means that I am so confident in God’s nature of unconditional love that I can tell the truth without fear.  I can call things what they are and not use euphemisms.

I can confess my weaknesses to God without fear of his branding me by my worst traits.

I can confess my failures to God without being locked into them forever because it is God whom the psalmist declares is merciful and ready to forgive.

Humility is more about believing in the nature of God than it is about the nature of my wrongs.

It is about believing that however badly I have behaved, God’s goodness is greater. than all of my harmful deeds, added up over a lifetime.

Humility is confidence not in my ability to change, but in God’s great love for me, a love that transforms, heals, liberates and empowers us to be fully who we are created to be.

Humility is accepting my place in the order of things.   I am God’s creation

* * * * *

So, back to Merton’s bold declaration.  (Does it make you uncomfortable?)

If it’s hard to accept what Merton says, try this:

Imagine yourself standing tall before the grandeur of God, arms stretched out as a symbol of your confidence in God’s love for you.

How does it feel just to imagine that?

Imagine yourself standing boldly in the presence of God as a person created in his image and loved passionately by the Creator who made you.

How does it feel to imagine that?

Imagine yourself as that creature made just a little lower than the angels, deeply and unconditionally loved by the One whose very name is Love, unafraid and at perfect ease in God’s presence.   Imagine feeling completely free in the presence of God.

How does it feel to imagine that?

 Imagine that God is saying to you, “You are my beloved child”.

How does it feel to imagine that?

Imagine that at the deepest level of your consciousness you can know that “the Father is very fond of you.”

How does it feel to imagine you can feel that fondness?

Imagine that you can hear God telling you, “We are in this together.  I’m here to help you.”

How does it feel to imagine God as your Helper?

Imagine that humility is coming boldly and confidently to God with the assurance that God wants you to become all that you are created to be and will work with you, in you, for you to remove whatever is keeping you from living the one wild and precious life you have been designed and made to live.

How does it feel to imagine that God is like that?

 Humility begins with an understanding of the order of things and continues with the on-going awareness of who God is and who we are and how things are to work in the world.

Keep it simple.    Keep it straight.

Begin with this:  God is love.

Stay with this:  God is love and God loves you.

Grace to you —

Jeanie

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Practicing Resurrection: Step 6, Part 3

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

As I sit at my desk with those italicized words — all of these defects of character— staring back at me, my mind takes me to the issue of polling.

That’s a strange connection, I’ll admit, but it makes sense if you consider the and times we are in and the frequency of hearing “the poll report.”   Though I have never, ever been asked to participate in a national poll, apparently there are many people who spend their lives taking polls, analyzing polls and either relying on them or discounting them.  To be sure, we are bombarded with poll reports in this current season.

If I could get in on the polling system, here’s what I would like to know:                                    –To what extent do you think recognizing one’s own defects of character is important?      –To what extent does personal responsibility in dealing with one’s own defects of character modify the tendency to project one’s own defects onto others?                                     — Do you agree or disagree that the unwillingness or inability to own, admit and take responsibility for one’s own defects of character is, in fact, a defect of character?                      –What effect does it have on others when a person cannot or will not recognize his own character defects?

If you have been reading this blog, my books or my Growing Edges column, you will know how I would answer to each of those questions, but for review, here is what I believe about how important this Step is.                                                                                                                             — If I were running the world (which, clearly, I am not) I would make learning to admit a mistake, learning to say, “I’m sorry” and learning how to make amends a part of every elementary school’s curriculum.                                                                                                                   — If I were in charge of things, I would find a way to teach children at all levels of their development how to give and receive forgiveness in age-appropriate ways.  I would find a way to teach the processes of reconciliation; I would teach that all of us humans have character defects and that having a character defect does not make you a horrible person.    –If I had any influence at all in the houses of worship and the communities of faith that are to be found in hundreds of places across my country, I would declare that learning how to forgive and be forgiven is one of the primary tasks of a spiritual life.  I would promote processes and programs to help persons learn the ways of reconciliation.

Since I am not in any of those power seats, I must return to one of the basic principles of working a recovery program, and it is this:  I cannot change anyone but myself. 

Brought to my knees and sometimes my face by the truth of that principle and the hard, laborious and tedious work required in changing myself — my mind, my habits, my motivations, my tendencies, my defects — I must also remember the other principle that skins my pride and draws blood:  That which I see in another that I hate is most likely present in me.   (Here me shudder; I have given up roaring!)

Over the years, I have learned that the only way I can have the courage and stamina I need to be boldly honest with myself about these snarly problems called character defects  is believing that when I turned my will and my life over to God as I understand him, God-Whose-Name-Is-Love took me seriously and will give me all I need to become aware of my defects, accept that they are mine and abandon those defects into his loving care.

And all of that, my friends, is made much easier when my working concept of God is not a concept that says that God is punitive, judgmental, vindictive and cruel.

My willingness and ability to face the things in myself that I do not want to admit is so much easier when I know that the God to whom I surrender my will and my life, and my character defects, is a God who is merciful and full of grace, compassionate and full of unconditional, unrelenting, pursuing love.

Don’t think for a minute that I am not keenly aware that we all live with the consequences of mistakes we have made, but by turning those mistakes and their accompanying heartaches over to the care of God, we can be given the strength and the grace to live with them.  God is not about our continuing to punish ourselves over and over.  He isn’t interested in our holding on to our failures.  God is interested in our living the abundant life of love.

God doesn’t love me — with all of my defects — because of what I do or how well I do it.  God loves me because that is who God is — Perfect Love.

And so it is that the more I can step up to the plate of self-examination and tell the hard, unvarnished truth about my strengths and my weaknesses, my abilities and my defects, the greater is the possibility that I will live in the sweet spot of mindfulness and awareness, love, joy and peace.

What about you?  What is hard for you about this Step?   How do you stumble all over yourself, avoiding the Step?  How does pride or fear, arrogance or resentment get in your way of facing yourself and taking responsibility for your part in a problem?

Is it harder or easier for you to identify your flaws?

Is it harder for you to admit your flaws or give them up?

Do you find it easier– and more pleasant —  to pick out the flaws and defects of others than to see them in yourself>

What hang-ups about God’s willingness to help you do you still harbor?  In what ways do you cling to unbelief in God?  Do you still operate with the idea that “if it is to be, it’s up to me”?

        How is all of that working for you?

Carl Jung said that “the person who knows he is ordinary is extraordinary, indeed”.  (I think he said “man”, but I’m daring to update Dr. Jung’s quote)

What does owning your character defects and being willing to have God remove them have to do with being either ordinary or extraordinary?   Do those dots connect for you?  (Hint: We all put on our pants the same way.)

Wherever you are on the path, I wish you well…..and.above all……

Grace to you-

Jeanie

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Practicing Resurrection: Step Six, Part 2

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

As I listen to the news this week about the terrible murders of black men and policemen in Dallas, and as I process the tragedy in the life of a long-time friend, I become aware that however ready I may be to have God remove my character defects, the uncomfortable truth is that when something new or terrible or terrifying springs up in my outer world, my old ways of being in the world are sometimes prone to spring up from the archives of my mind and the backside of my heart, ready to go into action.

Catch me on a day when I’m handling a new crisis and know that I’m vulnerable to returning to my old patterns, and one of those old patterns that does not serve me any more now than it used to before I began working the Twelve Steps is that my will instantly jumps back into the driver’s seat, taking over the controls of my mind and heart and blowing some kind of crazy dust on my memory so that I can’t remember how it was that those old patterns didn’t work then and they don’t work now.

Catch me at a time when anxiety and fear are having a heyday with me or talk to me when I’m processing gut-wrenching sorrow or vein-freezing fear, and I’ll tell you how easy it is to take God off the throne of my life and re-install someone else, an old habit or a behavior as the Ruler of my life.

I may tell you how easy it is to let go and let God remove my defects,  but when I’m lost in fear or grief and in the grips of anger or pain, my old behavior most likely feels perfectly normal and rational to me.

I may even give you well-rehearsed reasons that justify and explain my crazy-thinking, crazy-acting and crazy-talking, and if you try to help me face the truth about those lies I’m telling myself and you, I may not respond in a gracious way.

Here’s the truth:  my self-will doesn’t give up easily, and threatened, I go into denial, avoidance and resistance.   Thanks be to God, I don’t do that as often as I used to, and I recover my balance more quickly than I used to, but the truth is that my self-will can still rise up and challenge my soul’s longing to let God be God.

Here’s the hard part about this readiness to let God have his will and his way, and it all goes back to the concept of God you carry in your head, that concept that was formed when you were pre-verbal and maybe even in your mother’s womb.  Our difficulty with surrendering our defects to God is not only that those defects are long-held habits and re-enforced behaviors, but that sometimes we like those behaviors.

Even more, we all have to grow in our belief that God really can and will remove our defects of character.   Some of us even have to grow in our willingness to trust that God even exists, and some of us have to step out in faith enough to separate the God-image that reflects the nature of God, who is Love, from the images of God we formed and learned as children from our earliest care-givers and authority figures.

The other difficulty in this step is that we are so firmly formed in this culture around the idea of the supremacy of self-reliance and self-sufficiency that we may think recovery is a do-it-yourself kit we can purchase and use.  (Read that again and ponder it for a day or two.)

We enter childhood declaring that we can do it ourselves, and we are applauded when we take those developmental steps that reveal our growing independence and our developing abilities.   In our culture, we laud the “self-made” person and undervalue the power of the community and the necessity to learn how to be in full surrender to God and in appropriate cooperation and collaboration with other human beings.  We think maturity is independence, when the truth is that another level of maturity is interdependence.

To allow God to be the one to remove our character defects flies in the face of our need to control how and when and in what measure we will give up the things that sabotage our freedom and wholeness.

To voluntarily surrender to the plan God might have for helping us give up those behaviors and habits that keep us bound may seem scary, simply because we aren’t quite sure that God really is love and that God really does want our wholeness and our best and even our fulfillment and joy in life.

We let ourselves get scared about not having our emotional crutches.  We worry that getting sane and clean and clear and serene might hurt, ignoring the fact that not getting sane and sober hurts more.  It hurts more for the person using substances, practices and people, but that mis-use of one’s personal power hurts other people, too.

The truth is that if we do surrender to God’s active work in us, we might experience the pain of separation from our character defects and we might even be afraid of who we might be without those defenses that we thought were helpful when we first began using them but have, in fact, turned out to be harmful and hurtful.

The sweet, exquisite freedom that comes when we finally come to the place of being willing to let God have his way with us can only be described from the other side by those who have actually let go of those idols that always let us down and clung fiercely to the One who clings fiercely to us with faithful and constant, healing and holy love.

I know it’s true that letting go of the old ways feels like letting go of one trapeze and reaching, stretching, arching out for another one that hasn’t yet swung within reach.  Letting to is that terror of the moment between trapezes when you are hanging, vulnerable and unprotected, over the abyss.

It feels like that, but it isn’t like that.

With all of my heart and from a lifetime of  inner trapeze work, I know that God is present when you let go of the old idols.  He is there as we reach for the next trapeze, and he is with us, in us, around us and underneath us as we make that leap toward freedom.

Inscribed on a favorite bracelet are these words, I am with you always.

I’m assuming that includes even the times when I become willing to let God remove my character defects.

I am assuming that God means it when he says he is with me always, and that includes those terrifying moments when I take another leap of faith.

What about you?

Are you stumbling over letting God remove your defects, or are you eager for him to take them and run?

When something unusual or disruptive happens in your life, do you, too, return to your old patterns of defense, avoidance and resistance?  If you do, how do you regain your balance?

What pay-off are you getting by clinging to your character defects?   What are you hiding, behind those self-sabotaging behaviors?  What are you missing, staying stuck in your old ways?

If someone were to ask you to tell him/her about the God you believe in, what would you say?  Is your concept of God big enough for your adult life, or are you still relying on a limited or childhood belief in God?

Is your faith more about who God is as unconditional love, or do you cling more to the judgmental God who is just waiting to punish you?

When has God actually helped you by removing a character defect?   How did that happen?

How willing are you to look in the mirror and tell yourself the unvarnished truth about a character defect that you are still using to keep the status quo of your life the status quo?

I would love to hear from you.   Recovery, like faith-building, happens best in community.

Thomas Keating, my beloved teacher in the ways of Centering Prayer, says that we don’t go to one level of faith without having the present one challenged.

I can tell you that learning that gave me great relief because of my long-held habit of clinging to my current ways long past the time when they served me.

Grace to you —

Jeanie

 

 

 

 

 

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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.


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   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.


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