Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ask for Directions!

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

It was about 6 years into my recovery that I found myself praying this prayer on a fairly regular basis:

What does it look like to turn my will and my life over to the care of God right now - in this moment, in this situation, with this person?

I have found much solace and power in this prayer.  It has circumvented codependent rescuing when my loved ones have been in distress.  It has gotten me out of bed in the morning when I am overwhelmed with anxiety and depression.  It has given me the courage to face difficult situations.  It has reminded me that I can  survive making mistakes and even face the consequences of my actions.  It has helped me to live one day at a time, one moment at a time, and it has helped me to "accept, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it."

It reminds me that I do not have to have all the answers; I need only surrender now. It makes each step a step of faith rather than something I must do in my own power.

Proverbs 3, 14, and 16 and Step One helped us to understand that our way of doing things doesn't work, and continuing to do what we've always done will continue to get us the same results.  If you're not a fan of some aspect of the life you've created for yourself so far, well, I'm sorry, but that's all you really know how to do on your own.  It's all any of us know; we are all in the same boat.  There is no pride in Christianity.

We need a new way.

Step Two helped us to turn away from the old way of doing things (a chore in and of itself!) and to turn toward hope.  But turning in the right direction will not do us any good unless we start moving.

That is a rampant misunderstanding of repentance: Pastors often talk about the original meaning of the word "repent," and say that it is to simply "turn around."  They teach us to pray the sinner's prayer and send us on our way - right back down the path from which we came!  Yes, we must turn around and then we must go the other direction.  It doesn't magically happen and we can't do it on our own.

That was the discovery of my Third Step Prayer: I can ask for help.  I can ask for a new way!  I need to ask, in fact , fairly constantly and desperately, or I will simply go back to the way I've always known, like a knee-jerk reaction or slipping into auto-pilot on my drive home from work.  When we have traveled the same familiar path over and over again, we create a rut, and as soon as we aren't looking, our feet will slide right back down the embankment and resume that path without our even realizing it.

That is why repentance doesn't end with turning and why recovery doesn't end with Step 12.  Repentance is a lifestyle.  Recovery is a life-long journey.  This is what it means to
work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose
 (Phil 1:11-13).  If that sounds daunting or discouraging, well, I speak from experience when I say frankly, it is better to be traveling the path of salvation than it is to return to the path of destruction even for a moment, regardless as to how much work it ends up being in the end.  Salvation is free.  And it costs us everything.  But we gain life.

If we have truly come to grips with our powerlessness, and if there is a power greater than ourselves who will help us live, then we must ask for help.  Proverbs also taught us that wisdom, love, and faithfulness are not passive.  They will not land in your lap while you are sitting there day dreaming, feeling sorry for yourself, playing video games, or numbing out.  You have to ask.  You have to seek.  You have to knock.

For everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks the door will be opened (Matt 7:7).

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (James 1:5).

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart (Jer 29.13).

Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God!  (Prov 2:3-5).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Only Way to Live

Lent is like a walk in a cemetery in the springtime.  There is a peace in the acceptance of death.  There is a validation of life in the honoring of its passing.  One gives way to the other, who gives back again.  When we say, "There is death.  It matters." we also say, "There is life and it matters; it is significant."

And so, during Lent, we take the time to remember the death in our lives.  We acknowledge our own fragility.  We remember our need for new life, for a savior.  And we remember the death that our savior embraced in order that we might live.

I do not mean to neglect this last piece in my meditations here.  No, it's just that our cultural expression of Christianity seems to use the Gospel in an attempt to forget - forget our frailty, forget our need, forget or drown out our past, our slavery, our stories.  But it is in our stories of frailty and need that we find Christ, that he comes to be with us.  It is through these same stories that we join in his death and resurrection from the dead.  The Gospel doesn't drown out our stories, it redeems them.

Last night a couple shared their testimonies at church and I was disturbed by something they said - or rather, something they didn't say.  The husband, a life-long Christian, confessed to affairs and a pornography addiction that had permeated his life as far back as he could remember.  (His wife cried as he spoke.)  He went on to describe an experience of someone in his small group confronting him over his lack of sobriety (faithfulness).  Only then, after years  of being "in recovery," did he finally commit to being sober.  And only when he made that commitment could he actually work his steps.  The couple shared that he now had 3 years clean and they were working to help other couples dealing with similar issues.

Yay!  Clearly sobriety in that man's life is a miracle!  In fact, many sexual addicts never find sobriety.  It could have been such a redemptive story, a humanizing experience in the sharing ... except ... well, except that it was disturbing how this young man used Christianity for so long to keep sinning (hurting himself and others) ... and he talked about that tragedy as if were the most normal thing in the world, as if it were okay.  He talked about it as if the whole scenario weren't somehow tragic and completely heart-breaking, as if his wife weren't sobbing beside him in grief and loss.  He showed very little if any remorse for or recognition of the damage that he had done and the hurt that he had caused.  I make no presuppositions about his heart, but I left feeling grieved by the message of their testimonies.  Is this the Gospel we present in church, that Jesus just makes everything all right?  As if we don't live with the consequences of our choices?  As if those two young people would not have to recover from those things for the rest of their lives?  As if God is somehow okay with exploitation as long as it all works out in the end?

Jesus just makes everything all right - so we don't have to look at our depravity, we don't have to bare the hurt, we get to escape?

Jesus didn't say that we would escape.  No, we must lose our lives to gain them.  We must die with Christ to share in his resurrection.  In fact, he didn't say that we would escape really much of anything.  He offers freedom ... through suffering, through the taking up of our crosses, through hardship with purpose and hope.  Jesus is not an escape. And when we attempt to use God this way we do not accomplish the things of God.

If we diminish sin and death, if we minimize our slavery, we diminish, too, new life.  We diminish God's very salvation.  And we diminish the God who saves.

If that man's slavery was not truly tragic, then is it a big deal that he has found any kind of freedom?

Lent is the season in which we, as the Kingdom of God, confess to the world that sin matters.  Death matters.  We do not ignore tragedy, exploitation, and brokenness.  We do not minimize it.  We call it what it is and we repent.  We live in a manner worthy of repentance, because that is the only way to live.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fear, Forgetfulness, and Getting Our Own Way

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
Proverbs 3:7-8


It is not a topic I want to overlook in any discussion about the active, assertive nature of wisdom.

But it is not a notion we care to discuss in our culture - and perhaps rightly so.  We are recovering from some pretty distorted messages about God, and we have some pretty crazy people claiming to do some pretty crazy things in God's name.  Further, FEAR didn't seem to be a significant theme in Jesus' ministry or his message.

Or was it?

I think we could say that Jesus set out to strike fear in the hearts of the 'religious people' of his day - just a little bit - thrashing the temple, calling them vipers, that sort of thing.  And they were afraid; they were afraid of the wrong thing.  They were afraid of losing their power, of losing control.

They did not fear God.  

And I think that's why Jesus did it. His harsh words and even his violence was an impassioned attempt to inspire in them a reverential fear of God.  It was their only hope of being saved from their own addictions to power and control.

Meanwhile, Jesus didn't need to strike fear into the hearts of the broken and oppressed.  They already seemed to have a sense of awe and respect for authority, for God, and for Christ - probably because they were so aware of their own powerlessness.  It's amazing how a healthy dose of powerlessness (reality) inspires a healthy fear of and respect for God, [his] power, and our need for [him].  No, those who feared God were the ones with whom Christ seemed to perform the most miracles.  Those who feared God seemed to be able to receive Jesus; they seemed to be transformed by his message.

But for those on the sidelines, those who perhaps started out with a healthy reverence for God but who had slipped into doing things in their own power, Jesus gave them a fear-factor-like wake-up call.  He told the rich young ruler to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor.  He told the righteous that lust in the heart/mind is the same as committing adultery and getting angry and calling your brother a fool is the same as committing murder.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what exactly these stories were meant to inspire?  

These were not feel-good messages!  Even the "Sermon on the Mount" was moderately frightening when you consider what it means to be blessed!


Jesus' message was consistent with that of the Old Testament (of course!): Y'all need to have a healthy respect for the holiness of God; it is from this place of reverence that you will begin to receive the true Gospel, the true Messiah, the true freedom.

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.  
Isaiah 33:6

He wasn't encouraging people to treat God as if God were not God.  He wasn't dressing God's love up as a fuzzy blanket we can snuggle into on a cold day and discard when we don't need it.  Frankly, God's love is scary. 

And we should be a little frightened.

I pray we ARE a little frightened!

We are meant to have a healthy understanding of our own limitations and frailty, our need for a savior - a power greater than ourselves - because from that place of powerlessness we understand respect, honor, reverence: the fear of the Lord. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of  wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10

I think there is a key reason we don't want to talk about the fear of the Lord and its significance in/as wisdom, repentance, and the Kingdom of God:  Like the religious people of Jesus' time, we Christians fear / revere something other than God. I think of the sex addicts who are desperately afraid of giving up sex, the romance addicts afraid of giving up hope, the pop-culture junkies afraid of giving up media, movies, and video games - even us control freaks afraid to give up our judgment and image-management.  We spurn the fear of God as if it is passe, a sign of ignorance or a reactionary morality.  But we fear being without our little fixes!  We can't go without our favorite programs, our entertainment, our little indulgences, our program for happiness - even when we don't like who we've become or the way our lives have turned out.

We don't want to talk about the fear of the Lord because we don't want to give up our addictions; we don't want to acknowledge our slavery.  So we deny of our pasts, weaknesses, failures, frailty; we deny our need for a power greater than ourselves and we resist anything that will confront us with the truth.

Then something really scary happens: God lets us have our way.

Then they will call tome but I will not answer; 
they will look for me but will not find me,
since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the [death which is the fruit of their own understanding].
Proverbs 1:28-31

Fear that!

We want to forget - forget how scary life is, how messy; forget how broken we are, how powerless; forget how risky faith is and how we cannot seem to control God.  And the fear of God won't let us do that, because it is from this very place of remembering, repenting, and reaching out that we begin to have a new understanding, one that empowers us to shun evil, one that leads us to light and life and salvation.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Step Two

We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Tradition teaches us that the working of Step Two involves three vital activities.

We Came

In order to have the hope of sanity, we actually have to start showing up in our lives.  Step One helps us to do that by starting the long process of reconnecting us to who we really are and who we've really been - to reality.  Grief (which is the inevitable byproduct of step one) helps us to do that by connecting our emotions to our bodies, our experiences, our thoughts, and our lives.  But Step Two challenges us to feel all our feelings, to live in our skin instead of whatever world we've made up in our own heads for whatever reason (whether that be out of fear, delusions of control, the drive for gratification, pride, escapism, etc.).

Step Two challenges us to bring whatever is going on with us to our relationships, to speak our truth into the world and allow ourselves to be seen, to be known, and then to receive the truth from others.  This process is fleshed out in Steps 4 - 10.  To do that, however, we have to get in touch with whatever is going on with us, and we have to be willing to see it and speak it for what it is - no hedging, no hiding, no generalizations or vague references, no covering up or softening the edges.  We need to give up our attempts to control what other people think of us and actually let them know us, accept us, reject us, love us, or leave us, as they see fit.  That is scary, but that is the path to sanity.

Ironically, we cannot accomplish even the simple task of 'showing up' on our own.  We actually need help, love, and support just to know ourselves, let alone to offer ourselves in this vulnerable way.  That is one of the reasons that the steps begin with the word "we."  We cannot do it alone.  We cannot recover alone.  We cannot serve God or establish God's kingdom alone.  We cannot know the truth alone.  We cannot be sane alone.

That is why, for most people, Step Two actually means showing up at a meeting, a support or small group, a counseling session, or church, in order to show up in their lives.  Most of us need to start there in order to face what comes next:

We Came To

That's right: Step Two means we actually have to "sober up."  This means taking our lives, our histories, our behaviors, our relationships, our patterns, and our futures seriously.  But it also means that we actually stop using our "drug of choice."

For some of us, our drug of choice is minimizing, pleasing, joking, or other forms of hiding, so "showing up" is the task of sobering up.  For others of us, however, we are also using something on top of our hiding.  In fact, often it is the fear and hiding that drove us to addict in the first place.  We may be using fantasy, media, video games, alcohol, food, over-the-counter or illicit drugs, sex, intellectualization, perfectionism ... well, here, let me just give you the list of 18 Addictive Agents as they appear in Serenity, A Twelve Step Companion, by Fowler & Hemfelt (1990):

1. Alcohol or drugs
2. Work, achievement, and success
3. Money addictions, such as overspending, gambling, hoarding
4. Control addictions, especially if they surface in personal, sexual, family, and business relationships
5. Food addictions
6. Sexual addictions
7. Approval dependency (the need to please people)
8. Rescuing patterns toward other people
9. Dependency on toxic relationships (relationships that are damaging and hurtful)
10. Physical illness (hypochondria)
11. Exercise and physical conditioning
12. Cosmetics, clothes, cosmetic surgery, trying to look good on the outside
13. Academic pursuits and excessive intellectualizing
14. Religiosity or religious legalism (preoccupation with the form and the rules and regulations of religion rather than benefiting from the real spiritual message)
15. General perfectionism
16. Cleaning and avoiding contamination and other obsessive-compulsive symptoms
17. Organizing, structuring (the need always to have everything in its place)
18. Materialism
Sobering up may seem darned near impossible at this point, and truthfully, this is where many of us derail on our 12 Step (and our Christian) journey.  But if you don't stop using, your brain cannot clear enough for you to "show up" in your life!  Further, if you are not actually engaged in the struggle of being sober then you are more likely to slip back into denial and right out of recovery - because you will think that "you can handle it," that you don't really need help, that this isn't really a problem, etc.  When you sober up and it hurts, well, that is when the recovery principles (and Christianity) actually start working for you.  

They give you a new way of being, a new way of coping that connects you to yourself, to God, to others, and to reality.  

This will suck for a while because you are not used to it.  For you, normal has actually been "high," disconnected, isolated, and/or numb/checked out, and you will desperately want to return to "normal."  However, as you live sober, you are creating a new normal, one that does not produce insanity in your life.  Trust the process.

This part of Step Two will probably be the hardest for sex addicts - but it is for them the most crucial.  The hope for a sexual addict begins when he or she discovers that sex is not actually a basic need. You will survive without it.  It may be uncomfortable, scary, and stressful at first, but your body was never designed to run on sex, but on intimacy and non-sexual affection.

We Came to Believe

This brings us back to where we left off in my own sharing about Step Two - and the wrestling we each must do with this need for a higher power and for hope.

This is where the story of Christ meets our story - and either it is meaningful to us in our personal lives, or Lent - well, Christianity! - is a waste of time, and the Gospel is no good news at all.  For me, I chose to hope, and in hoping I have begun to share both in Christ's death and in his resurrection!