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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.


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