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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