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……

 

 

 

One thought on “Practicing Resurrection: Step Seven, Part 3

  1. So well said, Jeanie. Accepting my shortcomings is hard, and repeatedly failing in my grief recovery when I’m tired, hungry etc. is much the same as you describe. A codependent friend taught me the Serenity Prayer and the concept of living life in gratitude mode, both of which have gotten me through my grief. Can’t wait for your book!

    Like

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