Archive for October, 2009

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Thy will, not mine, be done.

In recovery, there is no tool more useful and effective than The Serenity Prayer. Regardless of whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, ALANON, Narcotics Anonymous, or Adult Children of Alcoholics, everybody uses The Serenity Prayer. In many meetings, it’s recited in unison. At one time or another, everybody uses it. The value of its wisdom is difficult to fathom. Occasionally, when life is difficult, The Serenity Prayer may be the only tool you have standing between you and the emotional wall standing directly in front of you.

Interestingly, The Serenity Prayer was first penned by Reinhold Neibuhr, the theologian who wrote The Children of Darkness and the Children of Light, which detailed why democracies were initially ineffective against totalitarian despots. In Neibuhr’s case, he was writing specifically about Hitler’s Nazi Germany, during the 1930s. The Serenity Prayer was used initially to stand confidently against an abusive political leader; perhaps the most abusive political leader of all time—with Stalin and a few others close behind.

The point is this: If The Serenity Prayer is effective with abusive political leaders; it’s equally effective in standing against abusive religious leaders. As such, it’s a tool you can and should use as often as needed. If you haven’t already done so, learn The Serenity Prayer, and recite it whenever needed.

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STEP 6: I abandon my desire to spread malice because of my pain and anger, and I chose to relinquish my right to be self-absorbed.

Having a relationship with God through faith, your Heavenly Father has already provided you with everything you need to facilitate your own recovery. It’s inside you. By faith, you are God’s child and have all the rights which that entails. This isn’t the power of positive thinking; it’s true and it’s real.

You may feel lost, detached, helpless, and defeated, but you are not. You may feel like you are in the world, without God—adrift and helpless—but you are not. You may feel like nothing good will ever come into your life again, but it doesn’t have to be that way. All is not lost—not even close.

What you must come to recognize it that your recovery depends on how you choose to proceed. It’s your choice—completely your choice. If you want to nurse your wounds, blaming those who have abused you, you can certainly do that. It’s your right, and it’s the path most choose to follow, especially when the abuse is fresh.

Being angry is normal but, by becoming stuck in anger, you’ll become bitter. When bitterness clutches your soul, it diminishes your quality of life, insuring you will never be the person God intended you to be. Bitterness can run so deep in a person that it’s as addictive as a controlled substance—an obstinance nearly impossible to break. Once it takes hold, it becomes part of you, diminishing your productivity and altering your countenance. Nothing good comes from it—nothing. If you’ve become bitter, it’s imperative that you make a conscious choice to break its hold upon you.

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STEP 2: I refuse to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed for patience—only to become more impatient when I’m finished. My anxiety level actually increases. Praying for patience doesn’t work. At least, my experience is that it doesn’t work. Perhaps such prayers work for some people, but they certainly don’t work for those of us in recovery.

What does work, however, is acceptance. When I want something and don’t get it, my frustration level increases. The longer I am denied what I desire, the greater my level of frustration becomes.

When I learn to recognize what’s happening and step back from it, I pray differently. I say, God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Generally, my impatience comes from not being able to control the outcome of a situation. The harder I try, the more impatient I become. When I accept that I have no control over a situation, a funny thing happens, I become patient, knowing that the outcome is God’s control and not mine.

Therefore, when I lack patience, I don’t pray to become patient. I pray for acceptance, which creates the patience I desire in the first place. If you try this, I’m certain you’ll be pleased with the outcome.

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Step 4: I chose to accept as true what God says about Himself. He is good and can be trusted. I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

Believing in his own infallibility, the leader becomes accountable to God only, which means it’s all right to treat others any way he chooses. That’s where the problem comes. Lesser human beings become expendable. Using their position of superiority, they “strut their stuff” arrogantly, expecting their followers to be obsequious when they do. They believe their exalted position gives them the right to do so, and they expect others to recognize it, accept it, and pay homage to them. This misuse of power and authority is the single greatest source of religious abuse. Nothing compares to it.

Being a spiritual leader, however, does not equate to being spiritually superior—quite the contrary. In recovery, because we have felt the sting of religious superiority so acutely, we know how abusive it can be. That’s why so many react negatively to it, blaming God for the abusiveness of those who claim to speak for Him.

The key is to recognize the difference. God is good and can be trusted. An abusive spiritual leader is just a man who arrogates God’s authority to himself inappropriately—nothing more, nothing less.

Recognizing the error is appropriate, but blaming God for it isn’t. He is never abusive. When you begin to understand the difference, you will have made a significant step in your recovery.

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Step 4: I chose to accept as true what God says about Himself. He is good and can be trusted. I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

In recovery, especially after having experienced religious abuse, we have to view service to others differently. When you take a look at the lives of religious leaders, especially from large churches and ministries, frequently the leaders consider themselves to be the superiors of others. Even if they give lip service to saying they are servants, they don’t really believe it. In their minds and hearts, what they think and what they have to say is more important than what others think and have to say.

The reason for this isn’t based on their leadership position within the organization but on having a closer walk with God than those they have been called to serve. In a strange twist of irony, their initial skill set of serving others changes, and they become de facto gods within their fiefdoms. As such, they are definitely treated as superior beings—as people who know more and have a closer walk with God.

This causes at least two problems. The first is that those around them rarely hold them accountable, choosing instead to become “yes men” to the religious leader. The gods of religion love this and within a short period start to believe in their own infallibility. Believing they are God’s Divinely Chosen Vessel to carry an important message to the world, men like these stop serving others and expect to be served themselves. Sadly, this happens all the time, and those who speak out against it are discarded, suffering religious abuse for speaking the truth.

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STEP 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with God, asking Him to reveal His will to me as well as the power to carry it out.

What is the mark of success for a man or woman? Is it fame and fortune, enjoying the good life that typifies the American dream?

In the church we are told, more often than not, that success comes from doing the will of God. Assuming that’s true, which it probably is, what does that look like? My observation is that it’s virtually the same as achieving the American dream. God wants you to be successful. He wants you to enjoy material blessings, which He is anxious to bestow upon you. Accepting this as true, people by the millions pray for things rather than for their fellow human beings.

In recovery, you must look at life from a different perspective—from an entirely new paradigm. To be successful, you must pour yourself out for others, constantly and repeatedly, regardless of whether you can see the result of your endeavors or not. To make your abusive experience have value, you must reach out to others. Having suffered from your experience gives you insight and wisdom others lack.

Washing the feet of others, to use a biblical analogy, is what Christ did for those who needed it. Because of your experience, you have the soap, water, and towel to do the same thing. If you can humble yourself to serve others in this way, you will be successful and your abusive experience will have had purpose. The reward for such service is far greater than any material success you could desire. Helping others not only adds to them but it also adds estimable character qualities to you as well.

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STEP 5: I have to repair my relationship with God and make amends with everyone I have wronged along the way.

One of the primary sources of religious abuse comes from a misunderstanding of The Great Commission. If you ask most Christians what The Great Commission is, they will tell you it is to witness about their faith. In denominations like the Southern Baptists, witnessing has been drummed into people so much they become legalistic witnesses, talking about a life most don’t really experience—not consistently anyway.

Christians witness by their behavior far more than by what they say. The difference between what they say and what they do is often so great that it causes wounding to those who clearly recognize the difference between the two. Family members in particular become embittered because they experience the difference between what is said and what is done. For them, talking the talk rarely matches walking the walk. The gap is so great, they become embittered. Then, they either speak out about the hypocrisy, or they keep their mouth shut, stuffing their feeling in the process. Eventually, this embitters them, and they dismiss Christianity because of it. To these people, the claims of Christianity have been over-sold and under-delivered.

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STEP 10: I believe that God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

As times have become more difficult, Christians are abdicating their responsibility to be “salt and light” to the world more than ever. Believing that the Rapture is imminent, in a twisted way, Christians actually welcome the deterioration of the society. They believe it will hasten the Lord’s return. In a perverse sense, faithlessness—in the form of apathy—actually becomes a badge of honor as Christians by the millions look for signs of the times rather than stand for what is right.

What if their prognostications are wrong? What if the Lord doesn’t come for another millennium? What will the epitaph be for this generation?

Like many generations before us, we will be counted as faithless—lukewarm people without much value.

Now is the time to stand and be counted, and it’s definitely not the time to be consumed with an apathetic worldview. We may want a cosmic bailout, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. Nearly every generation is sure it will be the last. It’s a generational narcissism Christians love to embrace, but it “ain’t necessarily so.”

Wouldn’t it be better to fight the good fight—to stand firm regardless of the consequences? Is there any merit in doing anything less? Is apostasy ever a good strategy? Of course not.

Today’s Thought: Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

—Soren Kierkegard—

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Step 2: I refuse to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

Whenever you talk about recovery, whether it’s from alcoholism, spousal abuse, drug addiction, or religious abuse—failure is a prerequisite. Without being a failure, there would be no need for recovery. But failure doesn’t have to be negative—not in the long term. The key isn’t whether or not you’ve failed but what you do with your failure—how you process it. If you deny that you’ve failed, which most people do—at least in the short term, you’ll remain stuck. You’ll stay exactly where you are, constantly justifying past behavior, saying, “I was right. The other person was wrong.”

Sadly, that’s where most people live their lives—looking back rather than looking forward, carrying the weight of their emotional bondage with them. It makes every aspect of their lives a struggle.

It’s not at all what God wants for you; that’s for sure. Denial never works—never, never, never. Instead of living in denial, embrace your failure—make it your own. Accept it; acknowledge it; and move on. Never allow your failures to corrupt your future. Stop living in shame, looking back at the past, which you are powerless to change. That’s what God’s forgiveness and mercy is all about, and it’s where recovery begins. It’s the bottom you have to reach before real growth can begin.

Remember, God has allowed you to go through difficult periods for a purpose. Use that difficulty constructively. It will help you get “unstuck.” It will allow your experience to have value—for yourself and for others.

Thought for Today: Fall six times, get up seven.

—Japanese Proverb—

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STEP 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with God, asking Him to reveal His will to me as well as the power to carry it out.

Many people retreat to God because they don’t want to face challenges; they don’t want to muddle through life’s difficult situations. They want pat answers for everything and a life free from conflict—free from the negative consequences, which stem from their poor decisions. They want a cosmic bailout.

They also want God to be a constant, perpetual blessing machine. They want Him to indulge them with creature comforts as a sign that He loves them—as a sign that they are OK. Materialism and the acquisition of “things” validates their standing with God, providing positive proof that they are living life as they were intended to live it.

Churches corroborate this mindset routinely by elevating successful businessmen to the role of elder and deacon to the exclusion of all others—except for doctors and lawyers, of course. In this way of thinking, above all else, God wants His people to enjoy creature comforts—lots of them, which success in business ensures.

Christians with this mindset give lip service to loving and caring for others, when—in reality—their existence and purpose for life is all about themselves. In their superficiality, they believe they are profound, as they blissfully go about their lives doing whatever benefits them.

Pursuing an alternative purpose, which is at cross-purposes with materialism, never enters their mind. If it did, it would be no more than a fleeting thought—like the emotional response you might experience after watching an uplifting movie. It touches you for a short while, but that’s all. It has no life-altering impact.

In their lethargy, they assume little responsibility for the state of the world or for the depraved condition of mankind—spiritually, morally, or materially. For your recovery to be long lasting, your must make the Golden Rule part of your life—a substantial part.

Today’s Thought: He who has hope has everything.
—Arabian Proverb—

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

Often lines from a movie make a profound impression on people. In one obscure movie, a man who had badly fallen said, “It’s easier to maintain character than to recover it.”

As a superficial statement, it’s obviously true. It is easier to maintain character than recover it once it is lost. When it’s gone, it’s gone and, trying to retrieve it, is always an uphill battle.

But that’s only part of it. Once virtue has been abandoned, most lose hope and simply live out the role they believe they have been destined to live. From a legalistic perspective, they’re done; their goose is cooked. They’ve fallen, and they can’t get up. They believe they are beyond hope, which produces despair, poor behavior, and low self-esteem. More often than not, this is what people believe about themselves.

From God’s perspective, it’s entirely different. God seeks those who desire recovery above all others. They know the value of restoration—the value of having their dignity reinstated. Being forgiven much; they develop a deeper capacity to love, which is a highly valued character quality. If you’re in recovery—any kind of recovery—you know this as well.

Those who have never fallen—never done anything seriously wrong—don’t understand this perspective. Even their comprehension of this is limited. They don’t have a clue about recovery—nor does it interest them. They don’t understand its value, but we do. Don’t we?

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STEP 2: I refuse to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

Christianity is all about a person developing a relationship with Almighty God—a personal, intimate relationship. As such, the literature describing God’s nature and Man’s nature is deep and authentic, especially when it comes to how sinful men related to a holy God. It’s why the Scriptures are so rich with wisdom—God’s wisdom.

At the same time, Christianity in America, especially from the last half of the 20th century forward, has many commonly held assumptions, which contradict biblical teaching and the reality of life. One of these false assumptions is that once a person invites Christ to come into his or her life that their sinful behavior changes quickly and permanently.

It’s the reason why churches parade new converts in front of the entire church to “give their testimony.” Like an infomercial, these testimonies exaggerate the truth as much as a middle-aged man exaggerates how far and how often he jogs. Invariably, the person giving the testimony exaggerates the depth of their depravity before inviting Christ to come into his or her life. With equal hyperbole, the person describes how exemplary they have become since becoming “born again.”

Like most infomercials, the product is over-sold and under delivered. Because authenticity is missing, many dismiss these testimonies as being overstated, while others reject Christianity because they can see the speakers as hypocrites.

Here’s the question that needs to be answered: Wouldn’t it be better to tell the truth scrupulously, and let the chips fall where they may?

THOUGHT FOR TODAY: It’s really hard for God to guide you, if you keep running out ahead of him!
—AA Anonymous—

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STEP 2: I refuse to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

Adversity is a way of life in recovery—a constant that needs to be recognized and accepted. An easier, softer way just isn’t in the cards. The trick is to look at your life from a growth perspective and not as an end result. You may never win the game, but we can always be a winner in the process, if you keep at it.

There was a little boy talking to himself as he strutted through the backyard, wearing his baseball cap and toting a ball and bat. “I’m the greatest hitter in the world,” he announced. Then he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it, and missed.
“Strike One”, he yelled. Undaunted, he picked up the ball and said again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” He tossed the ball into the air. When it came down he swung again and missed. “Strike two,” he cried.

The boy then paused a moment to examine his bat and ball carefully. He straightened his cap and said once more, I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” Again, he tossed the ball in the air and swung at it. He missed. “Strike three!”

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”

Instead of looking at himself like a failure, he accentuated the positive and kept playing the game. That’s what people in recovery need to do. Keep playing the game—win, lose, or draw. If you do, you’ll always be a winner.

Today’s Thought: Never, never, never, never give up.
—Winston Churchill—

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STEP 5: I recognize the only way back to a productive life is exactly the way I came.

When despair comes, recognize it for what it is, but never give in to it. The feeling is normal, but if you nurture it, it will develop into self-pity, which will consistently prevent you from standing on your feet. Instead, ask God this: “What do You want me to learn from this experience? What is the lesson You are trying to teach me? Please, I want to understand it, learn from it, and grow from it.”

When you ask this, be still and listen. Be patient—even when it’s the last thing you want to do. If you do, the lesson will come—not in a loud, bombastic way but gently. Your revelation will develop from deep within. That’s the way God does it. Something will just click into place—something you never knew before. When that happens, you can transform your character and become a different person—a wiser person, a better person.

The alternative is to dismiss the lesson, which means you’re destined to repeat it. There’s no getting around it. A wise person listens—a stubborn person doesn’t.
People in recovery are often obstinate, which means they have to go through a world of pain before they become willing to learn.

The choice is yours. Learn the lesson early or learn it late—after you’ve been through more painful experiences.

THOUGHT FOR TODAY: Feel free to return to your old ways. We’re happy to refund your misery whenever you want.

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Step 10: I believe that God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

In our society, success is measured by notoriety, beauty, or the accumulation of wealth. If you’re young, look good, and have lots of money to spend, whether you’ve earned it or not, you are living the American dream—at least the current version. It’s what most people strive to accomplish, and nearly all miss the mark badly. Those who do achieve it believe they are entitled to it always. When they no longer have it, most lack the maturity to move on with life productively, choosing instead to turn to vice to medicate their pain.

As you progress in recovery, your values begin to change. You realize that what the world considers worthwhile is never satisfying—not soul satisfying. Being at the right party, with the right partner, and wearing the right outfit may be fun but, as your purpose for life, it is an empty existence—an unsustainable existence. What counts is being of value to your fellow man—to those in need.

For you to own your recovery fully, you must give it away by serving others.

How you do that is between you and God. It will probably never be flashy; you may never even be noticed for it. In many instances, you may never be thanked for your efforts, but that doesn’t matter. Helping others is part of your recovery, and it is pleasing to God—big time. It satisfies at a level that a Rolex or BMW never can.

Thought for Today: Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.

—Helen Keller—

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