“As we glimpse the true nature of our spiritual and moral bankruptcy, we can only wonder what kind of God this is who can not only stand to see and know it all, but who patiently and mercifully works in us and with us toward turning these dreadful liabilities into song.” SA White Book, Step 7
When I read this quote I paused for a moment and reflected on how spiritually and morally bankrupt I am. It does not feel good to think about these things: I have many flaws and character defects. Though I’ve been in recovery for over a year I feel like I’m only getting glimpses of my character defects, and that I don’t fully appreciate the depth of my own sin. As I thought about all this, and thought about a God who does know the full length, breadth, and depth of my sin, who died for me anyway and who loves me anyway…it doesn’t make any sense. I am completely unworthy. And yet He is somehow working on me and in me to change me, to turn these terrible defects into assets for His kingdom. Despite the fact that I try to sabotage His plans with my denial, anger, and resentment, He is not frustrated or impatient. Somehow, for some reason, God is willing to take as long as is necessary to turn my addiction and my character defects into tools for kingdom work.
When I feel disappointed in myself because I have sinned again, I must remember that He is not disappointed in me. When I am disappointed with others, God is not…and if He is not disappointed, impatient, or angry with them, how can I claim any right to those feelings? We are all sinners, from the ‘holiest’ of us down to the gravest sinners. None of us can earn or achieve the glory of God through our own efforts. I need to get over myself and everyone else; no-one is perfect. When people sin against me I shouldn’t be angry or resentful, I should expect it because they are sinners and are as imperfect as I am.
God offers to forgive us all, to use us all, and to use all of us (including the worst parts of us) for His glory.
“If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us to be willing.” Big Book, Step 7
God helped me become willing to give up pornography over one year ago, so asking Him to help me be willing to surrender my character defects is nothing new. Before I entered my recovery program I was clinging tightly to my addiction. I knew I wanted to let go, I just didn’t know how. I had to ask God for help, and that is exactly what I find myself doing again now. I am still clinging to many of my shortcomings, afraid to let them go:
- I am afraid to give up a certain amount of selfishness and greed
- I am afraid to give up the desire to want to be lusted after
- I cling tightly to the pride which says I must always be right
- I hold on to the anger and resentment that eats away at my soul from the inside out, while convincing me that it empowers me
- I cling to my doubts about God, to a false image of who He is, and to my demands for proof of the resurrection
- I struggle desperately with the humility to accept the authority of others, especially religious leaders
- I refuse to let go of the idea that there must be something more to life beyond what I have already been blessed with
I need God’s help to be willing to let these things go, because I will never get there on my own. Without God’s help I will continue to rationalize my need for certain defects and I will continue to justify my use of anger and resentment.
God, I need You to break through my denial and help me become willing to let go of all of my character defects. I invite You into my heart; make Your home there and cast out anything You find which is not fit for You.
“In what ways have you tried to fix yourself with your own power (e.g., stuffing feelings such as anger to ‘prove you had faith’; trying harder to resist a temptation or a character defect such as impatience, sarcasm, or resentment; criticizing yourself harshly whenever one of your character defects was active)?” J. Keith Miller, A Hunger For Healing
All of the above.
I still find myself doing this today, in the midst of my Step 6 work…and I realize that when I try to fix myself I am doing two things: 1) I am in denial about the powerlessness I have over my addiction and character defects; and 2) I am in denial about the power of God to heal me of my addiction and character defects. I ought to know that after 34 years of living I am powerless to fix myself. For as long as I can remember I have been impatient, angry, sarcastic, and selfish. And for as long as I can remember I’ve been in denial that I was this way, while at the same time paradoxically trying desperately to stop being this way. It’s like saying, “I’m not an angry person, and I’m going to stop being an angry person.”
I think the idea of stuffing feelings to ‘prove my faith’ is something I’ve done a lot over the past several years. I often think to myself, “Jesus wasn’t an angry person, and Paul said I’m not supposed to be angry, so damn it I’m not going to be angry! (stuff, stuff, stuff…deny, deny, deny)” Instead of denying and stuffing my feelings, I need to own them: “Yes, I am angry, and I know I can’t fix myself or cure myself of this anger. Stuffing my anger will only kill me from the inside out, and denying my anger in the name of piety will not make it go away. I need to confess my anger and ask the Spirit of God to heal me. Being an angry person doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ person. It is OK to have feelings, even negative ones; that’s called ‘being human.’”
Several months ago I hit a rough patch in my recovery and I was getting what some people call, “recovery fatigue.” I was working harder and harder every day to keep my sobriety, but I was only getting tired and frustrated. Then one day I had an epiphany: I was trying to resist temptation! I was trying not to be tempted by women, which is a pretty dumb thing for a recovering pornography addict to do. I slipped into denial about my addiction in the middle of my recovery program and forgot that I have no power of my addiction; I forgot Step 1!
I had to remind myself that: “Yes, you are a recovering pornography addict. Yes, you are going to constantly be tempted by women, by images, and by your own subconscious. Yes, it is perfectly normal for humans to be tempted. So stop pretending like you’re not an addict, quit trying to not get tempted, and just surrender your temptation to Jesus.”
What kinds of feelings do you stuff or deny?
“We can have all kinds of grand, philosophical ideas, but if we don’t make them a part of our personalities and live them, they are of no value.” – Joe McQ, The Steps We Took
When I read this quote I’m confronted with the shallowness and frailty of my faith; I’m reminded of James 1:22 (“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”) and 1 Corinthians 13:1 (“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”) I claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but believing in Jesus’ teachings and practicing Jesus’ teachings are two very different things. I’ve become very good at believing in Him without living in and through Him. If you looked at my behavior you might think Jesus is just an idea to me, and not someone to model my life after. A theoretical Jesus is no Jesus; a theoretical Jesus has no value and is not alive today. A theoretical Jesus is just a character in a story; He doesn’t have the power to transform me and redeem me of my sins.
One character defect I struggle with is the “seeing is believing” attitude. Like the religious people at the foot of Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:32 “Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe”) I often demand signs from God before I will believe in Him and His purpose for my life. I have an idea of who God Is and what He can do, but I don’t behave as if those things about God are really true. I’m waiting for God to prove He can do the things He claims, and then I will put His commands into practice. As I reflect on this quote I realize that once again I’ve got things backwards.
I can point to specific times in my life when God spoke to me, and each of those times was preceded by an act of faith on my part. Note that I didn’t say a thought of faith; I didn’t just believe in my head. Each time I physically did something, and that ‘something’ was rewarded with a deeper level of wisdom and faith. Yet despite those experiences I once again find myself wanting God to prove things to me before I will act. This attitude will get me no-where; it is of no value. My greatest area of spiritual struggle today is belief in the resurrection: I have head-knowledge and I know what I’m supposed to believe, but I also realize that my faith in the resurrection is weak. I believe this weakness of faith is limiting my effectiveness in all areas of my life.
I suppose the question is this: What can I do to act in faith of the resurrection? More to the point, what will I do?
What will you do to act in faith today?
“Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn’t strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose.” Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6
I think this quote sums up the Fall of Man fairly effectively.
- God created woman to be with man, but sin turns healthy relationships into abusive and co-dependent ones
- God commanded humans to reproduce within a loving relationship, but sin turns healthy sexuality into lust, adultery, prostitution and rape
- God created humanity to be in fellowship with Him, but sin turns our will against God
Sin knows no limits and has no boundaries; it corrupts every natural desire that God created in us. Sin has wreaked havoc on my own sexual desire and emotional development. For years I indulged my lust rather than fostering true intimacy and love; I tried to satisfy myself because I was too impatient, immature and selfish to wait on God or anyone else.
My desire for acceptance is completely overblown and far exceeds the purpose for which it was intended. There is a natural desire for social acceptance and approval inherent in humanity (otherwise we would not have societies) but instead of creating community my craving for acceptance tears down relationships; I ride roughshod over my own boundaries in a vain attempt to get people to notice me and approve of me. It’s not enough for me to know that I am well thought-of, liked, and respected my many people. No,everyone must like and accept me. I am so insecure that I have adopted an all-or-nothing concept of acceptance, which is ridiculous.
Which of your natural desires has sin taken control of?