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 —