We are currently in the season following Epiphany, which is generally known as Ordinary Time. This span of just over a month is traditionally spent meditating on the message of liberation embodied in the life of Jesus. This year I want to shift the focus a bit and spend some time sharing my own experience of healing and freedom.
I had faith, but…
To say that recently I have been discovering faith for the first time would not be a true statement. I’ve had faith for most of my life. I grew up in church and went to youth group and prayed when I had to take a test. I had faith that God was there and God loved me.
And it wasn’t superficial. I had meaningful spiritual experiences with God. I had tasted and seen that God was good and stuff.
It was important enough to me that I ended up working in churches for the better part of a decade. My career was firmly established in ministry. I had faith.
I never really experienced God in a lasting, meaningful way. Again, there were high points and moments over the years in which I really felt it, I really KNEW that I was loved by God, and I was able to give love in return.
But the other 300+ days of the year I was constantly harassed by anxiety, depression, resentments, & compulsions—all of which kept me from living in spiritual freedom.
I got really good at saying the right thing. I knew what I believed, what the theologically sound thing to say was. I knew how to convince others (and sometimes myself) that I actually was experiencing a meaningful connection with God. But most of the time, it was all just an attempt to talk my way into better living.
There is a great line in the song “Staring at the Sun” by the band U2 that always wrecked me when I would hear it. It says, “Those that can’t do often have to preach.”
I was hoping that by saying the right thing often enough, I might come to experience it myself. It didn’t work.
The spiritual life is not a theory
Faith was the central focus of my life; in theory.
But the spiritual life is not a theory.
So as each consecutive year of struggling along built up one on top of another, I just kept spiraling deeper into my self. I tried to cope with the craziness of life with behaviors that kept becoming more destructive and addictive than before.
For some people, alcohol might be the way they choose to cope. For some, it might be eating an entire apple pie, or just getting really angry at everything and everyone. For me, my drugs of choice to try to numb everything out were pornography and compulsive work.
I got really good at convincing myself that I would at some point get everything straightened out. I would clear out all of those pesky, secret sins from my life. I would finally start believing what I taught and preached each week. I had it all under control…or, at least, I would soon enough.
Eventually, I ran out of lies I could tell myself and others (and God).
I hit bottom; I ran into a wall; I burnt up all of my fuel. Whatever metaphor you want to use to describe total life collapse, it is applicable to me.
I lost my job, I lost my reputation, and I lost my sense of identity. I couldn’t talk my way out of the reality of this situation. I couldn’t pretend that eventually I’ll get everything ironed out. I was done.
Healing the dis-ease
It sounds like a cliché thing to say, but it’s true. Failing miserably and seeing life as I knew it come crashing down around me was the best thing that could have happened.
I finally had all the junk that I had been juggling cleared out of the way. Since that moment I’ve been able to begin recovering the rich faith that I had tasted many years ago.
Kinda like the Apostle Peter…
He denied Jesus, betraying the thing that he claimed was most important in his life—and it was through this failure that he was able to discover the depth of God’s Goodness.
The resurrection of Christ became his resurrection as well.
As I have been on the pilgrimage of recovering my sense of belonging in God, it may not surprise you to hear that I have been greatly aided by the spiritual direction and principles of the 12-steps of recovery.
I’ve been granted a deeper understanding of my human condition of dis-ease; of not being at peace with myself, God, or the world around me. This human experience is what the recovery wisdom talks about as our spiritual illness.
I’m a dependent creature, and if I want to live a happy, joyous, and free life then I am in need of the healing and guidance of my loving Creator.
Left to my own devices, I’m incapable of manufacturing my own peace, my own at-ease-ness. My natural, default condition is fear, anger, and harmful pride. I am a dis-eased person.
Every day I am more and more grateful for the guidance and principles of the 12-steps that have practically helped me recover the peace that God created me for.
So, I want to walk through these spiritual principles over the next month and share how they have helped me recover my faith and sense of spiritual freedom.
First up next week, we will consider surrender and the myth of self-reliance. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?!
I hope you join me on this pilgrimage (and the conversation in the comments).