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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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