Tag Archive: Christian faith


Forgive Again!

This morning I visited an AA meeting before my regular OA meeting. While sitting among them listening to their Step Eight shares, the following occurred to me:

I, like many Twelve-Steppers before me, resist listing harms done in Step Eight because I am fully aware of the Step Nine amends to follow. One of the basic spiritual concepts linked with Step Eight is forgiveness, and many people mingle forgiveness with amends because they believe an apology is necessary in order to forgive. I often say that the hardest ones to forgive are those who know not what they do. I can tell that I’m getting the two confused when I repeat an apology or fail to repeat forgiveness. I don’t want to be the guy who starts every day telling his wife he is sorry for cheating on her in 1985. That guy is ruining two lives. I also know there is something amiss when I ask God to forgive that sorry, no-good, son of a trouble-maker! I cannot leave all the forgiving to God.

The hardest ones to forgive are those who know not what they do.

When I think of amends, I think of a tailor repairing a garment. I don’t know much about how sewing machines work, but I do know there is a spool at the top and a bobbin underneath. If the thread only comes from the top and never the bottom, as soon as the fabric is lifted, the thread pulls right out. So it is when forgiveness only comes from Heaven. When it is not met with forgiveness from someone of us down here underneath, it has no chance to bind to the fabric and all the blessed progress just comes unfurled.

There is a white board on my bedroom wall, and on it I have written a forgiveness prayer that goes like this:

“I love and forgive _____ in the Name of Jesus, and I call my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors into alignment with God’s will.”

Below that prayer is a running list of my resentments, each one an answer to my fill-in-the-blank prayer. The list has changed some since I first took a Fourth Step, but it is my way of continuing to take personal inventory and admitting when I’m wrong. The thing is, I have to list those people, groups, and institutions regularly, or my carnal self will begin to slip back into judgment, I will hold those parties in contempt, often trying to punish or correct them, and maybe even despising them with bitterness that poisons only one soul — mine. While praying this list, sometimes I think, “I don’t even think about that person anymore,” and they retire off my list. Other days, I storm into my room and emblazon a new name on my list, and I start again, calling God’s will into my life and aligning with it my intentions for a loving attitude.

I confess I suck at this forgiveness routine. That’s one of the many reasons my own name appears at the top of my forgiveness list. I despise the me that failed at being kind and generous today almost as much as the 6 year-old me who never stopped crying because he was convinced nobody loved him. I want to tell that school kid to suck it up and get a grip, and I want to tell the grown man in the mirror how ashamed of him I am for failing at grace so quickly after committing to mission living in his morning devotion.

Still, the stitches of forgiveness are made with a spool from above and a bobbin below, so I’ll bob and weave my part while God supplies the good stuff from above. As today’s AA meeting closed with the Lord’s Prayer, I heard “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” a little differently. God and I are stitching a tapestry, making something new of many tattered shreds. It’s His masterpiece; I’m just submitting to His work.

The stitches of forgiveness are made with a spool from above and a bobbin below.

 

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5, NIV

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:15, NIV

 

 

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bible-studyThe following Bible verses met me in my morning devotion today, and prompted reflection that I was compelled to share:

 

“The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God.” Daniel 6:23 NLT, http://bible.com/116/dan.6.23.nlt (emphasis mine)

“And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—” 2 Peter 3:14-15 NLT, http://bible.com/116/2pe.3.14-15.nlt (emphasis mine)

My nearly constant state of disturbance proves that I am generally not living in a state of trust. Daniel’s miracle was attributed to his trust — his faith. It is by that faith that Christians find the ability to live peaceful, pure, blameless lives. I step outside pure, blameless peace when I grow discontent with circumstances, fearful of outcomes. That’s not faith! Our Lord is patient, so I should be too. If He’s not getting uptight about things coming unwound, why should I?

 

When anxiety grips me, sometimes it helps me to work it out to its end and be done with it. In practice this takes the form of several questions I answer in series:

  1. What is the worst case scenario? Usually whatever fear torments me it’s not even close to the worst case scenario. So this gives me some sort of scale. When I’m sweating a low grade on an exam, it helps to recognize that even failure of the whole class won’t trigger a global apocalypse.
  2. Even if the worst possible outcome happens, won’t God still be sovereign over the universe, and big enough to guide you through? This one’s easy — the answer’s always “yes.” Through persecution, meteor showers, pestilence, and apocalyptic insurgence, I will still be a child of God, purely and dearly loved. Dead or alive, I’m still God’s prince, priest, and bride.
  3. What is the likelihood of the outcome I fear? This brings the scale back into a manageable perspective. It helps to recognize that fear is the anticipation of something that might not even happen, while conceding that it is somewhere on the plane of possibility, almost always lower on the scale than it feels. I might not be forfeiting my occupation of earth, but the critiques I am subject to are far less predictable and administered by far less holy people than the terrorists who might only saw my head off once. I acknowledge the chance, however small, of responding to a perceived failure in my very near future.
  4. If God is big enough in the worst case scenario, isn’t He big enough to see you through this medium sized catastrophe in the event it does come about? Another easy “yes.” And I’m feeling better about my position in the universe.

 

It also helps to recall who and what I am in relation to the fearful obstacles around me. Remember Star Wars’ lonely, afraid astro-droid R2D2 traveling alone through the Gungan Wastes of Tatooine, in a classic cinematic representation of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. R2 slowlyr2d2-on-tatooine propels forward, looking about, humming and chirping to himself, to achieve his higher purpose. Armed Gungan “sand people” on Banthas, Jawa pirates, and mysteries of the rocks be hanged! He’s on a top-priority mission from the princess, so he presses on.

I, too, have a higher purpose, and it is far outside the view of those who seek to assault me or sell me for used parts. My Creator is not finished creating me. He’s shaping me even with the obstacles I now face. He’s forging and hammering my character into the precision instrument I will become. It’s hot, and it hurts, but it’s going to be worth it when the Master is finished and he hears my blade sing.

It’s been said, “This too shall pass,” but I add to that, “No pain is permanent,” and, “This is for His glory and my refinement!” From these statements come resolve, and from resolve courage to stand firm.

God, rebuke the destroyer from my mind, life, family, and estate. Make me slippery to his footholds, and frustrate all his assigns. Cast away every remnant of his authority, and clean my mind of any tendency to repeat his lies after his removal. Consecrate me, my family, and my estate to Your purposes, and use them at Your pleasure. All I am, have, and do is Yours. By Christ Jesus, whose blood bought me from death, amen!

No Regrets

Time swirlMy precious bride and I recently watched a film in which a character, who will not be named to avoid a spoiler, had an opportunity to return to his past to change his circumstances and reclaim a life he thought he lost. At great cost and peril, he achieved his goal, but as he stood in the targeted moment, faced with the gravity of what he was about to do, he let the moment pass unaltered, convinced he had all he was meant to have and all he needed. As the closing credits rolled, my bride and I discussed the moments that had become turning points in our lives. We concluded there was not one moment in our painful histories either of us would change if we could. Content with the whittling and massaging of the Master Crafter, we found ourselves able to offer every broken moment to God’s care and found ourselves grateful even for the darkest hours, for by them He has crafted us into what we are becoming.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NASB)

“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83)

 

white flag surrenderWhile I believe the world was created in an instant cosmic response of obedience to God’s word, I believe that same God designed an order of things – an order defined by variances of growth or decay. In this balance, homeostasis is delicate and requires change to be kept in check. Failure to sense imbalance can lead to indifference, then to neglect, finally to decay. That is one of the main reasons I find maintenance in recovery so difficult. When I am free from my obsession of food and weight, I am liberated from the constant weigh-ins, content with what I see in the mirror because I am looking at the spiritual child of God and not his outline. A few extra pounds attached themselves to me while I was in the bliss of just such anesthetized ignorance – routine that looks just like spiritual fitness only isn’t. Awareness of this unwanted growth came just as my enemy would will it: timed perfectly in a bed of weakness, insecurity, and self-doubt. Clearly, not a fit spiritual condition.

I have been sick with a respiratory infection to varying degrees for twelve weeks. Twelve weeks! I have been on and off powerful antibiotics, breathing treatments, and even steroids. Some of the medicines I have taken came with warnings that they might make me “edgy,” a gentle euphemism for a condition I used to call home. They cannot, however, take the blame for what happened yesterday.

Just like most spiritual attacks, this one was well orchestrated to undermine a ministry commitment. Yesterday was our rotation for church prayer ministry, and it involved both my precious bride and me. No good attack comes from only one direction or by only one weapon, and so it was with this one. The weakness that comes by disease affects the body, but it takes something more to erode the spirit. This one, unfortunately, was complete.

My physical illness has been so chronic that my wife declared by assertion that she was taking over the lawn maintenance responsibilities whether I liked it or not. She rightly pointed out that caring for the lawn aggravates my allergies, and argued that we cannot afford for me to be sick. This tied together two insecurities, physical and financial, rolled them into a ball, and gagged me to silence. So, with my body bound by affliction, and my opinion choked out by insecurities, I was cast into helplessness. Well, not entirely. Yet.

I bought a new self-propelled lawn mower, set it up, and showed my precious bride how to run it. I offered suggestions, but was soon made aware that they were being taken as manipulative assertions of my selfish way and will. In keeping with my living amends, I kept my advice quiet. Mostly. Its new operator lowered the deck on the lawnmower so that the previously well-manicured lawn was shaved bald. When I asked why, I was told it was to keep from having to mow as often. I gritted my teeth, but somehow managed to delicately sum up the hours of research I had done on the optimal height of grass. The exchange was positive and concluded with mutual agreement. When the second week went by without any trimming or edging, I spoke up again. I was told the neglect was intentional, an effort to grow centipede grass runners which would then be cut and transplanted in areas of thinner grass population. I agonized in silence for a steamy couple days. Then, in a single hour of defiance, I donned my particulate filter mask and tore through the chore of trimming and weeding the front yard with the most contemptible resentment of my recent recollection. What could just as easily have been performed as an act of love was, for me that day, a venomous blast of selfish, fearful, insecure anger. But that was almost a week past, merely groundwork for the attack that would come yesterday.

My work on the front yard went unrecognized, and perhaps unnoticed. Wounds fester better when left unattended.

The spiritual topography on which it was fought would have a lot to do with how this battle was lost. With the mountains of financial insecurity defined by retirement, college expenses, and an unanticipated job loss in the family, it was easier to pin me down against the insecurity of the eyes of the neighborhood homeowner’s association. But that would have left some wiggle room. To be sure I didn’t survive the onslaught, my other weaknesses were covered in the several hours before, as conversations bounced off my frailties like a pinball racking up bonus points. Old hurts and fears were brought up in benign ways like viewing harmless artifacts in a museum. But their ghosts lingered and began to swirl around me. I began to remember the painful fear of abandonment, rejection, failure, and isolation as “remember when” and “what if” made themselves at home on my left and right.

This is the climate in which my weigh-in came. I had tried to fasten a pair of shorts and their belt the day before and noticed they were tight like some of my tee shirts had lately begun to feel. I made a commitment then to weigh on Sunday morning. In retrospect, I admit that could surely have been planned better. Seven pounds may not seem like much for a guy who used to gain and lose that in two days, but it is a lot when confirming fears of a delicate balance lost. As much as I tried to remind myself that pounds are not my responsibility, but are the result of many choices which are, I still read the scale, “Seven pounds of failure!”

As my bride and I readied ourselves for church, the casual, if not playful, conversation turned too quickly for the slippery surface of a frightened compulsive overeater faced with failure on a bed of every imaginable insecurity. Wounded, scared, and backed into a corner, I bared my teeth the way any beast, no matter how fluffy or cuddly, will do when cornered. I harmed again, spewing venomous curses, laying down my will like it was law, and issuing threats.

Now, I am sitting in the dark, alone. The isolation and abandonment I feared has become my sentence. That, and the awareness of the uncomfortable constriction of my belt around my waist. She’ll be back. I know this well enough that it should never have been a fear in the first place. But she will not be happy about it. Of that I should have been reverently afraid. My selfishness makes me needlessly and harmfully afraid. To defend myself against the things I fear, I have perpetrated acts that have realized those very fears. Again!

So I admit to God, to myself, and to you the exact nature of my wrongs. I am entirely ready to let God remove my defects of character. I have humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings, have chronicled my harm, and am ready to mend what I have broken.

God, grant me the opportunity to live in a mended fashion, but to trust You to do the mending. Help me to flex rather than snap, to give rather than grab. Help me concern myself with the emotional welfare of those around me rather than what I might lose or fail to attain. You are the owner of all, and I have no reason to insist on anything. May Your will be done, and Your glory magnified!

 

white chipsDear sponsor,

As a result of my recent lack of exercise and increase in girth and weight, I am making a change in my plan of eating (POE). I am reducing my daily energy intake by 150 calories. I also plan to eliminate the daily breakfast egg as well as the single red potato lately taken at suppertime. This will put my caloric target at 2150 rather than 2300. When I get back on my feet and off my butt I will reexamine my energy intake. Until then, I’m splitting the difference between what I have been doing and the RDA of 2000. My food log is still published online at http://www.livestrong.com/thedailyplate/diary/who/TLJax/.

 

 

 

Going Against the Current

 Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭14‬:‭9‬ NLT)

Friends of Earth make sport of children of Heaven who make introspection a habit and holiness a goal. “Nobody likes a saint,” mockers say. Just yesterday I was ridiculed by one of my childhood mentors who tried to tell me that “self-flagellation,” which was his word to describe my practice of living Twelve-Step life surrendered to God, was unnecessary and unproductive. I have to remember that the broken world will resist my amends-making, because disorder does not well tolerate order. It goes against the current.

Holy Father, today, accept this broken offering and transfigure it into a useful beacon to You. Give me grace to continue on the upstream path You have set before me. Never let me forget what waits ahead: more perfect unity with You.