Step 1 and Compassion

Let me ask you a question: What do you, a preacher, a grandma, a heroin addict, an atheist, a gambler, a prostitute, a skid-row alcoholic, and yours truly all have in common? And no, I’m not about to deliver a punch line, and yes, I realize that more than one of these could apply to you. What if I told you that I could use one adjective to describe every single one of us (and I may not even KNOW you)! Here it is – we are all SICK. Okay, so maybe tact is not my strong point, but just let me explain:

I’m in the middle of my third step-study now. If you haven’t read my “About” section, 12-step recovery is one of my passions. I am an adult child of an alcoholic (my dad has been clean and sober for 7 years now, praise God!) who struggles with codependency and perfectionism issues, among other things. One of the truths that everyone in recovery learns is that it’s  a continual process, like peeling an onion. Every time is different, even with the very first step, and something I am really having to work harder on this time around with step 1 is having patience and compassion for people who should be doing better at getting their act together (because I am sooo perfect, ya know).

The book we’ve been using in this study is Keith Miller’s A Hunger for Healing which takes a Christian slant to the (actually originally biblically-based) 12 steps. Miller inserts the word “sin” into the blank that describes what we are powerless over. A lot of people, especially those new to the concepts, balk at such a statement. How could we be powerless? Willpower has to count for something, right? I mean, if someone really wanted to stop drinking or gambling or __________, they would just do it! They just need to get their act together! Turns out, it’s not so simple.

What is that one (or more) thing that you keep saying you need to do (or stop doing) that never gets done? Do you eat too much sugar or junk food? Do you not exercise like you should even though it’s negatively affecting your health? Are your road-rage outbursts enough to make a sailor blush? Or, my personal favorite, do you keep saying you’re going to stop eating out so often and start buying healthy groceries to cook at home, only to find yourself at 5 pm helplessly staring into the fridge before calling for Chinese takeout? No? Me neither…

The truth is, there is always SOMETHING. Maybe it’s sneakier or more sinister than what is listed above, but I guarantee you there is something. Let me let you in on a little secret: we’re all sick. And if you keep saying, “I can quit when I want,” or, “I don’t really have an issue,” we have a word for that: Denial. Please get help. This is not to shame you or make you feel terrible about yourself. It just IS.

There’s a biblical precedent for this concept, the classic passage from Romans 7:15-20. Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” The spirit vs. flesh predicament. Realizing this struggle has made me so much more compassionate and able to see people’s struggles more clearly through God’s eyes:

The young woman who can’t stop her heroin addiction? She is sick.

The father whose drinking is out of control? He is sick.

The teenager who is in the middle of a full-fledged porn binge? Sick.

But also:

The parent who works so much that he/she is always too busy for family? Sick.

The person who takes too much pride in their money and possessions? Sick.

The mom who spends too much money on therapeutic retail day-trips? PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER AND PUT THE CREDIT CARD AWAY, YOU IDIOT! Just kidding…sick.

The truth is, we are all “those people,” and the sooner we realize it, the better.

Depressed yet?

Well, this is actually good news! How much pressure would be off of you if you realized you didn’t have to get through it alone, and all the willpower and effort in the world could not save you from your downward spiral, or the downward spiral of someone you love? What if you didn’t have to try to “fix” everything and everyone around you (because that’s working out so great, right)? What if there was another way?

Unfortunately, most people have to hit absolute rock bottom before they are humbled enough to face reality, whether that means losing relationships, jobs, health, or financial security. Illusions of self-sufficiency are shattered, and we are left face-to-face with the truth: we are absolutely powerless.

In Christian recovery, our higher power is Jesus. It seems so simple, but yet is so difficult, that we have to turn our lives and wills over to HIS care. Our solutions did not work, and our attempts to control have failed over and over again. Our resentments have eaten at us from the inside out. Only then, in that state of complete vulnerability, can we say we are truly ready to be cured of our sin-disease. And from that healthier, saner place, we can see others more compassionately, because we have been there, too. As my good friend, Mike, would say, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

The steps can’t really be boiled down to concepts. That’s why they are so hard to write about sometimes, because ultimately they are about a spiritual experience. But if you can relate to being powerless over people and/or situations in your life, taking step 1 is the most loving thing you could possibly do, for yourself and for others.

Colossians 3:12-13  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,  compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and,  if one has a complaint against another,  forgiving each other;  as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.



Finding my Voice

I have no dog in this fight. Not much of one, anyway. I am not gifted in the administration and leadership departments. I’m also not the best speaker. I am a thinker, a reader, and a writer, and I like to share ideas, but I can do that already in the circles in which I run. My spiritual gifting runs more along the lines of hospitality and mercy. I think that’s why, to some extent, I feel so strongly about this topic…

Because I am a HUGE proponent of justice. Racial justice. Justice for the poor. Justice for the abused and violence-afflicted. SOCIAL justice. So from a young age, I have always experienced a cognitive dissonance regarding gender roles in the church. The faith tradition of my growing-up years wouldn’t allow women to even serve communion or be in any kind of role where addressing the congregation publicly is involved. Women could make casseroles for potlucks, teach children and other women, help with behind-the-scenes duties, and that was (and still is) pretty much it. On a deep, instinctual level, though, I never bought into the patriarchal worldview, the one with the “umbrellas of authority,” even though my soul never yearned for a preaching, deacon, or eldership position.

But it wasn’t enough to just feel strongly about this. There needed to be a healthy theological framework to go by, and coming from a fundamentalist, black-and-white thinking tradition, I never thought that was possible. So, it seemed women were stuck with platitudes and patronizing statements: “Your job is still SO important, even though you are in a subservient role,” or something like that; at least, that’s what little girl Emily’s brain and heart heard. They might as well have been saying, “Separate, but equal,” like Hilly Holbrook in The Help. 

So as a human being whose voice could not be heard in a public gathering of Christians, I began to silently study the matter. Getting my M.A. in English really, really helped me during the process. I learned how to better read literature, the Bible, words and letters, symbols on a page, and I was exposed to more valid points of view that differed from the ones I had learned in my little bubble. An issue that I almost lost my faith over became one that eventually strengthened it.

There are lots more details, probably ones that I will address later here on the blog. But that is the one main reasons why I’m here: to let my voice be heard. If you are willing to listen, and even, by all means, join in the conversation, you are always welcome here.