I have been working through some formal step work lately, and as I continue on living this life that God has allowed me to participate in, I am reminded of the end of The Lord of The Rings where Frodo says
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.”
The questions I ask myself are
- What are the threads of my old life?
- Going back to what/where/when? … Which old life are we talking about (would I want to return)
- What are the things that time (alone) cannot mend?
- What exactly has taken hold? (if anything)
These are interesting questions, as the only have answers in the here and now, and are subject by their very nature to change at a moments notice.
My current threads relate to the last ten years of my life (as far as I can tell). The tell a story of a child who tried to belong to a church. No fault of the church, the child was not able to grow up and become what the church was looking for. And the church was not the be all and end all for the child to grow. In fact, the fact that there was a child involved was hidden information to both parties… What the heck am I talking about? Inside of me was a little, abandoned, helpless child looking for his father in anyone willing to step into the role – that is no fault to anyone… Nearly all my behavior stemmed from a desire to look out for and keep that child safe (not my job, BTW) and in order to do that job I used a bunch of tools that didn’t work. End result was the inevitable departure… Granted, my ego would have you believe it had something to do with the corona virus, blah blah blah… but to hell, (literally), with my ego. If I could offer some constructive criticism (after much consideration) to my old place of worship it would be this – The system you have set up requires rebellion for people to move into their callings. But hey, as an unmentionable, the chances of my words being heard and prayed about are slim-to-none. (<.01% for you math lovers – callout to you M.B.)
At one time (in mid-late 2009), my Father in heaven told me to leave an anonymous organization. It was a struggle to do it, but I did. I’ve been in a place to know God’s voice – and it was his voice that told me to go. I didn’t die like the programmed voice in my head told me I would… although I thought I might for a couple of years. So a few of the threads in my life relate to the organization I had been a member of for 20 years. A couple years ago, my God told me to return to the old organization. I didn’t want to. I had a new home in church and I had been pretty happy there for a time. And yet, God persisted. So I went back to the old organization with some fresh perspective and found out it was much like it had been when I left. In fact I still found it obnoxious on many levels. It had nothing for me – so I went with my basket full of God everyday and fed the scraps to the members of the group. But, the question that continued to haunt me was – why was I there? Why was I attending the group? God had sent me back to the group, but why was I there? I thought it had something to do with helping others… but that wasn’t it in its entirety. There had to be some other reason. I looked for a reason, did Bible studies with people, shared, and helped out where I could… But it didn’t seem right. Then COVID. Then my support group was non-existent. It’s funny, a guy in a coffee shop one time asked me what might happen if I found myself on the opposite side of a pastoral decision. I replied like some little smart-ass, “it hadn’t happened yet and that if my pastor and I were listening to God – then it would never happen”. Then COVID. My church closed in March of 2020. The door was locked and a sign told people to go home and catch it online. Ironic since we did all kinds of homeless ministry. COVID – the great gift from God to separate wheat from chaff and refine the gold. It is only through the lens of COVID that my sick relationship with church could be exposed. Thank God for the exposure.
I was back in an anonymous fellowship based on 12 steps, and I wasn’t working the steps. God had to do a number on me again. I needed a new definition for willingness. I asked and god gave me the following “until in desperation we sought help from each other”. Welcome to willingness. As implied – I found desperation. A new desperation which led to seeking help from others in the fellowship I had returned to – which I previously believed didn’t have anything more for me. Talk about having to eat a large slice of humble pie. Not only did I have to eat it, but I had to get it all over my face and clothes too. In working the steps again with a sponsor I was treated to a new definition of ‘WE’. This definition goes like this “We – those who are working these steps and applying these principals to all their affairs as best as they can”. We does not include people who are not doing the afore mentioned steps and application. The we of the steps are those for whom the steps and program are true as proven by the way they are living. And here I thought “we” was everyone at a meeting… Same mistake I made about church – that the people who go to church are saved (see James 2:21-26 on this one).
So now I am writing out an eighth step – making a list of all the people I have harmed and becoming willing to make amends to them all. That is gonna be a longer list than my fourth step by a mile. “Whatever the cost” is what I’ve said at this point, because I don’t have a life without doing this. So that is where I find myself today. Living in desperation and doing my best to take stock in the harm I’ve caused with my behaviors in the past. I’m not beating myself up – I’m taking the next right action instead. I have passed from the generic we (or wee-wee as I like to call it) to the specific we who are doing these steps and practicing these principals in all of our affairs.
Time alone cannot mend all things. Even Jesus has scars – and so do I. Although healing has come – there is a visible trace of the past injury, perhaps forever. I’m not the same as I was in the fellowship I formerly belonged to, in the church I formerly belonged to, or in the fellowship I have returned to. Part of me needed to die – never to rise again. Part of me needed the kind of deep healing that only God can supply. Finally, there is a part of me being required to do something to receive healing. I am reminded of the man who was born blind in John 9 – his healing was conditional on the man doing something – he had to go and wash in the pool named “sent”. Today I consider myself sent to wash in the pool in order to fully experience my healing.