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Refining Your Character

 

 

Refer to Step 9: I humbly ask God to change anything He wishes, and I ask Him to heal my pain. Because God forgives us as we forgive others, I forgive my abusers.

 

A spiritually optimistic point of view holds that the universe is woven out of a fabric of love. Everything that is happening is ultimately for the good, if we’re willing to face it head-on and use our adversities for soul growth.

—Joan Borysenko

 

If you ask someone if they want to be a better person, the answer will always be yes. Nearly everybody wants to be a new and improved version of himself or herself. The problem is people generally lack the tools to get from point A to point B. Consequently, most muddle through life in a languid state of mediocrity.

Some try positive thinking, meditation, or a myriad of other ways to improve themselves, occasionally going to great expenditures of time and resources to do so. Some of it is helpful, but little of it gets to the core of what really changes a person—at least not fundamental character change.

To achieve that, you have to go before the Lord and allow Him to reveal you to yourself. If you don’t go willingly, He will do it for you. Trust me about that; I know from experience.

When that happens, you become undone. It’s like you are standing naked, with the essence of your being exposed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. He understands your thoughts and can discern the intentions of your heart, taking your vulnerability far past your comfort zone, revealing the huge gap between Himself and the wretch you recognize yourself to be.

In the aftermath of such an experience, at first it’s difficult to regain your equilibrium. Seeing yourself as you really are—instead of who you project yourself to be—is unnerving, humbling, and ultimately transformational. You start to ask yourself questions, and often you don’t like the answers. Having had such an experience, I asked myself the following:

  • What do I need to do to become the person I was created to be?
  • How can I put the needs of others before my own—and not just say that I do?
  • What areas of my thinking need to change?
  • What beliefs do I have that hold me back?
  • What grandiose expectations hinder my personal growth?
  • What attitudes do I hold that are self-serving?
  • What specific behavior needs to change to get me from point A to point B?

As I moved forward, with my mind and heart renewed, I thanked God for giving me the opportunity to become a better person.

 

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Jack Watts


Taking Ownership of Your Problems

 

 

Refer to Step 3: I accept that the responsibility for getting back on track is mine and no one else’s.

 

Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: there is no one to blame.

—Erica Jong

 

In the many years I have been a Christian—some walking with the Lord and some not—I’ve noticed that a large number of believers have an incorrect perspective on life. They attribute their difficulties, especially their interpersonal conflicts, to the Devil. They will say something like, “Satan really has a hold on that person’s life,” or “The Enemy has really been coming against me in this situation.”

Because the Scriptures teach that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of wickedness, conflicts assume a cosmic significance, which often isn’t there. Occasionally, there may be some truth to it, but my experience tells me that most of the problems come from the people themselves and not from forces of darkness. It’s easy to blame the Devil for everything. It absolves the person of taking responsibility for his or her own actions.

For your recovery to work the way it should, you must accept the responsibility for your actions and not take the easy way out of blaming Satan for them. It simply doesn’t work, and in most cases, it isn’t true. When a problem manifests itself, you must always look for your part in it, and the sooner the better. If you’re being honest, you’ll usually find it.

If you’ve been foolish, admit it. Don’t deflect; don’t rationalize; and don’t project your problems onto another. Repudiate the darkness immediately and come to the light. Finally, do whatever is necessary to make amends to the one you’ve offended.

It’s natural to want to avoid the responsibility for your actions, but as a child of God, your behavior must be different. If you’re to become as useful as you desire, looking to the Lord first has to become your engrained response. When difficulties come, as they always do, your reaction is what determines your growth and how valuable your recovery will be.

 

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)


In spite of what anyone might tell you, God is not a blessing machine, ready to dispense material favors for all who ask, without qualification or hesitation. When you review the “Fruits of the Spirit,” materialism is not mentioned. What is declared are estimable character qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. Each of these character qualities is highly valued by God, and if you want to be a person after “God’s own heart,” you will seek them above the pleasures of life.

Too often, most of us complain to God because we want material blessings without the slightest consideration of whether or not receiving them is actually good for us or not. What we want is for God to spare us from the natural consequences of our actions. We’ve come to learn that government bailouts are counter-productive, but we never seem to understand that asking God to bail us out may also be counter-productive. We are like children who demand candy from a reluctant parent, never considering what harm it might do.

Because we don’t recognize or understand the bigger picture, we demand that God make our will be His will. Then, we become critical of His treatment toward us when He doesn’t comply. Consequently, to us it seems like our prayers have gone unanswered. When we don’t get what we want, it’s usually because God is working on other, more important, things.

If your desire purpose to be restored to your life, along with deep, estimable character qualities, join me in this prayer:

Father,

Sometimes, life can be so complicated.

Doing the right thing seems easy enough,

Until it comes time to do it,

When the dread of adverse consequences

Becomes an overwhelming nightmare.

My heart’s desire is for my life to become easier.

Tell me, why am I so special that my journey

Is constantly filled with so many difficulties?

Why can’t things go smoothly—just for a while?

Why me, Lord? Why me? Why? Why? Why?

I don’t want to sound like I’m whining,

But I know that I am. I’m complaining because

My shoes are too tight, while others go barefoot.

I know I should be more grateful,

But I want a respite from my travail and anguish.

I want to be far from despair and sorrow.

I want to serve You with gladness and joy,

But I have no sense of hope within me—

Nothing that can sustain me for more

Than a few moments at a time.

I don’t want to be a robotic automaton,

Pretending everything is fine and joyous,

When I know things are dreadfully wrong.

My days, which are numbered by You,

Are passing before me, and it all seems

Like a terrible, meaningless waste.

Intervene, Lord, and allow me to know

Joy and gladness once again.

Fill my days with peace and purpose,

So that I can tell other of Your fidelity.

Rebuild me into the person you want me to be—

Strong and resourceful, and ready to do

The next right thing with gladness in my heart.

I ask this in Christ’s Name, amen.

Jack Watts


Refer to Step 2: I commit to stop living my life in pursuit of self-defeating behavior.

 

Many of us prefer to stay at the threshold of the Christian life instead of going on to construct a soul in accordance with the new life God has put within. We fail because we are ignorant of the way we are made. We put things down to the devil instead of our own undisciplined natures. Think what we can be when we are roused!

—Oswald Chambers

 

The single greatest enemy to our recovery is the state of our minds. Because we have been abused, typically we feel defeated and worthless, which is exactly the message our abusers want us to receive. It’s probably one of the reasons why they abused us in the first place. Although it’s normal to have feelings of worthlessness as a result of these experiences, it’s self-defeating to internalize them and make them part of who you are.

If you want to be a whole person—valuable to yourself and to others—you must renew your mind and reject what your abuser has said about you. Don’t internalize it. If you already have, make a commitment to renew your mind immediately. The way to do this is simple: accept that God loves you and desires your recovery.

The solution is easy, but summoning the courage and the will to transform your mind may be the most difficult thing you ever do. Plus, it’s not a one-time decision. You have to do it every day—sometimes every hour. It’s hard, but the value of making the effort is incalculable.

If you make the commitment and persevere, over time and slowly, you’ll change and become everything God ever intended you to be. If you don’t, you’ll wallow in mediocrity and self-pity for years, perhaps decades. The choice is yours. Renew your mind, or continue to internalize the lies that others have said about you as the truth.

 

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God. (I Corinthians 2:12)

Jack Watts


Learning to Trust God

 

Father,

As the years pass by,

I often hear people brag

About how much they trust You,

But their pronouncements seem no deeper

Than those of a fickle, self-serving lover.

Their assurances seem so contrived,

Lacking tangibility, resiliency, and authenticity.

Their affirmations, which flow mellifluously,

Invariably have selfish and egotistical motives,

Which are devoid of substance and altruism.

I’ve come to believe it’s because their loyalty

Wasn’t forged in adversity or weathered by hardship.

Their trust in You seems shallow, juvenile, and vapid,

Rather than strong, robust, and unshakable.

Believing that whining and demanding will gain

Your favor rather than genuine humility,

They come before You with greedy hearts—

Hearts that are petulant, peevish, and ungrateful.

 

I understand this perspective completely,

Having spent decades of my life coming before You

In precisely the same self-serving, self-centered way—

Never understanding and never acknowledging

That Your will is perfect—exactly what I need.

I concede my effrontery and selfish motives.

I have foolishly thought my way has been

Better than Yours, but I have been wrong.

I have wanted my way, believing that

When You refused to grant it, You were being

Distant and detached, unloving and uncaring.

I have been wrong about that as well.

Without a doubt, You know what’s best for me,

Regardless of what that might be

.

After years of perusing foolishness,

I understand the error of my ways.

I wish I had understood it sooner,

But I lacked the maturity to do so.

Now, as wisdom settles deep within me,

I acknowledge willingly,

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

Blessed be Your name.

Amen

Jack Watts

Reflections


Father:

Help me understand the needs of others,

Never criticizing,

Never demeaning,

Never scolding,

Never condemning.

You have been so gracious to me,

Always Loving,

Always forgiving,

Always restoring—

Never chastising me for my defeats,

Even when I have been so wrong.

Father, keep a condemning spirit

Far from my heart and further from my lips.

Question: Having a critical spirit is an essential ingredient for abusiveness. Being completely honest with yourself, on a scale of 1-to-10, how critical are you with others? After your abuse, did that increase or decrease?

 

When a person reaches his or her bottom, and there are no other options, that’s when they are finally willing to take the advise of their friends and “trust the Lord.” By this point, their emotional isolation has taken a substantial toll on them, and the person doubts that their life will ever be worthwhile again.

Journal: Write about the emotional toll your abuse has had in your life. Be sure to write about what it has had on your family as well.

 

My relationship with Christ grew through my adversities—not in spite of them. It wasn’t a steady line, and I routinely fought Him by indulging in anger and self-pity, neither of which helped me mature or resolve anything. As one difficulty after another threatened to overwhelm me, my faith and commitment to Christ increased rather than diminished—not because that was what I had planned or wanted, but because I had no alternative.

Journal: Write about your journey—about the ups and downs you’ve experienced.

 

I’ve learned that what attracts someone to Christ is kindness, mercy, love, and acceptance—not being judgmental or self-righteous. Isn’t that what drew you to Him in the beginning—His love and His mercy?

Question: Think about what drew you to God in the first place. Try and recreate the emotions that you felt at the time. What was that like for you?

 

How many people do you know who have had negative experiences with Christianity—five, ten, fifty, or perhaps hundreds? Helping them in their recovery process, which most would welcome, doesn’t feel like such a difficult assignment—not like witnessing to strangers, anyway.

Journal: Take a minute to think of how many people you know who have suffered religious abuse. Now, write down their names. Be sure to keep the list.

Jack Watts


After the pain from being abused begins to subside, after we realize our life is going to take a very different direction than we originally expected, we start asking ourselves what lessons we need to learn from our painful experience. Although this may sound like a healthy place to begin, it’s not. There’s one step before this, which needs to be addressed:

 

What do I need to unlearn from my experience?

 

If you make the decision to begin with this question, your recovery will be deeper and more thorough. Before we become fit and useful to ourselves and to others, having been enmeshed in self-deception, we need to unlearn erroneous thought patterns we have internalized as true. Until we do this, we will flounder, making less progress than we should.

It does no good to simply criticize our abusers, essentially throwing verbal stones at them. It may feel good at the moment, but it doesn’t help the healing process. We need to do more.

We must recognize our deception and make a conscious decision to never be entrapped by the same falsehoods again. By doing this, we will be unlearning whatever imprisoned us in the first place.

Once this is accomplished, we will finally get back to square one. Upon reaching this spot, we will be ready to allow God’s Truth to cleanse us and renew our spirits. But make no mistake about it—we have to unlearn our errors before our recovery will have lasting value. If we don’t, we will remain vulnerable to the next abuser who comes along.

If you want to cleanse yourself of falsehood, join me in this prayer:

 

Father,

Having been wounded at the core of my being,

I have stopped seeking You—

Stopped praying, stopped looking to You

For discernment, guidance, and wisdom.

I haven’t wanted anything to do with You.

I have been so angry, hurt, and humiliated.

In my pain, I have acted in shameful ways,

And I have tried to hide my behavior

From You and from everybody else.

I didn’t want my life to be like this—

I didn’t want to become like I am.

My sins have gone over my head,

And I am unable to control them,

Which I foolishly believed I could.

They control me, and I know it.

I can no longer hide from the truth.

I am weary of concealing my face in shame,

Of churning my anger and my bitterness—

Of medicating my pain with dissipation.

I don’t want the wounds from my past,

Which I received in my abusive situation,

To control my future as well.

Help me to recognize truth about myself

Rather than the self-deception I have embraced.

I want to stop my downward cycle.

I want to change my behavior completely.

Father, I am in a deep pit and I know it,

And there is no easy way to extricate myself.

I have routinely blamed others for my plight,

Choosing to embrace the role of being a victim,

Convincing myself that I have been faultless,

But I no longer believe my delusions.

I have to admit the truth to You and to myself.

I need Your help. Without You,

My life will have neither meaning nor value.

Help me end my self-defeating behavior,

So that I can once again be clean.

Restore me to strength and sanity.

Thank You, Father, amen.

 

Refer to Step 1: I acknowledge that my life is shipwrecked and not where I want it to be.

 

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

 

Jack Watts

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