Trust is work

My husband’s willingness to trust me with his color choices seems like a silly, small matter. But his struggle was real and I often think about how hard it was for him to admit this one true thing about himself - he mixes up black and blue. How hard should that be? It isn’t like he was copping to being a serial killer! If I think a bit longer, I realize that I too have trouble with small truths.

Is it any wonder that, if we struggle with realistically assessing ourselves in areas where the results really are no big deal, we will struggle in the arena of trusting God with our WILL and our LIFE? For decades I did not have much hope that I would ever understand God enough to trust him. My vision of who God is was impaired. One day I came across these verses:

So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.

~ James 1:16-18, The Message

I had a moment of receiving “light cascading down” as a series of new thoughts. (I did not realize at the time that this was my experience; it is only in hindsight that I understand that this is what happened to me.) Here is a list of what eventually became a new way of seeing for me. (Kind of like having my own spiritual form of color blindness taken from me.)

* I am off course; how much more off course can I get? I’m dying from my disease.

* What if I am off course in part because I have been wrong and blinded by my own faulty way of seeing and understanding the world?

* What if the book of James is right, and I am wrong?

* What do I have to lose?

* What if I choose to believe in this God who is not deceitful, not two-faced, not fickle?

* What if God really believes that we humans are the crown of all his creatures?

* What if God believes in me?

In the AA Big Book, and in meeting rooms, there are talks about having a moment of clarity. This was one of mine. In some ways it felt like I had been in a dark, airless, windowless room for a long, long time and someone had swept in, turned on a light, thrown back the curtains and opened the windows. Fresh air blew in and cleared away the stench of stagnation. I do not believe I could have “done this” on my own. I believe that God was doing for me what I absolutely could not do for myself - giving me, a blind beggar, sight. How about you? Is it time for a good Spring cleaning of old ways?

Flexibility

Another component of resilience is the capacity to be flexible.  This is also key for emotional adjustment and maturity. Rigidity is not good for us.  I understand this because I read a lot of true crime books and of course, binge watch Criminal Minds like it is a part time job.  The really psychopathic demons on those shows inevitably are compulsive neat freaks. I am not suggesting that excessively neat people are serial killers but extreme rigidity is problematic!  The capacity to be flexible in terms of how we think, what we do, and even our core beliefs create the strength within us to have more resilience than the guy who demands precision and a rigid routine as a lifestyle choice.

 

Don’t buy the serial killer idea?  Ok, I can be FLEXIBLE.

 

Did you know that research indicates that folks who have messy offices tend to be more creative and better problem solvers than someone whose desk is arranged with military precision?

 

The promises of AA and the program itself asks participants to dare to believe that their whole attitude and outlook on life will change.  They expect and validate the concept of service to others. They talk about giving away what you have in order to keep what you received (meaning the gift of sobriety) through sharing experiences, strength and hope. This is often in the form of “12 stepping” and it involves going to help fellow sufferers in their time of need.  This is difficult and usually inconvenient work. I have found that overdoses and rough landings on “bottoms” rarely occur during office hours. This requires massive amounts of flexibility but lest we forget, it holds the promise of a better life for those who practice this service work.

 

How is your flexibility?  Are you able to bend your preferences to a higher power?  Can you go with the flow? Or do others find you difficult?

Belonging leads to resilience

If you participate at NSC this first point is going to feel sooo boring, but it is further confirmation that we are onto something when we nag, cajole, and entice our tribe to show up for one another!

 

It turns out that relationships are a key factor in whether or not a person has the capacity for resilience.  Resilient people have relationships (in and outside of the family) that offer love, encouragement, reassurance, acceptance, validation and the occasional dollop of accountability.  Being connected to others helps us practice skills necessary for sturdiness in the face of suffering and provide soft places to land when we trip and fall.

 

This is absolutely an essential thing to add to a life plan for those seeking a better life.  Because this is true, I continue my faithful support of the mutual aid societies as a viable element of any treatment plan.

 

Why?  Glad you asked!!

 

First, notice the language of AA, etc.  It’s “WE” this and “WE” that. They even have a saying, “Keep coming back; it works if you work it!”  Which is catchy and makes for a nice little chant at the end of a meeting - but here’s the rest of the story.

 

The mutual aid societies never ask us to get well in order to belong.  The only requirement for joining is the DESIRE to get sober. This is a beautiful way for desperate people to find a sense of belonging and connection and even shared purpose (get sober).  It turns out all of these elements help build...what? Yes! Resilience! Go team!

 

Are you taking the 12 steps for granted?  Do you long for something newer, shinier, perkier?  Maybe rethink that position!

New things can be "good" without being "better"

People like shiny new things.  I know that I do! I get tired of sofas, slacks and even cars.  I enjoy throwing out the old in anticipation of something new. I wonder if folks are tempted to feel this way about the 12 steps.  12 step meetings show up in Disney movies for goodness sake! Doesn’t that say something about our cultural awareness of AA and the other mutual aid groups?

 

Sometimes I worry that we have gotten so accustomed to the concept of the 12 steps that we perhaps have not fully evaluated - or taken advantage of - or appreciated - the gift of actually working them.  And they are in every sense of the word meant to be worked!

 

I had a friend tell me one time that he just got tired of being associated with “the program.”  He lamented, “How many times do I need to go over these damn steps?” I totally understand his perspective.  And to be fair, I know folks who got sober at AA, eventually stopped attending AA and as far as I know are still sober.  (However research indicates that going to AA for 14 years, averaging 3 meetings a week is a best practice.)

 

The other factor is access and availability.  These mutual aid societies are so accessible, have free access and offer tons of meetings per week.  Is it easy to take them for granted? I dunno. Maybe.

 

New research related to the association of trauma and the addictive process is challenging all of us to take a good hard look at how we can offer resilience training to those who suffer from substance use disorder.  And I’ve heard people say - “If it’s all about the trauma, what good is AA?” To that I would suggest we actually investigate that excellent question rather than assume that the answer is “Nothing!” Let me issue my own personal spoiler alert and say this - I think that to the extent that mutual aid societies have been a helpful tool in recovery, in part it is because, hidden within the archaic language and repetitive structure, we discover some of the key elements that support and build resilience (antidote to trauma) in those who work the steps!

 

My thought is that these “new things” (alternative approaches to recovery) are super important AND we should take care and avoid taking a dismissive tone as it relates to AA and other groups.  I am convinced that AA, NA and the rest have some old and hard earned wisdom about recovery that fits nicely with our new-fangled ideas about trauma and resilience. If you are willing, I’d like to explore these concepts for a few days AND challenge us to consider how we might take these findings and use them to guide us in our own recovery journey.  With or without the 12 steps, building resilience is a recovery essential!

 

How are you doing in the area of trauma, healing and resiliency?

The Good Ole Days

Getting old has its advantages if you look hard enough. One of those advantages is the beautiful gift of experience.  Back in the old days when dinosaurs roamed the earth – you know, the 90’s….our local community had only a few options for treating substance use disorder.  

 

We suggested that everyone access and use the appropriate mutual aid society like AA, NA, etc. as their recovery resource.  As in all things there were exceptions. Some people were able to afford to kick start their recovery by going into an in-house treatment program.  There were outpatient programs as well. Whatever route a person chose, it ALWAYS led to AA or NA or the like. (Hence the oft heard phrase for folks coming out of treatment, “90 in 90”.)

 

Today we recognize that there are many pathways to recovery and I am all for this approach!  We are not making the progress we need in the area of treatment for substance use disorder - of course we need to keep trying new things!

 

But I have a deep and abiding respect for the 12 steps and those who work them. I have a hunch that, as time passes, research in the field of addiction and recovery will find ways to articulate why mutual aid societies have worked for many people trying to get sober and recover their lives.

 

For the next few days I’m going to talk about my opinions on the subject.  But first, I have to issue a strong warning and a few advisories!

 

Stay tuned!

(Some) Elements of Acceptance

In these past few days we’ve discussed a few strategies that help us avoiding living as contemptuous people.  One is seeking out both a skilled therapist and a trusted spiritual advisor or mentor or whatever word you want to use.  This helps us deal with the source(s) of our contempt. The second thing we did was attempt to reframe how we perceive other people’s lives.  Contempt can be the product of comparing what we have to what other people have.  The reality is, we have no clue what other people have or do not have in their lives.  And so, comparisons are foolish, though we can’t help but do it, can we? It’s only natural, even though we know it isn’t particularly good for us.  

 

 

The third “strategy” (if you can call it that) I want to mention is acceptance.  What do I mean by acceptance? I personally think that acceptance is a rather expansive, multifaceted topic and I plan to take a few days to address just a few of the many ingredients that lead to acceptance.  I’m surely going to leave some things out. I’m going to give you my list in no particular order as I have no idea how to rate the importance of each of these aspects of acceptance. I’ll unpack these over the coming days so, if the sentences are not immediately clear, they soon will be (I think).  

 

 

Without further ado, here are my elements of acceptance:

 

 

  1. The willingness to live within the boundaries of life’s natural constraints

  2. The willingness to tolerate tragedy (in both a global and personal sense) without trying to pinpoint its source

  3. The willingness to resist idealizing alternative ways in which life “might” have gone

  4. The willingness to trust that, on the aggregate, God steers creation in a hopeful direction

Love Confusion

When I was a baby believer in a power greater than myself I asked my mentor, “I just do not understand why you keep talking about love.  I think it is more important that I learn more about God.”

 

 

Feel free to roll your eyes.

 

As a baby believer, I had a LOT to learn.  I was confused about the things I needed to know.  I was growing up in an age where emphasis was placed on the study of the scriptures - nothing wrong with that!!  I was given the impression that I would do well to learn Greek, Hebrew, and how to pull apart God’s “inerrant” word phrase by phrase. There is value in this type of study.  But as a newbie, I thought the highest priority was what I KNEW (and I didn’t know much) not how I LIVED. (After all, Jesus died for my sins so far better for me to spend my time learning about God than spending time in rigorous self-examination.) My mentors had no idea that this is how I was misinterpreting their teaching!!!

 

But they had been believers for a long time.  I am not sure they understood the heart of a young woman who easily felt guilty and ashamed kneeling before a BIG GOD.  This was complicated by a complete lack of understanding on my part about my responsibility for dealing with the wreckage of my past.  I was too new at this spirituality stuff to NOT make confusing leaps of logic. The Jesus story through my eyes sounded like (and to be fair we sang a hymn every now and again that said this) Jesus “paid it all”.  This left me convinced that there was nothing left for me to “do”.

 

This is a far different perspective than the 12-steps, a process where we learn how to take responsibility for our side of the street; make amends; serve others.  Lest we forget, the first three steps set the stage for this later work. We have stuff we have to acknowledge, we are encouraged to have hope in our higher power, we are told that if we surrender, God does the heavy lifting in the healing department AND then, we begin to do our work.

 

It took decades for me to begin to see the vision of God’s kingdom come together in a more coherent fashion.  Yes it is important to know this God, to understand him. Yes it is important to know how to take responsibility for ourselves.  Yes we have wounds from our past, many of which are not our fault. Yes we have responsibility for participating in the healing work - which is often long, winding and more process-driven than miracle-receiving.  And yes, yes, 1,000 times yes - it ALL has to do with this love that God has and gives to us. It all matters. Clearly, I was confused. And of all the confusing things I was learning, how to love was the most confusing of all.  To be frank, I believe that some of the things I was taught now feel more like codependency run amok than what the bible actually teaches about love of God, self and others. But let’s be honest - some of the verses in the bible can easily be applied in a confusing manner no matter our best intentions.  I want to unpack love for a few days!

 

To be continued…

 

Confession

16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  
James 5:16, NRSV

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

Confession is a term that points us in the direction of a number of spiritual practices.  We can’t confess until we’ve done rigorously honest self-reflection, for instance.  We can’t confess without surrounding ourselves with community who are willing to hold us accountable to our certain way of seeing, who we, for our part, trust to do so.  

The 12 steps provide us the mechanics required to carry this process out (in step 5 and its surrounding steps).  We take a moral inventory, we share it with God and a trusted accountability partner.  

The Bible casts a more obviously spiritual vision for confession (though, of course, the 12 steps are profoundly spiritual), a vision which includes healing, forgiveness, acceptance, redemption, restoration, and community up-building.  That's a powerful list.  We can't over-emphasize the importance of confession.  

A prayer for your recovery journey

Do you have a favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer?  If not, Google it and find one.  Maybe use it today to guide your prayer time!  

 

 

Here’s one version I like:

 

Our Father in heaven,

Reveal who you are.

Set the world right;

Do what’s best—

   as above, so below.

Keep us alive with three square meals.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

You’re in charge!

You can do anything you want!

You’re ablaze in beauty!

   

Yes. Yes. Yes.  This is from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation.  Sometimes I use this instead of my NIV or CEB translations that I have used for years.  It just helps to shake things up sometimes!

 

Reaching out for help

I know folks who rotate in and out of recovery.  They are often the more opinionated among us with regards to what it means to work a decent program.  Here’s what I would suggest as an alternative perspective.

 

 

If you’ve tried the same things, done it the same way, and have failed to get any different results - maybe change something.

 

This may require some stretch.

 

When my mom died I was shaken and distraught.  I was depressed.  I was sick for months - literally, not just figuratively.  After several months I began to regain some health and I used that energy to reach out.

 

I have developed a cadre of resources over the years to support my recovery but my toolbox felt rusty and unsatisfying so I chose instead to pick up a new tool.  I added to my resources by getting a personal trainer and she helped reshape my philosophy of both exercise and nutrition.

 

It turns out that shaking things up can be good for us.  

 

What old habits do you keep returning to in the hopes that you will get new and different results?  What other healthy, new methods might you explore?

 

One Day at a Time

One famous phrase that sprung out of AA is “one day at at time”; this is incredibly hard advice to accept.  When my friend got outed for her adulterous ways, she wanted to hurry up and get on with it.  

 

 

She grew impatient with her husband’s “unwillingness to forgive and forget since he’s a Christian” - her words exactly.  I was more amazed that he stayed quiet and didn’t retort, “Well, I’m a little surprised that you, being a Christian and all, forgot to not cheat on me with every Tom, Dick and Harry within the city and four surrounding counties.”  

 

Transformation is no small thing and it is more like a marathon than a sprint.  This is no excuse for complacency, but there needs to be room for rest (as opposed to relapse) as we work.  

 

My friend had the nerve to suggest that maybe I wasn’t trusting her enough to suggest more “assignments” so that she could move forward in her recovery a rate that was more fitting to her drive to succeed.  But I heard all this as true signs that her journey back to wellness had barely begun.

 

Rest.  Figure out how to do so.  It’s important.

 

Here are a few suggestions:  workout but not like a maniac, take walks without worrying about if you get in 10,000 steps, draw, color in a coloring book, read fiction, clean out your garage, mow your lawn, keep a puzzle going, if it’s winter build a fire in the fireplace and enjoy it, use good mugs for your coffee,  go to the movies….what else?  See - this recovery work isn’t all work and no play!!

 

Emotional Sobriety

There is a temptation, I suspect, in any work of self-reflection, to get to a moment when we believe we must overcome our inclination and push forward.  I think of this as courage, and certainly it is a necessary tool for transformation.

 

 

But we can mess this up terribly when we push aside our feelings simply because we are afraid they will lead us astray.  Our feelings count.  They aren’t the ONLY thing we count, but to repress them, suppress them or try to deny them is futile work and we can end up sick as a result.

 

Where do feelings come into play in our work?  We start with recognizing and owning them.  This allows us to start the journey of handling our feelings in ways that are healthy and appropriate.  

 

In my family of origin, anxious people expressed anxiety and fear as anger.  This was the norm.  I was a grown up with children of my own before I was able to recognize that what I had called rage and anger and frustration all my life were thin veils for a ton of anxiety and fear.  

 

Much of our work, if we want to grow and change, will require us to come to grips with our own unawareness of our true feelings, learn how to develop healthy and appropriate emotions, and deal responsibly with those that are destructive in ourselves or others.

 

I hear people in meetings talk about emotional sobriety.  This is no small thing.  

 

How have your own emotions hindered your relationships?  Have others ever given you feedback about yourself that startled you as it relates to your emotional expressiveness?

 

Dealing with our emotions may require a supportive team.  Perhaps finding one will be part of many of our “to do” lists as well….

 

Living independently of God

I’m not a big fan of the word “sin” - maybe it is my weak spiritual stomach or perhaps it is because I have seen so many instances when someone is willing to use the word as a weapon but utterly incapable of applying it personally.  Somewhere along the line I was encouraged to think of sin as “living independently of God” and this simple way of seeing has helped me stomach the “s” word.  One of the things I love about this definition is that it frees us from unhealthy arguments over things Christian people have argued about - quite unattractively - for centuries.  Pair that with the work of the 12 steps, which is all about focusing on our side of the street and “doing” things in response to what we find clogging up our gutters and we have a combination that I think really helps us make progress in terms of meaningful change.  

 

 

This doesn’t make sin irrelevant.  This too is reflective in mutual aid societies like AA, where we learn that our “ism” may be a disease but that doesn’t let us off the hook.  Disease is not an excuse, merely part of the story.

 

A part of any transformational story requires us to think about sin.  I thought I’d list some words that pop up in conversations about living independently of God - infidelity in all its forms, arrogance, pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, laziness, selfishness, disrespect towards self and others, hate, stealing, cheating, and perhaps overarching all of this suffering - failure to live, truly live, our one precious, wild life (paraphrasing Mary Oliver).  

 

I go to all sorts of lengths to NOT deal with my ways of living independently of God in thought, word and deed.  It shows up in defensiveness, justifications, blaming others, and more.  One way I avoid seeing “sin” is by dodging my own emotions.  So if you’re digging around in the foundation of your soul, maybe you could set aside time to consider how you do - or do not - handle your own emotions.  I tend to set mine aside, but I have friends who go the opposite direction with almost identical results.  They marinate in their emotions, and some tell me that it has been helpful to them to realize that just because they feel something intensely, it doesn’t mean that the intense feeling is the only data point in choosing what comes next.  Things to look for?  Self-pity, anger, negativity, resentment, depression, controlling behaviors.  

 

Also, look for fear.  In our community we often refer to that as operating by the law of scarcity.  What we mean by that is living independently of the core beliefs that include:  God wants to bless us, there is enough to go around.  In AA they say “self-centered fear of not getting what we want or of losing what we have.”  

 

All these possibilities are tricky to recognize in ourselves, which is why we suggest that transformation is a journey not a destination.  This work will be something we commit to even as we eventually realize that how we do the work my shift and morph over time.  What might be part of your transformational work?  Who or what do you need to help you make progress?

 

It gets worse before it gets better

When I was a young girl visiting my grandmother, my friends took me to the local pool.  While there I managed to step on a big shard to glass.  Once I got back to my grandmother’s, she was unwilling to look at it seeing as how she had a weak stomach.  I knew that glass needed to come out, but being her granddaughter, I too suffer from that same weak stomach.  No way was I able to pull it out.  So I hobbled next door to my friend with tweezers in hand and her mom went to work on my foot.

 

 

“Teresa, this is going to hurt worse before I can make it better,”  Dot explained.  I nodded.  What else could I do?  I was a girl out of options.  So she dug it out, cleaned the wound, bandaged me up and I eventually headed back to my grandmother’s weak-kneed but grateful.

 

I need to say something terribly difficult so let’s all take a deep breath for a moment.  Here’s the hard truth:  we are a people who have not bothered to acquire the skill sets necessary to pull shards of glass out of bleeding people AND we have lost the stomach for the work in the process.

 

This is a terrible thing.  Because it leaves us with few good options when those days arrive when it is essential for someone to help us see the deeply wounded parts of us that need to be dug out and disinfected to avoid infection.

 

In the AA literature “The Twelve and Twelve” someone with a stomach for telling hard truths wrote “that most of the alcoholics under investigation were still childish, emotionally sensitive, and grandiose.”  Ouch.  And let me hasten to add that this malady is certainly NOT limited to folks with a substance use disorder.  This is true for all of us some of the time.

 

How do you think your own childishness, emotional sensitivity and grandiose thinking has hindered your own ability to live the life of your dreams?

 

It begins with a mess

A couple days ago I mentioned a friend who had trouble staying faithful to her husband; she just COULDN’T stop the cheating, in spite of a variety of factors that should have at a minimum scared her straight.  On a more profound level, it seemed to both of us that this high-risk behavior wasn’t “her”.  I’m not sure who the “her” is that serial infidelity would be a fit for, but this seemed like a strange secret compulsion for a woman committed to faithful living.  It didn’t fit her own professed core values and that made the situation a puzzler.  To no one’s surprise but her own, she eventually got caught and as her life collapsed around her she began to have a different perspective on her relationship with God.  Without a place to run or hide, exposed with her life laid bare for all to see, she was trying to make sense of the situation.  However, her instincts about how to go about repairing the damage of her life were not great.  This is true for many of us.  Here is one (limited) way to think about spiritual work:

 

1.      The walk begins.  The first step is to give attention and energy to figuring out what it means to be faithful.  It’s in this stage where we might explore the concept of sin.  For example, my friend having grown up in the 70’s where sexual promiscuity was not only a thing but a cool lifestyle choice, exploring how her sexuality might be informed by her faith would make a lot of sense.  Just as true, we might explore how our faith informs our driving habits as well – just to be clear – it’s a whole life re-evaluation.  We are looking for where our behavior is “off” and out-of-sync. (What steps correlate to this if you are a 12-stepper?)

2.     The journey continues.  This is when we continue to deepen our knowledge and love of God as we understand him.  At this stage our belief has moved us beyond the tutorial into the wide open spaciousness of curiosity and open-heartedness with regular check-ups regarding our behavior – just to make sure we aren’t kidding ourselves. (Steps call this____?)

3.     The journey bears fruit.  Finally, as we do the appropriate actions associated with the first two stages of faithful exploration, it becomes a by-product of the work that we are spiritually awakened and we desire to love and serve others.  In theory.  (This step is:      )

 

As often happens, my friend saw little need for reviewing the first two steps and wanted to jump on the bandwagon of stage three.  She was eager to use her experience to help others who were also struggling with the compulsions she herself was oh so familiar with.  The problem, at least as I saw it, was that she was putting the cart before the horse.  At this point, all she had to share was her “story” with a little s.  Now that the cat was out of the bag, she spent her days endlessly repeating the sordid details of her affairs.  This wasn’t carrying the message of hope so much as it was endlessly taking people around to the back of her metaphorical home and showing them the dirty laundry she hung up on the line without bothering to wash the clothes first.  Making a mess is so very normal, we all do it in various ways, but if we want to change we have to be willing to not move too quickly away from the stench.  We have work to do before things start smelling sweeter.

 

People Change

I have a friend who could not stop cheating on her husband.  She often asked me how God could do this to her.  I’ve stopped trying to respond to the question having come to understand that it is both rhetorical and a way to sidestep her own personal responsibility in the mess that is her life.  One day we went to lunch and over dessert she suggested that people don’t change.  I was forced to make a reply.  I couldn’t just let that one stand.

 

One benefit of being part of a community is the stories I hear.  For years and years, meeting most every single week usually multiple times with said community in various forms gives all of us a fairly honest perspective on our daily lives.  These stories are rich and nuanced and lived out often over decades, not days.  When someone speaks of a changed life it is hard to be a BS’er because if that person is part of our tribe, we see their life unfold in our midst.  Everyone knows I don’t have it all together and I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who are honest enough to admit the same of themselves. But that is not equivalent to saying people don’t change.  People do change.  Sometimes in huge ways, other times in small, uneven next right steps.  There are people who were lost and gone astray from their own core values and who found their way back to themselves and a purposeful, meaningful life.  I felt I needed to share that information with my friend or else I might be complicit in leaving her feeling that she had to accept a duplicitous and self-shaming lifestyle.  I shared a couple of examples from the lives of people in our community that indicated that change is possible; she ate her dessert, sighed and indicated to me that I just didn’t understand.  And she’s right.  I don’t know why or how or who might experience freedom from their compulsions and confusing choices that lead to heartache.  But my confusion doesn’t keep it from happening.

 

Quoting Sister Monahan again, she says  “…sober AA members who have been able to stop drinking and to ‘stay stopped,’ as we say, often speak of themselves as ‘chosen,’ of having received sobriety as a gift.  I believe that I have indeed received a gift, but my conviction that God loves everyone and desires good for everyone keeps me from thinking of myself as chosen.  I simply do not know why I am among those who are fortunate enough to be in recovery.”  According to Brene Brown, there are actually skill sets that can help us grow, change, even transform.  She likes to call it wholehearted living.  

 

 

Tomorrow, I’ll unpack her concept, but for today I invite you to consider this:  do you think you are living wholeheartedly or are you just dialing it in?  Are you stuck in a giant “sigh” of defeat?  Change requires that we start by acknowledging the truth about ourselves.  Today, consider if you are satisfied with your life. Why?  Why not?   What’s unmanageable? What would change if you realized that things could get better?

 

Stuck in a rut

Most of us want to have a life that has less conflict and more congeniality.  And yet, we often find ourselves stuck in ruts of existence in spite of our desires to live a more fulfilling life.  Day three of a new year, a typical time for us to set resolutions for change or feel the malaise of defeat – giving up on even daring to expect change after years of collapsed good intentions and no meaningful transformation.  This is our norm.

 

If you are tired of being sick and tired and want to take a step toward a more fulfilling life, listen in to Sister Monahan’s experience in AA – notice what changed for her that allowed her to tackle her demons and recover her life:

 

I learned that the absence of cross-talk [no advice giving, critiquing or

commenting on other people’s sharing] both protected me from overt criticism and

gave me no cause for wasting time in an imagined rebuttal to what others said.  So the challenge put to me by their honest disclosure, not only about their drinking and how the program worked for them, but about themselves, warts and all, was an interior one.  My only task was to figure out what I really felt and thought and then to say it as clearly as I could.  No small task that, and more helpful to me than any amount of criticism. And I learned that meetings calmed me, brought me peace….As best I can figure out now, these beneficent results come from listening.

 

Here are some suggestions that I take away from her experience:

1.     95% of the time in a meeting one is listening.

2.     Silence and attentiveness are healing.

3.     Finding a community that can hold suffering is like a giant hug for the soul.

4.     Criticism rarely helps heal.

 

What great intentions have you promised you will accomplish this new year?  Are you already discouraged by the choices you’ve made these first few days?  Perhaps you didn’t start this devotional blog at the beginning of a new year even though I’m writing it along that timeline.  Can you still relate?  What precipitates fresh starts for you?  If not a new year, what?  Do you find yourself stuck in spite of your goals?  What suggestions from above might be applicable to you?  How will you take action in light of these considerations?

 

Spiritual Dis-ease

“I knew there was something about you that I liked.”

 

This sentence saved Sister Molly Monahan from an overwhelming shame attack early in her recovery from alcohol addiction.  Sister Monahan, fresh out of rehab, was serving as a consultant and visiting a college campus in Virginia.  One evening she slipped away from her duties to attend an AA meeting and discovered to her utter dismay that a law professor she had met earlier in the day was also in attendance.  His warm acceptance eased her shame.

 

As I read her account in her lovely book “Seeds of Grace, A Nun’s Reflections on the Spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous”, I got the sense that it didn’t immediately occur to her that both she and her new professional acquaintance were attending a meeting for the same reason:  to stay sober.  Years later she pens these words about her experiences in AA:

 

And there it is, the deeper truth – that we need to help others in order to be

helped ourselves, and not just with the disease of alcoholism.  I can only

think that this reciprocity must be a God-given part of our nature, our true

nature, but obscured for us by the illusion of isolation and of independence and by a misguided selfishness. (Meetings: “My Name is Molly and I’m an Alcoholic”, Seeds of Grace)

 

Sister Monahan found in AA what so many others have – belonging and purpose.  Her personal accounts of isolation in the midst of her affliction leave both herself and others wondering – how is it that a nun felt so spiritually and relationally disconnected?  In her first essay, quoted in part above I believe she gets to the heart of the matter when she talks about what she heard in AA.

 

…I heard the truth of my own feelings, faults, and sneaky motivations played

back for me with uncommon honesty.  And I began to know that I was not

alone, and that I was not unique.  That is what the suggestion “Identify,

don’t compare,” often given at the beginning of meetings, means.

 

She hits on several key points that I want to develop in the coming days of devotional readings:

1.     She heard truth.

2.     She found a place to belong with full authenticity.

3.     She discovered she was neither terminally unique or alone.

Doing what is yours to do

Most people show up on the doorstep of NSC with serious issues.  I am spoiled as a pastor in the midst of a community that usually gets the real deal and doesn’t major in the minor.  There are exceptions, of course.  I can go off the rails at any moment.  J

 

There are things that I’ve learned from my peeps that have helped me in my growing up process. I’m reviewing the ones that have been most helpful to me as this year draws to a close.

 

Concern yourself with what is yours to do.

 

I have pastor friends who talk a lot about the petty infighting among their congregants.  If this happens at our place, I am fortunate to be left out of the mix.  Our respect for the 12-steps as an action plan give us some basic principles that most of us are working to execute. 

 

A decent action plan can serve as a safety net for getting too far off the path.  For example, someone was talking about how disappointed they were in response to some friend group shenanigans.  They were pretty whipped up about the experience and reported feeling abandoned.

 

They were given a sympathetic, listening ear and then asked two questions:

1.     Is it true that you were abandoned? 

2.    What part did you play in the debacle?

 

The first question is one we have practiced appreciating.  Many folks in our community hear the first question and have a skill set attached to how to respond.  It isn’t received as uncaring or condescending but as a wake-up call.  We’ve figured out about triggers and speculation and even this thing called “chaining” and these concepts have helped us appreciate a good wake-up call without taking offense.  I’m pretty sure this question is unhelpful in situations that don’t have the accompanying training for how to process it.

 

Second question is like breathing for us.  When you read the 12-steps it is obvious that these steps teach us how to work on our side of the street and not get distracted by the view from someone else’s window of understanding.  Again, I don’t think whipping out the steps and going it alone is healthy much less helpful.  But as a community, our commitment to the process, however messy, is helpful.

 

I promise you – concerning ourselves with what is ours to do is the way to go.