Building trust is a long process

We have a mechanic whom we trust. If he says our car needs a major repair we thank him for finding the problem. We do not get second or third opinions - although I do not think he would be particularly offended if we did seek outside input. We do not waffle about whether or not to take his advice. We do not curse our misfortune at his hands or blame him for finding a problem. Why? Because we trust him.

Why do we trust him? Because we have built a solid relationship over the years that has made trust possible. He has never let us down, although there was that one time he forgot to tighten a new tire fully and that resulted in an interesting ride back to the shop. Did we stop going to him because he made a mistake? No. He immediately acknowledged his error and made amends. Our long history gave us context to chalk it up to a fluke and we did not allow it to overly influence our capacity to trust him.

Trust is built over the long haul. This is true in all relationships, including our faith in God. But today

does not have to bear the weight of total trust building. Today is a step not the entire journey. But it does require taking a step. We have to keep a steady pace, we need to keep actively engaging in our faith journey. We have to allow for confusions and even doubts. We have to “turn” and keep “turning”, one day at a time (as the Third Step points out so clearly when it asks us to turn our live and will over to the care of God).

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

~Ephesians 4:15-16, The Message

Are you actively pursuing spiritual maturity? Is there anything you need to change in order to continue your faith journey?

Sore (but still moving)

The next stage of change is action.  It’s the step we are tempted to jump to when we are feeling all inspired and sincere.  However, our adrenalin for change has a short attention span!  Pre-contemplation, contemplation, and determination are necessary intermediary steps.

 

It’s in those steps where we can settle down and figure out what action best fits our desire for change.  I did not start going to fit camp in order to improve my swimming skills.  We don’t swim in fit camp.  I don’t go to fit camp to become more zen-like, whatever that means.  I go to fit camp to gain strength, stamina and flexibility.  I chose fit camp after six months of illness left me weak and stiff.  I contemplated, researched, and determined before I showed up that first Wednesday morning to get whipped into shape.

 

Action is often the stage that we get most excited about until we actually have to practice it.  Frankly, I like the idea of being strong more than I like practicing my sumo deadlifts.  But this is what change involves - doing things that don’t come natural.  If they did, they probably wouldn’t be something we need to practice or gather a support system to encourage us.

 

I’ve learned from my instructor that meaningful change is more marathon than sprint.  She isn’t happy if I come in complaining of being so sore I can hardly move.  She prefers that we progress incrementally so that we don’t get sidetracked by injury or disheartened by discomfort.  I appreciate the way she thinks.

 

I’ve noticed that people who have managed to make long term meaningful changes in their lives often practice slow, steady, consistent steps toward their goal.  The folks that burst onto the scene like shining stars promising the moon to others often fail to launch.  Today, what is one small sustainable change step you can take? 

What are you in the process of becoming?

In closing out the month, I'll ask the question again:  What are you preparing for?  What process are you engaging?  

We are all preparing for something all the time. The question is what are we preparing for?  Do we know what we are preparing for? When we don’t know we’re likely preparing for some outcome other than the one that we truly desire.  This is because desirable ends require attentive, dedicated, or conscious preparation (as opposed to unconscious preparation). 

If we overlook the profound spiritual power of process in our lives then we invite an unmanageable load of disappointment to fill our void.  This is because overlooking process means we are overlooking the only opportunity (or opportunities) we have to introduce meaning back into our lives once we've been crippled by circumstances outside of our control.  

Being process-oriented people means asking the question, Am I doing everything I can?  

If the answer is yes, then we begin a conversation on radical acceptance.  

If the answer is no, then consider introducing a more intentional process to your life.  Only then will we know what the possibilities are. 

Faith as Process

We become faithful people when we choose to enter in to God's process of shaping us into faithful people.  

When we say it this way, we're acknowledging that we're not in control of the outcome that God has in mind for us (individually or collectively).  We enter into the process of doing what we can to create space in our lives (and the community's life) for God to move in whatever ways in which he chooses to work.  

We may never know the ways in which God chooses to work.  All the more reason to dedicate ourselves to be in process and live in radical acceptance.  We are only able to control the process we dedicate ourselves to, never the end results.  That process creates space for God's movement.  And so the process is our goal.  It's all we can do.

The rest we leave to God.  And we learn to accept whatever that is.    God may have specific goals and ends in mind for us.  

That's his prerogative.  He's God.

A Faithful Process

Faithful living, in fact, is not particularly results oriented.  It has always been about the process of becoming.   God gradually transforms us more and more in his likeness as we dedicate ourselves to the spiritual disciplines that facilitate this process (acts of mercy and forgiveness, prayer, communion, worship, etc.).  There is not a one-to-one relationship here.  15 minutes of prayer does not make us 15% more holy.  I'm just saying that grounding ourselves in spiritual disciplines (or grounding ourselves in the process of becoming people who do spiritual disciplines) opens up the possibility of God's action in ways that might not otherwise exist.  

We might say, then, that being faithful people is, fundamentally, the choice to dedicate ourselves to the process of becoming faithful people.  I understand that is cyclical language- and I think it works.  We become faithful people when we choose to enter in to God's process of shaping us into faithful people.  

More on this tomorrow.

Expanding our Focus: Part II

For Part I: Click Here.  It was posted on January 24.

I know many in our community are past the initial wave of recovery.  Many of us have seen our loved ones become sober and carry on in the journey of recovering their lives.  Many of us who have substance use issues have found sustained sobriety.  Many of us have never had a loved one deal with a substance use issue nor have dealt with it ourselves.  

What if my issue is not substance-related?  How does this process talk apply?

We are all in constant need of spiritual principles that expand our view of the world beyond ourselves in order to live out God's call to be a loving and forgiving people whose life (as a community) points to God's character, actions, and values.  Recovery grounds us in the kinds of spiritual disciplines that connect us with this calling.  In fact, every week I'm coming across more and more articles calling upon Christians to reexamine the 12 steps and to take them seriously as a guide for faithful living.  

We all need a guide for faithful living.  Some cheeky person will undoubtedly email me and say, "We have one, the Bible."  Yes, true, but let's also be honest- it's quite confusing and complicated.  It helps to have some of the key ideas distilled so that we can more attentively focus on them.  The 12 steps, which serve as the basis for many recovery principles, do exactly this.  

They continue to offer guidance and help push us in the direction of "meaning" long after we've left "crisis mode."  

Process as Meaning-Making

From yesterday:  

Discovering meaning in (or for) our lives pushes back chaos, crisis, and the all-encompassing sense of unmanageability.

Meaning comes from things like:

* Connection to God
* Community
* Self-awareness
* Rituals or habits (from spiritual disciplines to exercise, we benefit from regularity)
* Work 

In each of these areas, we are all always works in process.  Yet, at the same time, if our process is not a dedicated one then we are unlikely to receive meaning from any item on this list.  

Dedicating ourselves to each of these processes is, in a way, the work of faith and recovery.  Granted, recovery has specific things in mind for each area.  The act of learning to own and dedicate ourselves to basic recovery principles provides us with the alternative vision for life that we need to step out of the insanity of managing things that we cannot control.  

When we step out of the insanity, and dedicate ourselves to this process, we open up the possibility of finding meaning where, previously, there was only chaos.  

The Lives of Others

From yesterday:  

We simply cannot live through someone else and so this version of life will never provide the meaning we crave.  We need an alternative.  We need something else to dedicate ourselves to that adds meaning back into our lives in the midst of all of the chaos.  

That meaning, I think, comes from a conscious, intentional dedication to process.

Discovering meaning in (or for) our lives pushes back chaos, crisis, and the all-encompassing sense of unmanageability.  "Meaning," as a concept, is not a thing we find when we know the right place to look.  It is the sum of various seemingly disparate life parts that we cobble together.  I am obviously not an expert at this and so I'm not prepared to unpack the exact ways in which someone finds meaning in life, but I will point to a few of these "life parts" that I know help.  

* Connection to God
* Community
* Self-awareness
* Rituals or habits (from spiritual disciplines to exercise, we benefit from regularity)
* Work 

Process falls under nearly any of these categories because, as I wrote earlier, we're all in process of becoming a person who can: connect with his or her creator, participate in community, examine self, maintain habits, and dedicate ourselves to whatever our work is.  

More tomorrow.

Is It worth It? Part II

For Part I Click Here.  It was posted on January 22.

You may commit yourself to your own recovery journey and still not see your loved one enter long-term recovery.  You may not receive that promotion.  You may not save your marriage.  

Does this mean it isn't worth it? 

It depends on whether or not we can see the value in dedicating ourselves to a process.  If we can detach (slightly) from our immediate circumstances and the anxiety of trying to fix a loved one (or whatever the case may be), we may recognize we have our own issues that need addressing.  When we over function for someone else, we tend to under function for ourselves.  In this way, we may see the value in entering recovery to reclaim what we have learned to overlook.  If we look at it that way, we may convince ourselves there is some other outcome worth pursuing.  It's a mental trick (a good one).

The larger question, though, is one of meaning.  Attempting to live someone else's life for them is always going to rob us of our sense of meaning and purpose because we will fail.  We simply cannot live through someone else and so this version of life will never provide the meaning we crave.  We need an alternative.  We need something else to dedicate ourselves to that adds meaning back into our lives in the midst of all of the chaos.  

That meaning, I think, comes from a conscious, intentional dedication to process.

Expanding our Focus: Part I

Every day (I think?) I have moments of anger, and moments of sadness.  Every day I'm confronted with various choices and possibilities.  Every day I encounter conflict of some kind.  Every day I encounter something that stirs up irritation and impatience.  

Each of these things has the capacity to throw me off kilter, out of balance, and away from my calling to live as a reflection of God.  I'm not blame-shifting here, I'm responsible for being thrown off kilter,  but there are also things that happen outside of my control that contribute to that possibility.  

I suspect the same is true for you.  

At home, there are trials and frustrations.  There is trauma.  There is grief.  There is resentment.  At work, we have employees that undermine our authority, or coworkers who don't respect us, or who try to make us look bad so that they can get ahead.  In our larger community, there are disappointments and petty arguments and factions.  Look, we just aren't always the best version of ourselves and that creates problems.  

We do not need to be in chaos or crisis in order to dedicate ourselves to the ongoing process of recovery.  If we're not dedicated to this process, then we may be dedicated to the process of complacency and backsliding.  And if we're dedicated to complacency then our home lives, work lives, community lives, and whatever other lives we may have are unlikely to get any better for us.  

We'll be living out of our most basic instincts.  And those rarely transform us into the best possible version of ourselves.  

So, as you read the remaining days, ask yourself what process you are currently dedicated to.  Be willing to question whether or not it is effective.  Be willing to consider that a greater level of intentionality may open up the possibilities you need to break the cycle you are currently in.  

On the other hand, if you're happy (and you know it), then clap your hands!  :-)

Results are not Guaranteed

When it comes to recovery, no result is guaranteed.  We can only suggest a path with the understanding that this path has the capacity to create opportunities.  It does not (and cannot) guarantee a certain solution.

We talk about dedicating ourselves to process because we cannot dedicate ourselves to results.  Results are out of our control, though some results may not be possible without a dedicated process.  In other words, a dedicated process may create the possibility of a specific, desired result without guaranteeing it.  

To be far simpler, we might say that there are good strategies and bad strategies.  Good strategies create space for possibilities.  Bad ones, well, make things worse.

Because of this, we must carry with us a sense of acceptance as we journey.  An ideal approach to our process may not create the ideal end.  If we dedicate ourselves to the process, though, hope, healing, and joy become possibilities when they otherwise would not be.   

Is it worth it?

Should we only pursue a certain course of action in life if we feel that our desired end is likely (or probable)?  

It takes profound courage to dedicate yourself to a totally unpredictable pursuit.  In recovery, the only real promise we offer is, "This will be good for you."  But, again, we run into a problem.  In what sense will it be good?  

If you loved someone dealing with a substance use disorder, as is the case with our family from earlier in the month, you may regain a certain quality of life.  You may gain a bit of peace as you learn to establish boundaries that protect you and your home.  You may be comforted by the knowledge that you're doing the best you can.  You may see modest improvements in how you interact with others or how they interact with you.  

Yet, you may not see your loved one enter long-term recovery.  

An Ideal Process Part II

The other piece of the ideal process is the act of working towards an end with the knowledge that the end we imagine may never come to be.  

For our frustrated families whose loved ones have yet to enter recovery, the only end in mind is a sober loved one, living a happy and productive life, making lots of money, having a family, etc. etc.  Obviously I’m generalizing our hopes a little bit here.  What I mean is, dedicating ourselves to a process of recovery living seems worth it if we’re promised the end we want.  

Our achievement-oriented mindsets convince us that a certain series of tasks must be “worth it,” they must be “effective,” or “productive” in order to undertake them.  What happens if we dedicate ourselves to recovery-living and we do not get the desired outcome?  It doesn't seem worth the effort.  

I can't help but ask:  Should we only pursue these efforts if we feel that our desired end is likely (or probable)?  

I’ll unpack this further tomorrow.

An Ideal Process Part I

One piece of an ideal process is diligence, or what I called yesterday, wholeheartedness.  It means we are dedicated and attentive to our process.  We take the process seriously because, as Colossians reminded us, faithful people take all aspects of life seriously.  We invest all the effort or energy we have on hand (for that particular area of our lives) in the process itself.  At a given moment in time, we only posses a finite amount of time, energy, and resources to throw at a particular process, but we invest what we have.  We give to the process what we have to give and we do it consciously.  That is diligence.

Footnote:  If you're wondering at this point, "What am I in process of doing?" Then that's a fair question.  Hang with me on that.  The short answer is:  everything.  Until we unpack further, here's a few examples:  If you work, you are in the process of becoming an employee (even if you are already working and being paid).  If you have children, you are in the process of becoming a parent (even if you are already parenting).  If you are in recovery, you are in the process of recovery (even if you are already sober).  We are all always in process of becoming different versions of ourselves in each of our roles. 

What is "Process"?

Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people.  Colossians 3:23, CEB

A dictionary would suggest process is the act of working towards a particular end.  

Let's add some of our own NSC flare.  We do not want to speak of process only in terms of what it is, but how we approach it as faithful people in recovery.  My assumption here is that there is something profoundly spiritual about wholeheartedly committing ourselves to whatever we do- even if the task at hand seems particularly banal and insignificant.  This is the essence of, “…[practicing] these principles in all of our affairs."  And so, feeling bold, I'll suggest that faith calls us to approach process, in life, in a specific way.  I believe (tentatively) that there is an "ideal" approach to process (not that we're here to judge the ways in which we fall short of this ideal- because we're not).  

Over the next couple of days I'll explore a couple of key factors that go into an "ideal" process.   

The Means are the Ends

To say we’re a goal-oriented society is a massive understatement.  Goals are good, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with setting and working towards goals.  However, it is possible to become too goal-oriented.  Not only are we a goal-oriented society but we are an achievement-oriented society.  In fact, we’re more or less taught that goals are only goals if they have something to do with productivity and achievement.  They must be measurable or they are not goals.  Further, success and the appearance of success represent the highest form of status.  The ends justify the means, so the saying goes.  This is just another way of saying that the means don’t matter.  We’ve taken this to the extreme.  

It comes as no surprise then that families want to know, first and foremost, how do I get my loved one sober?  It’s an honest question, I get it, but it isn’t necessarily realistic.  In my role as a sort of “guide,” I can’t answer that question.  I can only answer the question, “Where do we begin?”  

Once we (as a society) mix our results-obsession with our increasingly short attention spans and decreasing patience for delayed gratification we end up with a large group of people who are overly attentive to the “ends” of things and rather neglectful about the means through which we arrive at them.  In other words, we pay attention to results and overlook the profound spiritual depth of process.

What do I mean when I say "process"?  

Check back tomorrow.

Learning to prepare for uncertainty

It seems to me that, in this day and age, in our culture, people only become willing to address problems when a particular problem builds to the level of “crisis.”  I do not know why this is the case, other than the obvious explanation of convenience.  It’s simply inconvenient to be proactive about something that isn’t yet a /big/ problem.  Because I do not know exactly why this happens I also cannot make recommendations about how one changes this habit but, in spite of that, I do want to argue the importance of learning to prepare.  

It's impossible to prepare for all possible circumstances that may come our way.  It may even be impossible to prepare for circumstances that seem likely to come our way.  I do believe, though, that in some small, humble ways we can learn to view life itself as preparation for the unpredictable and the unknowable.  As we spend a few days talking about the importance of becoming process-oriented, I'd like us to begin to see preparation as a result in and of itself, rather than something we do only in order to achieve a result.  

Discovering our own need for help

Read yesterday’s post before today’s.  

Yesterday I began to tell the story of a frustrated couple from our Family Education Program who believed that they were not getting the information they needed in order to inspire their loved one to take treatment seriously.  

I heard in their voices frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and, perhaps, isolation (they did not believe other people had the same difficulty they did).  All of these feelings and experiences are real and burdensome.  I feel for them.  

Mom and I meet with families every week to discuss how to be helpful to loved ones needing recovery.  We always pass on a few key things we’ve learned.  These keys look something like this:  You can’t necessarily make someone enter treatment, but there are some skills you can learn and practice that assist a person in discovering that treatment and recovery are good ideas worth pursuing.  The portion of the family that knows that recovery is necessary needs to pursue their own recovery because everyone involved needs healing, support, encouragement, and education and these factors combined create an environment where recovery is more possible than it might otherwise be.  

The frustrated family’s problem, I think, is the belief that there is a hidden key somewhere that will unlock a door that provides a solution.  They believe that there is some trick no one is telling them that will give them their desired goal, their desired end.  They are solutions-focused and not yet process-oriented.  

I say this not to judge them.  I do not believe it is their fault and I believe it is totally understandable.  I believe everyone who has this sort of problem begins roughly in this place.  But it has got me thinking about the difference between being solutions-oriented people verses process-oriented people (of course, we can probably mix both, it doesn’t have to be a choice).  

And so, I want to spend a few days writing about the nature of process.  

How do I make someone do something they need?

A speaker at a recent Family Education Program presented various options and approaches to treatment.  Each FEP meeting draws a diverse crowd of people in terms of the recovery spectrum and the recovery process.  Some of the attendees are in the midst of a substance use disorder.  Some have family members in the midst of a substance use disorder.  Some have family members in long-term recovery, some are in long-term recovery themselves.  

In this particular meeting, a mother and father raised their hands to ask how to get their loved one into treatment.  They have heard all the options before, but their loved one is stubbornly resistant.  They believe they know the options, and they now need to know how to capitalize on them.  They were frustrated, fed up.  I don’t know this for sure- but I would guess they felt their situation was unique and that their loved one was more stubbornly resistant than the average bear.  

Their predicament highlights perhaps the central problem family’s encounter once they discover a loved one needs help.  But, at the same time, the question also highlights a problem in terms of how they have been coached to approach recovery.  

What problem?  I’ll tell you tomorrow.