Thursday, March 13, 2014

Slavery, Story, and the First Step

Step One: 

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin...  Romans 7:14b

The first step of recovery is also the first step of becoming a follower of Christ.  It is the first step of telling our own story.  It is the first presupposition of Lent.  It is a global recognition of sin and death, human frailty and failure.  It is an expression of our desperation and need for rescue - but rescue from what?  Death isn't just a physical end.  Sin isn't just a theoretical entity, a doctrine.  We are in bondage.  We are all Israelites at the mercy of Egypt.  We are all Paul, unable to do in our own power the good we want to do and, instead, chronically doing the very thing we hate - which seems to be the only thing we know how to do unless God [himself] intervenes constantly (Romans 7:15-19).  Slavery is the truth of our existence.  It is the death we carry with us everywhere we go until we die.  This is the sin that lives inside our very person, from which we need ongoing rescue (Romans 7:17, 21-25).

What Step One invites us to do, however, that the "Sinner's Prayer" or Lenten liturgies can fail to inspire, is to name our slavery, our death, personally - and to recognize this ongoing nature of our need.  Like Ash Wednesday, this is not some morbid fascination with darkness.  It is God's call to remember.  

"Be careful that you do not forget ... otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied ... then you will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery ... and if you ever forget ... I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed" (Deut 8:11-19, emphasis mine).

Remembering, facing, acknowledging, naming our slavery is intrinsically linked to remembering the God who saves us.  The two are inseparable.  If we forget the one, we forget the other, and we slip into "[our] own power and the strength of [our] hands" that only brings destruction (Deut 8:17).  

The work of the cross is done, yet we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13).  We are delivered "through Jesus Christ our Lord" but what are we delivered from but "the sin at work [ongoing] within me"? (Rom 7:23b-25).

So how do we name our slavery?

When you "work" the first step, you don't just read it.  You don't just "agree" with it.  You actually "do" it.  

List the things of which you are ashamed...
That you've done.  That you are. That you've thought. That have been done to you.

...the things you don't want anyone to know...
and don't think you have to tell anyone about because you've 'taken care of that'

...the things you do but do not want to do...
...the things you want to do but are destructive, hurtful, or violate your own values...

all your 'compulsive behaviors.'  

All of them.  

You will actually make a regular practice of listing them, because remembering is a discipline, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Sound morbid?  Don't worry, you don't stop there.  The story doesn't end in slavery.  That's just where it begins.  We're only on Step One, you know?

If you don't actually list them and call them what they are, then you aren't admitting anything. 

You can read the step and agree with it, but you aren't doing what it says until you actually start admitting things, specific things.  (And don't think you can get away without writing them down - because steps four and six make you do it specifically, in case you thought you could skip it.)

You also have to look at -name- what is unmanageable.  

You see, the truth is, you probably don't even know what you are enslaved to, what is compulsive and addictive in your life, how you have forgotten yourself and God, until you start looking at the things that have gotten out of hand, the consequences, the symptoms, the little bits that are out of control. In other words,

this is your opportunity to truly recognize your 
"hurts, habits, and hangups" 
as slavery:
What is the price you're paying for your (or another's) behavior?

(It's true: All of these things apply when what you're doing is actually enabling someone else's destructive behavior.)

A great way to name your slavery is to use the first few lines of the Serenity prayer to search your heart:


What am I not asking God for help with?

grant me the serenity

What is stealing my peace? My joy?  My worship?

to accept the things I cannot change

What am I trying to control but actually have no control over?  
Where am I ignoring my own limitations?

the courage to change the things I can

What should I have have control over that is out of control?  

and the wisdom to know the difference

What do I continue to do over and over and over again, 
expecting different results?

And that will take us to Step Two.

Until next time, if you really want to know and name your slavery, pray this Psalm.  But be warned: If you ask, God will tell you.

Search me, O God, and know my heart
Test me and know my anxious thoughts
See if there is any offensive way in me
Lead me in the way everlasting
Psalm 139:23-24

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