Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Resentment Averted

It’s all well and good that I share the things I have learned from my years in AA, but it is better still when I can relate the principles to things that are actually happening in my life.

Such was the case a few days ago. I was in Rochester Hills, my old AA home, sitting at a table with a few people I knew and I few I didn’t. (In Michigan, we break into separate discussion tables.) The table was small (six people) and everyone was indulging the luxury of not having to limit the length of their “share.” The person who spoke before me talked for a fairly long time and then it was my turn.

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am prone to speaking longer than I need to, or at least longer than people are willing to listen. I guess it was one of those days. I finished a sentence and before I could start the next one, the man who had just spoken said, in a loud voice, “Thanks Steve.” This is something only the table leader should say to stop someone from rambling, but he wasn’t leading and I (in my opinion) wasn’t rambling. He was wrong. I was insulted. And before the sound of his voice had echoed off the wall, I had the glowing hot seed of a grade-A resentment burning a hole in my normally serene and extremely spiritual self.

Here I am, loved by all, and in the bosom of my old company and this upstart was putting me in my place. I thought to myself, “Do you have any idea who I am? Have you never heard of Mr. A.A. and his triumphant return?” I do not say these things out loud for obvious reasons, but clearly if he knew who I WAS, he wouldn’t have done that.

So here I was, faced with some unsavory alternatives. I could take him aside, point out that he had no business doing what he did, and make sure he was just as uncomfortable as I was. But I know enough about the program to know that was a lose-lose, so I scratched that from my list of “to-dos.” I thought perhaps I should just walk away and say nothing. But I didn’t want to leave a meeting feeling that way. As I simmered, I tried to think what the best course of action should be, what the way of humility would be. In other word’s, God’s will.

Then I remembered a line in the Big Book regarding the Ninth Step:

It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth. It is harder to go to an enemy than to a friend, but we find it much more beneficial to us. We go to him in a helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our regret.

Step Nine is about restoring relationships, but it is also about creating healthy ones. Was he totally wrong and was I totally right? Did it matter? Even if I couldn’t find where I had been at fault, I certainly harbored ill feelings.

The table finished, we held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer and I turned to him. “I guess I may have been going on too long,” I said. “Thanks for keeping me on track.” He laughed it off and the problem went away. I may have made a friend when I might very well have made an enemy.

Lest you get the idea that I’m some kind of spiritual giant, let me be quick to point out that I was a millimeter away from storming out (or worse). But the more we attempt to live a life based on humility and service to others, the more natural these things become. The next time I am faced with a similar situation, I may not act as well. (In fact, I went off on a customer a few weeks ago and am still paying for that lack of restraint.) But I will go into it with the memory that I found a way through it before and, by God’s grace, I can find a way through it again.

 

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An Abundance of Pitfalls

Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn’t strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins. – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p.65

I don’t believe that God made any mistakes in creating my human nature. Bill makes it pretty clear in this passage that our desires are not our problem, but rather how we choose to satisfy them that drives our defects. Hunger is not a defect. Gluttony is, but so too is self-starvation. Sexual desire is not a defect, but harming others to satisfy it is. Our need to feel loved and accepted is good and God-given, but when we lie and manipulate others in order to feel loved we are clearly no longer in His will.

When we take inventory in the Fourth Step, we ultimately come to see that virtually all of our defects can be traced back to self-centered fear. When we discuss (actually confess) these things to another person, we have begun a process that will bring light to those dark and devious motives. But that in and of itself is not sufficient. If my problem is self-centeredness , then my focusing on my defects may not be the best means of ridding myself of them. Consider the compulsion to drink. Isn’t it true that the harder we tried to change that behavior the more uncontrollable it became? Can we assume that there is something inherently different in our other defects. Bill makes this point earlier:

Having been granted a perfect release from alcoholism, why then shouldn’t we be able to achieve by the same means a perfect release from every other difficulty or defect? This is a riddle of our existence, the full answer to which may be only in the mind of God. – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 64

I believe the answer to the riddle lies in the Third Step and Seventh Step prayers.

God, I offer myself to Thee-to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always! – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63 [emphasis mine]

My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen. – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 76 – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63 [emphasis mine]

Note what the prayers do not say. We’re not asking God to take away our difficulties to make our lives easier. We are asking that they be removed as a demonstration to others of God’s power. We’re not asking God to remove the defects that stand in the way of our sobriety. Rather, we are asking to have them removed to make ourselves more useful. As we begin to see our recovery not as something for our benefit, but rather for the benefit of others, we lose that focus on self that was such a stumbling block to spiritual growth. In other words, our defects are removed as a consequence of selfless surrender to God’s will. It’s a flanking attack, not a head-on assault.

Yet we all continue to fall short. Does this mean we are not sincere in our desire to have God remove these things? Hardly. As they say, old habits die hard. All those things that I identified as defects were my best attempts at living. They were my coping skills. Having to give these up is frightening and and difficult. And we will often slip back into them without intending to. That’s why we continue to look at our behavior through the lens of our usefulness to others. Look at our evening examination on page 86.

When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.

We have the means to gauge our behavior. Did we do anything that impeded another person’s spiritual growth? Did we behave in such a way that someone observing us would not want what we have? Did we do anything that might have driven a wedge between God and one of His children, or did we create an atmosphere of love and acceptance that mirrors our Father’s care for us? If we continue to see recovery in this light we have a good chance of maintaining it.

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Here’s an article that expands on a topic I have discussed here before.

BioLogos Guided Tours #1: Ancient Cosmology and the Bible

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