Tag Archives: 12 Steps

How is your time with God?

There was a long stretch of time where I felt guilty that I was not spending enough time with God.   I felt guilty that my “quiet time” was not very disciplined or that my “prayer closet” was full of cob webs.   When going through a rough patch I could count on some well-meaning Christian to begin their diagnostic testing of my spiritual state by asking, “How is your devotional life?”

Ryan May reminded me of this in his message this past weekend (I highly recommend watching it!   See video below).    As he brought home the point that God is everywhere and that we can interact with God and be infused with God’s wisdom in both obvious and not-so-obvious places, I found myself grateful for the wisdom found in this program of recovery called the 12 Steps.

Why? First, because through the process of working the steps I realize that I am utterly and completely dependent upon my Higher Power to restore me to sanity and sustain my serenity.  I learn that this is something that requires not only some “alone time with God” in the morning and evening (the obvious places) but also a conscious connection with God throughout the day.   The second reason is related to the first.   The steps disabuse me of the notion that God is only found in obvious spots.   Rather, they give me permission and even encourage me to seek God in the margins, the not-so-obvious places.    The steps liberate me from believing in a God who is waiting for me to sit in my recliner with my Bible on my lap in order to trigger some divine-to-human connection and instead introduce me to a God who is always connected to me if I will but ask for eyes to see and ears to hear.

Step 11 reads,

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Being in recovery is about deepening that connection not only in those quiet prayer-closet moments but also during rush hour traffic or on the homestretch of a work deadline or in the middle of a tough conversation or when the kids disobey or when the sun sets so brilliantly or when the food tastes sumptuous or the tire goes flat.

God is everywhere and willing and able to connect with us where we are, when we are, how we are, for who we are.

I’m not about to forsake my morning prayer and coffee time with God in my comfortable recliner each day.  Those times are sacred and holy and sweet.   But the other 1,410 minutes of the day are equally sacred and holy and sweet.   My problem, and perhaps yours, is that I don’t allow myself to see and hear God in those moments enough.    And yet I’m convinced that it is in those areas – the not-so-obvious ones – that a vibrant, fulfilling, life-altering relationship with my Higher Power can gain steam.     Today I’m grateful that Step 11 promises that this is an area I can “improve” upon.

I hope you enjoy Ryan’s message from Sunday as much as I did.  I think it’ll open your eyes to ways God wants to meet you in unexpected places.

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Psalm 9

“My addiction saved my life.”

Ever hear someone say that?  Maybe this is true for you.   A lot of people tend to assume that addictions either fall out of the sky on unsuspecting persons or, worse yet, they are the result of immorality.    Or to put that another way, addicts are “bad people” who are irresponsible and make bad choices.

As a recovering addict I won’t deny that I am immoral, have the capacity to be not just bad but down right evil, incredibly irresponsible and my choices are often insane.    All this has been true of me and will be true of me if I do not continue on the path of recovery.

But addictions do not just happen overnight nor do they come about because a person is particularly malevolent.    I did not choose to be an addict.   I did not consciously choose to destroy my life and the lives of those I loved.

So when some people say that an addiction saved their life what they most often mean is that their drug of choice provided a suitable coping mechanism during a time of need.  Maybe it was abuse or neglect that led them to seek an escape.   Depression, loneliness, pain, emptiness – all reasons why people grasp for something that will, if only temporarily, help them forget about reality and drift off into fantasy.

For a season, our drug of choice acts as our savior.   A soothing balm protecting us from an other-wise hostile and uncertain world.

But eventually this savior turns into an even harsher task-master than even the starkest reality.   The balm becomes the ball and chain, degenerating us into slaves.   This is what I imagine when I read the words of David the Psalmist when he pens:

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
    their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
    the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.

What we thought would save us from the encroaching and dangerous world ends up becoming the net that ensnares us.   What was saving our life is now draining our life.  We realize that all substitute saviors are but slave-makers.

But there is hope!  The Psalmist continues:

But God will never forget the needy;
    the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

I’m grateful that God does not forget we who are afflicted and needy, who have struggled to save ourselves only to wind up at the bottom of the pit we have dug.    When what used to work is no longer working but driving us deeper into misery, it’s time to look up from the ashes and admit we cannot save ourselves.

 

I’m going to love you, anyway

Last night I finished Anne Lamott’s beautiful book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.   There is so much goodness in this short book that I could go on and on about it but there was this one line that arrested me which I needed to get down in writing before the impression it made upon me was forgotten.

Before I share the quote, some context.    She is riffing on Saint Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:6ff) affliction, something he could not shake but it helped him learn humility and reliance upon God’s grace.   She alludes to this passage in the context of admitting her own character defects, like being judgmental and conceited.   These are “thorns” she would rather not have and wrestles against them, sometimes successfully, other times not so much.   And then she writes the line which stirred my soul:

We don’t know if Paul was ever healed of his affliction.  I do know that being told I could keep my awfulness made holding on to it much less attractive.

I don’t know if Anne meant this the way I took it, but when I read these words what I heard God say to me was,

Chad, you can keep the stuff that is making you miserable if you wish. I am going to love you, anyway.

This is such good news to someone like me, who, historically would hang on to my character defects like Gollum holding onto his precious ring.   What’s more, I would cling to them even tighter if I thought that your love for me was conditioned upon me letting them go.  

Paradoxically, my disease often led me to cling tighter to the things I suspected were preventing people from loving me well.    Maybe this is because I’m super stubborn.  Maybe it’s because my disease needed this in order to thrive.   If you won’t love me for who I am, it told me, than I’ll just act out. 

But upon reading Anne’s line above, the insanity of all of that made sense to me.   I heard God say to me that he was going to love me regardless of my “thorn.”   God’s love for me isn’t conditioned upon me letting go of my awfulness.

Surrounded by God’s unconditional love makes holding on to my character defects, my disease, my awfulness far less appealing.   My addiction has, upon this realization, nothing or no one to rail against or stubbornly defy.  It has no one to blame, no one upon whom to justify it’s self-damning cycle of insanity upon.

God says to you and I, hey, you can continue being miserable if you’d like, I’m going to love you, anyway.    Somehow that makes hanging on to my junk seem like a colossal waste of time and energy.    Would you agree?

Hi, my name is Chad, I’m a recovering addict

My pastor and friend asked me a week ago if I would be willing to share at church this past Sunday. After praying and discussing it over with my sponsor I decided to give it a go. It had been nearly 3 years since I’ve done this, and as you might imagine I was rather nervous. Much of the nerves came from fears of feeling inadequate or imagining I am no longer qualified to share in this way. Those fears, however, were quickly vanquished by the love and support this church graciously gave me.

This is how I live out the 12th Step and give back a small portion of what I have received. I hope it blesses you today half as much as it did me to share it.

Best relationship advice

My sponsor reminded me about the usefulness of using what has become known as the 11th Step Prayer to strengthen any relationship.    Imagine if we all sought to love rather than to be loved, to understand rather than to be understood?

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen

Psalm 6

One of the great benefits of working the twelve steps is a fresh, individual, experiential encounter with your Higher Power.

Fresh in the sense that you will go through a process of deconstructing long-held beliefs which may need to be either re-imagined or discarded.   Fresh in the sense that space will be opened up for God to make God’s self known to you in ways heretofore you may not have considered.

Individual in the best sense of the word, in that this God is yours (as opposed to the God of your father or mother or pastor or sponsor).   This God is for you.   Individual in the sense that now, as opposed to before, this fresh faith now has teeth and is doing for you what you could not previously do for yourself.   You begin to discover that your beliefs about God are not just ornaments but they are working for you.

Experiential because you’ll begin to tap into the reality that you are, as my sponsor has said to me many times, a spiritual being having a human experience.   The steps, faithfully used, give us the tools to navigate through our human experience with spiritual eyes.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
    save me because of your unfailing love.

 

I have known agony in my bones. I have known deep anguish of the soul. I have cried out to God for mercy and healing.   I have often wondered, how long?

This is where many of us are – it’s certainly where I was – when we first come into recovery and begin working the steps.    In my experience, if we have the courage, if only for today, to press on and trust the witness of the many who have gone before us, we will also come to believe this:

Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.

What a beautiful thing it is to come to the astonishing realization that there is a Higher Power that can deliver and save me – and you –  not because of any merit on my part or yours, but solely because of God’s unfailing love.

If your Higher Power has grown stale, or has become something that works for others but not so well for yourself, or fails to help you navigate a trouble-filled world with increasingly sharper and sensitive vision and clarity, than perhaps now is a good time to work the steps, either again or for the first time.

I belive the God who delivers and saves, who does so out of a well-spring of unfailing love, will meet you there.

 

Progress, not perfection

I missed my son’s fifth grade graduation ceremony last week.   It was one of those honest mistakes that can happen when you are divorced and, in my case, do not have the benefit of daily reminders about important upcoming events.   My son had told me when he thought his graduation was and I failed to follow up with his mom to get the details until I was already a day late and a dollar short.   I was bummed.

A day later, my girlfriend’s son graduated from kindergarten and I was there by her side (she had given me those daily reminders!).    Guess who else was there?    My ex-wife and her family were four rows behind us, there to celebrate her nephew who was also graduating that day.    I was happy to see them there until we all exited the gym together and I caught my ex-wife’s glare.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“You missed your own son’s graduation but here you are.”

Ouch.   Those words cut me to the quick.   Not wanting to cause a scene I breathed out a sarcastic “thank you,” and peeled away, walking quickly to my car where I sat and stewed in my anger and shame.

Even after calling my sponsor and some other friends the feelings of shame lingered.    For hours I replayed the tape in my head, thought about all the things I should have said, and felt sorry for myself for being such a loser dad in her eyes and the eyes of her family.

Later that night I was (thankfully) at a 12 Step meeting and while listening to someone share I had a revelation.   He was talking about a “trust bucket.”    He said that he has been learning that when he was acting out in his addiction he was scooping entire gallon jugs of water out of the barrel of his wife’s trust bucket.   Eventually he emptied it out and then got into recovery.   As he works his program, he said, he likes to imagine that the bucket is filling back up as quickly as he drained it but in reality, in his wife’s reality, he’s refilling it one drop at a time with a syringe.

In that moment everything I wished I had said to my children’s mother out of shame or spite was replaced with the thing I should have said, the thing that a healthy, recovering person ought to say:

I totally get why you would assume I missed our son’s graduation due to me being a fool.   Over the past many years I gave you plenty of reason to believe that the only thing I cared about was myself and that if I missed anything important it was because I was acting out in my addiction.    I want you to know that I’m sorry I missed it.  It was simply due to not having it on my calendar. I’ve learned from this and won’t let it happen again. Thank you for being such a good mom to our kids and always making them a priority.

The moment I had this realization all the shame I was feeling the entire day, all the anger and resentment, left me.  It was replaced with gratitude that my kids have a mom who loves them very much and is there for them consistently and a renewed desire to continue in my program of recovery so that I can, with God’s help, reduce the amount of time it takes me to come to these conclusions.

Recovery is about progress, not perfection.    Last week it took me 12 hours to get to that place, and I didn’t act out.   That in and of itself is progress!  Next time I will strive to close that gap by remembering this story.    My purpose for sharing it with you is that I hope it helps you do the same.

Grace and peace,

Chad