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Archive for July, 2013


 

Refer to Step 4: I chose to accept as true what God has said about Himself. He is good and can be trusted.

Sometimes God doesn’t change your situation because He is trying to change your heart.

—Larry Rust

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,” material acquisition is not mentioned. What is mentioned are estimable character qualities like 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 all else.

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.

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

Jack Watts   Resources

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  • Gail Sanders Walrath: I encourage every person to read this book. It is so well written, packed full of thought-provoking, well-researched, theology and philosophy. It’s a perfect book for Bible study groups. More importantly, it is a perfect book for personal reflection and growth. If our country continues to be hit by the issues we are experiencing today, this book has answers for facing the worst possible destruction together. It may be one of the most important reads of your life. There’s rarely a day that I do not think about certain passages in THE SEARCH FOR REALITY or that I don’t dwell on its soul-saving message! Big THUMBS UP!
    Reality Cover Front Only
    Most books over promise and under deliver, but not The Search for Reality. If you are having trouble coping with your life or what is happening around you, this book is for you. By the way, this endorsement was unsolicited. You may read the first chapter here.

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

When I live in the past, I live in regret. When I live in the future, I live in fear. When I stay in the present, everything is okay.

—Anonymous

After the pain of our abuse begins to subside, after we realize our life is going to take a very different direction than we desired or expected, we start asking ourselves what lessons we need to learn from our painful experience. Although this may sound like a healthy place to start, 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, we need to unlearn the errors we have internalized as true, while we were enmeshed in our deception. 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 falsehood again. By doing this, we will be unlearning whatever imprisoned us in the first place. Once 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 remain vulnerable to the next abuser who comes along.

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   Resources

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Being Changed from the Inside Out

Father,

When I come before You,

I obediently pay lip service to

How awesome You really are.

When I repeat these words, I mean it—sort of.

I know it’s true, but I’ll have to admit that

Who You are is not what really interests me.

I’m too consumed by what is happening with me.

I acknowledge Your sovereignty because

I want “things” from You. I want Your blessing

And for You to focus Your thoughts on me.

In my self-centeredness, I want You to honor me—

To make my life easier and to make my will Your own.

My prayers seem to focus on what You can do for me,

And little else. It’s because I’m interested

In Your blessing—not in getting to know You better.

I wish I was a better person than this,

Having more character, but I’m not.

I know Your desire is for me to be honest,

Not only with You but also with myself.

So, there it is. I’m selfishly immature, and self-seeking.

All I want is for You to make my smoother.

Admitting my childishness is painfully embarrassing,

But I must be straightforward and truthful with You.

Father, only Your Holy Spirit can change my heart,

Allowing me to desire altruism rather than self-fulfillment.

Place in my heart the desire to seek Your wisdom,

Rather than just Your benevolent hand.

Help me see beyond my limited world

To what You are doing with others.

Give me a heart to care for someone other than myself.

I know my selfishness; it’s ever before me.

I also know that You are busy in my life,

Changing me from the inside out,

Helping me to become a better version of myself

Than I have ever been before.

Jack Watts   Resources

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Father,

I know You want me to trust You completely,

And I do—at least, much of the time.

Because of my past wounding,

And feelings of worthlessness,

I still struggle to believe that You love me—

That You accept me just as I am,

Regardless of my circumstances.

Question: How do you feel about yourself? Do you feel worthless or, at least, close to it? If so, be honest and admit it.

So, the next time you see someone going through a horrific situation, especially an abusive one, pay careful attention. The Lord is probably at work in that person’s life—big time.

 

Question: Take a minute and think back. Can you remember someone being in a situation like this? If you can, what changes did you see in their lives a year or more later?

 

Although I was unable to change the outcome in either situation, I was changed when I made a stand, saying, “This is wrong, and I won’t be part of it.” In your situation, is this something you should also consider doing?

Question: When you recognized the abuse, what was your reaction? More importantly, what did you do about it?

The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself, admitting that you are angry with God. Nothing good can happen until you do so. Then, realize that you have to do everything in your power to get back on the right track. Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to do it yourself. One of the best ways to do this is by being honest about how you feel by journaling about it.

Journal: Be specific about what you have done to get back on track. If you haven’t done much, what would you like to do in the future?

Tragically, because people have been wounded so deeply, many come to believe that the best years of their lives are behind them—with little to look forward to. This way of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, adversely impacting a person’s entire lifetime. Expecting little, their goals are met every time.

Journal: What are your goals for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years? In writing your answer, it’s okay to dream a little.

Jack Watts   Resources

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Set Your Goals High

 

Refer to Step 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with the Lord, asking Him to reveal His will to me and to provide me with the power to carry it out.

 

We find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve.

—Maxwell Maltz

Whenever I ask someone to tell me what their goal is for recovering from religious abuse, I’m always amazed by how little they hope for. Some will say, “I just wish it had never happened. All I want is to get through this situation the best way that I can.” Others will say, “If I could just get back to where I was before all this happened, I’d be satisfied. That’s all I want—nothing more.”

Nothing more! Whenever I hear something like this, it’s hard for me to believe that so many people have such low expectations.

Nevertheless, I suppose that’s one way to look at it, and if it’s the best a person can do, that’s okay. Tragically, because people have been wounded so deeply, many come to believe that the best years of their lives are behind them—with little to look forward to. This way of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, adversely impacting a person’s future. Expecting little, their goals are realized every time.

Although many think this way, it doesn’t have to be like this. Life can be much, much better than simply muddling through. The goals you have may have to alter somewhat, but achieving fulfillment should still be your ambition.

I am firmly convinced that each of us can do better than just aimlessly wandering through life, making it by the skin of our teeth. In your recovery, learn to set your objectives high. You can be everything you ever envisioned yourself to be. Your potential hasn’t diminished. In fact, because of the value of your experience in helping other wounded people, your life can be more fruitful than you ever imagined.

I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Injured Relationships Just Go With The Territory

Refer to Step 7: I will make a detailed, written account of my abusive experiences, as well as my subsequent behavior. I commit to being as thorough and honest as I’m able.

 

We must never allow anything to injure our relationship with God. If it does get injured, we must take time to put it right.

—Oswald Chambers

I don’t think it’s possible to GO through an episode of religious abuse without injuring your relationship with God. It just goes with the territory, regardless of which role you play in the situation.

If you have been falsely accused, the pain and hurt from the confrontation causes damage, and you suffer from it. If you have a measure of guilt and have been accurately confronted, pride inevitably rears its ugly head, which always injures a person’s relationship with God. That’s why it’s number one on the list of the “Seven Deadly Sins.”

Although each position in the conflict has its own unique set of problems, each is injurious to the person’s relationship with God. The tendency is to sweep the problem under the rug and proceed with life, as if nothing has happened. Following this strategy is a mistake, but it’s one many people make, paying a heavy price for doing so.

The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself, admitting that you are angry with God. Nothing good can happen until you do so. Then, realize that you have to do everything in your power to get back on the right track. Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to do it yourself.

One of the best ways to do this is by being honest about how you feel by journaling about it. By writing it all down, you will be more likely to avoid denying that the problem exists. Once you’ve written it, you can leave it for a few days or even a few weeks. When you return to it, you might be surprised by what you have written. Most people are. It’s a great “snapshot” of your true emotions, and it can help you be increasingly honest in the future.

Make me know Thy ways, O Lord; Teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation; for Thee I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, Thy compassion and Thy lovingkindnesses, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Thy lovingkindness remember Thou me, for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord. (Psalm 25:4-7)

Jack Watts   Resources

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

 

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage

—Anais Nin

There is an aphorism, generally attributed to Lord Acton, which is one of my all-time favorites. When I first read it decades ago, I was in graduate school, and I incorporated it into my life. Since then, it has worked its way deeply into my heart to become an integral part of who I am—a part of my core values. It guides my actions and provides clarity to my thoughts. It states:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

When it comes to spiritual abuse, this statement seems particularly applicable. Most of us, when we see or experience abuse, just leave, extricating ourselves from a difficult, toxic situation. Maybe that’s the best thing to do, but maybe it isn’t.

In my own experience, I have confronted one situation head-on, and I have left a similar one quietly, without saying a word. As the years have passed, I feel much better about the time when I confronted the abusiveness than the time when I didn’t.

Although I was unable to change the outcome in either situation, I was changed. I said, “This is wrong, and I won’t be part of it.”

In your situation, is this something you should also consider doing? Your primary responsibility is to take care of yourself and your family. That’s a given, and if that’s all you can do, then it’s enough. If you think you can do more, however, you probably should. It may be difficult, but you’ll feel better about yourself as time passes. It’s what “good” men and women do, and that’s what we want to be—good men and women who will not stand idly by and allow evil to triumph.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind. (Colossians 2:18)

Jack Watts   Resources

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

The greatest concern of our lives is not the Kingdom of God, but how we are to fit ourselves to live. Jesus reverses the order: Get rightly related to God first, maintain that as the great care of your life, and never put the concern of your care on the other things.

—Oswald Chambers

Putting the Kingdom of God first can be the most difficult thing in the world to do, especially for materialistically minded Americans. For us, Christianity is fine, just as long as we can be prosperous and comfortable. If our affluence is threatened, we never consider it to be God’s will.

“God would never do that to me,” each of us reason, when adversity strikes. For us, prosperity and a strong portfolio are essential components of our faith. If that assumption is challenged by our pastors, we become offended and shop around for another church—one that will validate our consumptive inclinations.

Because we think this way, being spiritually abused may eventually become a positive experience. Once it has happened to you, you feel shattered and believe your world will never be the same again. You’re right; it won’t.

This means that you will need to look at life differently. You will need to have your mind renewed to see new possibilities, which is precisely what God wants you to do.

Shattered people cease to be self-centered. Instead, they develop the capability to seek God’s purposes first. Until this happens, it never occurs to people that God wants them to have depth, which has far more value to Him than providing His children with a pleasant, carefree lifestyle. So, the next time you see someone going through a horrific situation, especially an abusive one, pay careful attention. The Lord is probably at work in that person’s life—big time.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:32b-34)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Father,

I know I should trust You completely,

And I do—at least, most of the time.

Because of my past wounding

And feelings of worthlessness,

I still struggle to believe You love me—

To believe You accept me just as I am,

Regardless of how badly I have fallen.

Perhaps that’s why I whine and remain timid,

Even though Your desire is for me

To be strong, joyful, and self-assured.

I desire inner strength, but that’s rarely an option.

Father, how can You love somebody like me?

That You do is beyond my comprehension.

Such love and acceptance is unfathomable.

That you do love me despite everything,

Even when my self-defeating behavior is overwhelming,

Draws me to You, even when I feel like running away.

As You display Your gracious faithfulness,

My trust in You increases and grows stronger,

But it still isn’t where I want it to be.

I pretend to be strong—to be supremely confident,

But I’m not nearly the person on the inside

That I appear to be on the outside.

I pretend to be what I am not—

To be far more confident than I really am.

I even attempt to fool myself,

But You know my frailties, which I try to conceal.

I don’t know why You care about me,

When I don’t even care about myself.

This is a great mystery to me.

In my quiet moments of contemplation,

Which I desperately attempt to avoid,

I try to fathom such love and caring,

But I simply cannot. It is beyond me.

Jack Watts   Resources

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Father,

I know You’ve forgiven my transgressions,

Which have been so egregious,

But I can’t seem to forgive myself.

I can’t divest myself of culpability.

My sin is ever before me,

Relentlessly putting me down,

Telling me that I’m no good,

Which in my heart I believe to be true.

Question: Is this how you feel? On a scale of 1-to-10, with one being the least, how much shame do you feel? Has it gotten better, or do you just not think about it?

Instead of living in denial, make a conscious commitment to embrace your failure—make it your own. Accept it; acknowledge it; and move on. Never allow your past 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. This is the bottom you must reach before real growth can begin.

Question: Have you reached your bottom yet? Wouldn’t you like to get rid of your sense of shame once and for all?

The only way to regain what has been lost is to come to God Almighty, the God of the Trinity, and develop your relationship with Him, based on Scriptural truth. Although unscrupulous men and women may have twisted your thinking about God, for full recovery to occur, you must regain an understanding of God that is based on how He has revealed Himself and not how others have portrayed Him to be. You have to learn once again that God can be trusted. Without relearning this, your recovery will only be partial at best.

Journal: Write about the shame you feel—the awful feelings that haunt you. Also, write about how you have been shamed by your abusers.

Try to take life as it comes. Keep an open mind and an open heart. Make a commitment to do the “right” thing; and if you have difficulty figuring out what that might be, just know that it’s often your most difficult choice. Stay loving, and don’t take everything personally. God isn’t choosing to put you in harm’s way. He is allowing your struggles to deepen your character so that you can develop compassion, which will allow you to take care of the needs of others. At the end of the day, when you can accept your trials with grace and dignity, the person who will benefit the most from them is you.

Question: Can you begin to see how your experience might help other people who have been shamed and abused just like you have been? If so, start thinking about ways you might help someone else.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.

To understand, than to be understood.

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

Journal: After being abused, being self-absorbed is quite common. As you spend time in recovery, however, you learn to think of others as well. In your situation, how would that look? Write about it.

Jack Watts   Resources

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Refer to Step 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with God, asking Him to reveal His will to me and give me the power to carry it out.

 

 

People are hungry for messages of hope and life. What are you broadcasting?

—Morgan Brittany

Next to the Serenity Prayer in Alcoholics Anonymous, the prayer from St. Francis is probably the best known and most useful for any kind of recovery.

Found in AA’s eleventh step, this prayer acts as a guide, helping recovering alcoholics to look to God for the solution to their problems. It says:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace!

That where there is hatred, I may bring love.

That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.

That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.

That where there is error, I may bring truth.

That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.

That where there is despair, I may bring hope.

That where there are shadows, I may bring light.

That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.

To understand, than to be understood.

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

When you read it, it’s obviously noble and inspiring, but it’s also completely selfless—devoid of any “me” orientation. Too often, all that prayer becomes is a list of things a person wants from God. “God, give me this, and give me that. While you’re at it, I would also like . . .”

Does this sound familiar? Is this what your prayers are like? If so, you’re not alone. It’s what most people do.

Instead of focusing on yourself, try reading St. Francis’ prayer several times. Notice that what he wants is to be changed from within—to show more compassion and godliness. His is a prayer that God will answer every time. So, if you’re stuck in your prayer life, try focusing on internal change and purification rather than material acquisition. It will work every time.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Enduring with Grace and Dignity

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

 

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them—every day, begin the task anew.

—Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva

When difficulties come our way, we often think God doesn’t understand our situation. “How could He?” We ask and feel certain that He doesn’t feel our pain. Sometimes we forget that God made the most unselfish sacrifice of all for the sake of mankind.

Try to imagine handing over your own child to a hostile, angry mob that wanted to torture and kill Him. With this in mind, when the trials and tribulations of life seem to choke you, remember that God does understand your pain. Don’t imagine that he can’t handle it any better than you can.

Try to take life as it comes. Keep an open mind and an open heart. Make a commitment to do the next “right” thing; and if you have difficulty figuring out what that might be, just know that it’s often your most difficult choice.

Stay loving, and don’t take everything personally. God isn’t choosing to put you in harm’s way. He is allowing your struggles to deepen your character so that you can develop compassion, which will allow you to take care of the needs of others. At the end of the day, when you can accept your trials with grace and dignity, the person who will benefit the most from them is you. As you develop your empathy skills, your nature will become increasingly nonjudgmental and caring. When this becomes a reality in your life, you can consider yourself blessed to have had the experiences you’ve had.

If God could count it all joy to have handed over His Son to be tortured and murdered to pay the price for your self-defeating behavior, then you can make a determination to look at life in the same way—counting your trials as all joy, knowing that they will have value for something in the future that you don’t yet have the ability to see.

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. (James 5:10-11

Jack Watts   Resources

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Refer to Step 4: I chose to accept as true what God says about Himself.

 

 

What doubt can you have of the Creator when you behold His creation? Who has decked the heavenly firmament with its stars? Who has clothed the earth in its beauty? How could it be without the creator?

—Leo Tolstoy

In every recovery program, except for religious abuse, a person’s concept of God can be anything they want it to be. Each program is very clear about this. People turn their will and their lives over to God, as they understand Him. By being inclusive, the recovery program reaches more people than it would reach by being more theologically precise. Because of this, people at meetings occasionally say things like this:

  • My Higher Power wants me to be more honest.
  • The Universe is leading me to make some changes in my life.
  • The Higher Power of our group consciousness is very loving and accepting.

In recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, overeating, or any other behavioral problem, the focus on God is strong, but it isn’t specific. It isn’t as important as it is in recovering from religious abuse. The key element in this recovery program isn’t abstaining from a behavior like drinking.

Instead our focus is on re-establishing intimacy with God through a personal relationship. Nothing else works, and pantheism isn’t a suitable or effective alternative.

The only way to regain what has been lost is to come to Almighty God Almighty—the God of the Trinity. When you do, you can develop your relationship with Him, based on Scriptural truth. Although unscrupulous men and women may have twisted your thinking about God, for full recovery to occur, you must regain an understanding of God that is based on how He has revealed Himself and not how others have portrayed Him to be. You have to learn once again that God can be trusted. Without relearning this, your recovery will only be partial at best.

Do you not know? Have you not heard: The everlasting God, the Lord the creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Jack Watts   Resources

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

 

Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.

—Shirley MacLaine

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 long term, anyway. The key isn’t whether or not you’ve failed but what you do with your failure—how you process it.

If you deny you’ve failed, which most people do—at least in the beginning, you’ll become stuck. You’ll remain 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.

This is not what God wants for you; that’s for certain. Denial never works—never has, never will. Instead of living in denial, make a conscious commitment to embrace your failure—make it your own. Accept it; acknowledge it; and move on. Never allow your past 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. This is the bottom you must 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 become “unstuck,” allowing your experience to have value—for yourself and for others.

 

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never ceases, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 19-23)

Jack Watts   Resources

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