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……

 

 

 

Practicing Resurrection:  Step 7, Part 2

I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

We are to go boldly to the throne of God.

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

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

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

 Whew!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Step simply asks me to ask God.

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

God is love.

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

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

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

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

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

What about you?

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

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

Do you call in favors for persons you have helped?

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

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

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

For what do you need to ask from God today?

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

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

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

May grace abound for you —

Jeanie

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