Step 8- Day 31

Hebrews 11:1-3

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. 2 The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith.  3 By faith we understand that the universe has been created by a word from God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible.  (Heb. 11:1-3, CEB)

Faith.  I guess that’s what it all comes down to.  We can’t get through the 12 steps (or life really) without it.  We often say that faith is belief in what we don’t see, this verse says something different.  It says that faith itself is the proof of what we don’t see.  Faith isn’t some mystical emotion that we have until we find proof of God’s existence.  Faith is the proof and, in that way, we could think of faith as a gift.  It’s not a placeholder until we get to “heaven” and find out everything we’ve believed is real.  It’s the confidence that our beliefs are real right here, right now.

And yet, that’s a problem for many of us.  Faith is not an easy thing to access.  How many of us have unwavering confidence that our beliefs are real?  Probably very few.  Practically speaking, human faith is imperfect.  It’s all well and good to speak of faith as the present reality of the future that we hope for, but how do we get it?  And when we have it, how do we hold on to it?  I’m not really sure about any of that, to be honest.  The gospel of Mark perpetually shows the disciples struggling to understand and live out their faith.  If the disciples, Jesus’ own followers, struggle with faith then I generally assume it’s probably okay for me to struggle with it as well.

I’m curious though, what’re your struggles with faith as it pertains to the 12 steps and the 12 step process?  How do these struggles impact each step?  Or perhaps I should just ask how they’re impacting step 8 presently?

If you have time to respond, please do.  It might help us as we prepare messages in the future.


Step 8- Day 30

Isaiah 40:27-31


27 Why do you say, Jacob,

    and declare, Israel,

    “My way is hidden from the Lord

    my God ignores my predicament”?

28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the creator of the ends of the earth.

    He doesn’t grow tired or weary.

His understanding is beyond human reach,

29     giving power to the tired

    and reviving the exhausted.

30 Youths will become tired and weary,

    young men will certainly stumble;

31     but those who hope in the Lord

    will renew their strength;

    they will fly up on wings like eagles;

    they will run and not be tired;

    they will walk and not be weary.  (Isa. 40:27-31, CEB)

Even though Israel (the people of God) went through difficult times, even though they felt abandoned, and they didn’t feel properly cared for, God had not ignored them.  He doesn’t get tired or weary, so He’s not going to run out of energy paying attention to His people, hearing their concerns, and being present for them.  We may not always understand what He is up to, because His ways are beyond human reach.  But we do know that He is a God who gives power to those who have lost their strength, he revives those who are worn out.  Those who hope in the Lord will find endurance.

We’re on step 8 right now, even though I kind of treat 8 and 9 as the same for the sake of the devotionals.  (Side note- don’t do that when you’re actually practicing the steps.  It’s easier to write about 8 and 9 as one unit but each step needs to be approached carefully and respectfully on its own terms.)  So we’ve been going at this for almost 8 months now.  While 8 months is a lot in some ways, it probably is not actually a long time to spend on the first 8 steps.  So it’s probably exhausting in two paradoxical ways.  8 months is a long time to work on anything, so that’s tiring.  But 8 months is also a sprint through the first 8 steps and sprints are exhausting.  So if you’ve been sticking with this plan, you’ve been sprinting a marathon.  When you have those days when you’re exhausted, tired, weary, beaten-down, return to these verses.  Remember that God is a God who doesn’t tire or grow weary but can instead always find ways to give to those who hope in Him.

Now we just need to find and hold on to some hope…

Step 8- Day 29

1 Timothy 5

1 Don’t correct an older man, but encourage him like he’s your father; treat younger men like your brothers, 2 treat older women like your mother, and treat younger women like your sisters with appropriate respect. (1 Tim. 5:1-2)

Respect.  A word forever tainted most famously by Aretha Franklin (though originally written and recorded by Otis Redding, fun fact).  I feel like “respect” is a topic that most people agree on.  What I mean is, most people would probably say that they make an effort to treat everyone with respect.  The problem comes in the definition of the word.

Let me take a step back.  My therapist once told me that I live life according to my own set of policies and procedures that I invented and I expect everyone else to adhere to these principles but don’t tell anyone else what they are.  My definition of respect falls within the boundaries of these “policies and procedures”.  For instance, if you cut me off in traffic without using a turn signal and do not wave to say, “Thanks!” then you are on my bad list.  If you cut me off but you did so while making a remote attempt to use your signal and then wave as a way of either expressing apology or gratitude then all is forgiven.  Or, as another brief example, I hate it when people use generalizations.  I want everyone, always, to properly qualify and nuance their speech so as not to make a sweeping generalization or stereotype about a person or group of people (see what I did there?).  These are my neuroticisms.  In my little world, being respectful is making sure that you don’t disrupt others and being respected means others don’t disrupt you.  And apparently I have very specific rules about how this works.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that we’re all going to agree on the exact in’s and out’s of respect and what it looks like in our lives.  But I think that the issue of respect is an important one to consider when we work through steps 8 and 9.  We need to find respectful ways to approach making these lists in addition to the actual conversations we will have.  We should spend at least some effort thinking about how to best honor the other person in these conversations, particularly if they are likely to be hostile.  We should carefully consider if the step 8-9 process is going to harm that person or others.

So I’ll defer to you here.  How can we do this?  How can we be respectful in these conversations?  How can we make sure that what we’re going to say won’t harm the person we talk to “or others”?

Step 8- Day 28

1 Thessalonians 1

1 From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.  To the Thessalonians’ church that is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace and peace to all of you.  2 We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. 3 This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. 4 Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you. 5 We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know as well as we do what kind of people we were when we were with you, which was for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. 7 As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread so that we don’t even need to mention it. 9 People tell us about what sort of welcome we had from you and how you turned to God from idols. As a result, you are serving the living and true God, 10 and you are waiting for his Son from heaven. His Son is Jesus, who is the one he raised from the dead and who is the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath.  (1 Thess. 1:1-10, CEB)

In this passage, Paul encourages the Thessalonians with respect to the work God is doing in them and through them.  One of the things he mentions (it’s not his primary point, but it’s not insignificant) in this discussion of God’s work is the nature of what I’m going to call example-ship.  Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy apparently set an example for this church, which they followed, and then became an example for others.  God has used this process of example-ship to deepen and grow His message and work in the world.

Thinking about example-ship led me to reflect more broadly on the 12 step process, and the importance of not doing it alone.  It seems to me that we need to surround ourselves with other people in this process who have done it before us, so they can offer us some guidance and support.  These people have already made footprints in the sand for us to follow.  I don’t think this is true just of the 12 steps either but even as we expand beyond them in thinking about what it means to continue to live lives of faith even when we might not be actively “working the steps”.  It definitely seems to me that we need someone to look up to and someone to follow.  And when we’ve stabilized, perhaps we should be willing to play the role of a Paul or a Silvanus or a Timothy in letting someone else follow in our footsteps (basically, step 12 kind of stuff).

Anybody have experience in doing the steps alone versus doing them with others that might be helpful to share?

Step 8- Day 27

Numbers 14

13 Moses said to the Lord, “The Egyptians will hear, for with your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 They’ll tell the inhabitants of this land. They’ve heard that you, Lord, are with this people. You, Lord, appear to them face-to-face. Your cloud stands over them. You go before them in a column of cloud by day and in a column of lightning by night. 15 If you kill these people, every last one of them, the nations who heard about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord wasn’t able to bring these people to the land that he solemnly promised to give them. So he slaughtered them in the desert.’ 17 Now let my master’s power be as great as you declared when you said, 18 ‘The Lord is very patient and absolutely loyal, forgiving wrongs and disloyalty. Yet he doesn’t forgo all punishment, disciplining the grandchildren and great-grandchildren for their ancestors’ wrongs.’ 19 Please forgive the wrongs of these people because of your absolute loyalty, just as you’ve forgiven these people from their time in Egypt until now.”  20 Then the Lord said, “I will forgive as you requested. 21 But as I live and as the Lord’s glory fills the entire earth, 22 none of the men who saw my glory and the signs I did in Egypt and in the desert, but tested me these ten times and haven’t listened to my voice, 23 will see the land I promised to their ancestors. All who disrespected me won’t see it.  (Num. 14:13-23, CEB)

One of the funny things about God in the Old Testament is that as much as the people accuse him of things, or cry out to him, or whatever, He’s almost always standing there saying, “I haven’t changed.”  People forget, and they waver.  Then they get in trouble and they need God, but they often haven’t held up their end of the deal.  So in order for God to hold up His end of the deal He has to forgive the fact that the people haven’t done the same.  But fortunately, He’s “…very patient and absolutely loyal, forgiving wrongs and disloyalty.”

I feel like we can’t stress this enough, especially when we’re working through the 12 steps.  As we work through these steps we have hope, but we’re also reminded of our failures, we have a bunch of difficult conversations, and we’re forced to relive a lot of painful aspects of our pasts.  I have heard numerous stories of people who took hours and hours or even days and days to come up with their step 8 list.  That has to take a toll on a person.  As we move through step 8 and into step 9, we’re potentially facing a lot of un-forgiveness.  People may be totally unwilling to accept our attempts to make amends.  So it seems to me we need to have a positive, hopeful thought in our back pocket to deal with that potential failure/rejection when it comes.  For me, that thought is that I worship a forgiving God.  I worship a God who is forgiving and loyal of our wrongs and disloyalty.  He is patient and unchanging and is persistently devoted to the reconciliation of His creation (including us!) to Him and to our restoration in the process.  I’m quite relieved that God is committed to relationship and restoration.  That seems to be the very thing we seek as we work through the 12 steps.

Anyone have another back-pocket hopeful thought to share?

Step 8- Day 26

Galatians 5:16-26

16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. 26 Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.  (Gal. 5:16-26, CEB)

How do we know that we’re living by the Spirit?  Or being guided by the Spirit?  It seems to me that this is an important question to start thinking about as we work our way through the steps.  I mean, this is a time for new beginnings, so it seems like we want to make sure we’re moving in, more or less, an appropriate direction.

Has anyone ever seen the Karate Kid?  The original Karate Kid, with Ralph Macchio, not the one with Will Smith’s kid.  Basically, Macchio plays a guy called Daniel Larusso.  He’s kind of a wimpy but spirited “new kid” at school.  He gets beaten up by a group of kids who define themselves by their participation in a local karate dojo.  So Daniel needs to learn karate in order to compete with these blonde-haired Californian jerks.  Fortunately, a man who works in his apartment complex, Mr. Miyagi, is an expert.  Daniel asks Miyagi for help so Miyagi tells Daniel to come to his house on the weekends and they’ll train.  But when Daniel shows up, Miyagi has him paint his fence.  He has Daniel sand his deck.  He has Daniel wax his cars.  When Daniel gets frustrated because he’s not learning karate, Miyagi demonstrates that the motor skills he’s learned doing these chores actually translate quite nicely into karate skills.  Convenient, right?

I believe the 12 steps are kind of like the chores that lead us in learning what it might look like to “live by the Spirit”.  They don’t explicitly teach you how to demonstrate the attributes, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  However, if you go through the 12 steps and find that you haven’t experienced growth in at least some of these traits then I’ll be extremely surprised.  The process is difficult.  At times, it may seem like some of these steps are skip-able, or unnecessary.  Or perhaps it is just difficult to see the connection between making amends and being able to stay sober, for instance.  While the connection may be difficult to see, it’s there.  These are the actions that get us where we need to go. The 12 steps are your training.  Go paint some fences.

Step 8- Day 25

2 Corinthians 7

8 Even though my letter hurt you, I don’t regret it. Well—I did regret it just a bit because I see that that letter made you sad, though only for a short time. 9 Now I’m glad—not because you were sad but because you were made sad enough to change your hearts and lives. You felt godly sadness so that no one was harmed by us in any way. 10 Godly sadness produces a changed heart and life that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but sorrow under the influence of the world produces death. 11 Look at what this very experience of godly sadness has produced in you: such enthusiasm, what a desire to clear yourselves of blame, such indignation, what fear, what purpose, such concern, what justice! In everything you have shown yourselves to be innocent in the matter. (2 Cor. 7:8-11, CEB)

My best friend from California is named Trent.  He’s probably one of the more caring people I’ve ever met.  He also looks like the Marlboro man so the subconscious mental processes of all the 20-something girls at Fuller went crazy whenever Trent was around, telling their brains that they wanted to be with a cowboy and this was their chance.  Girls like Trent, so he was a good friend to have for a variety of reasons.  That said, Trent and I had our points of conflict.  About a year ago we had a pretty big man fight.  He had done some things that annoyed me, I had done some things that annoyed him, that kinda thing.  So we basically avoided each other for about a week then got together and had a pretty good shouting match.  The funny thing was, by the time we got done yelling at each other we both were apologizing for the things we had done.

The whole argument hinged on one moment where we both acknowledged, probably for the first time (guys don’t say these things), that we care about each other.  I had kind of initiated the fight and he thought I was kind of saying I didn’t want to be friends anymore so I kind of angrily said something like, “You’re my best friend man, what the ____ are you even talking about?”  That’s about as close as I get to telling someone I care about them.   The thing was, he had no idea that I thought of him as a good or close friend, even though we hung out all the time.  And then, as I said, the argument changed.  When we realized that our friendship was secure, there was no need to posture or debate over who was right, or who had done what wrong.  We were both able to see the wrong that we had done, and acknowledge it and move on.  Our friendship has been great ever since.

Now, I think we kind of stumbled ass-backwards into a successful argument there.  In no way am I suggesting that Trent and I set up a model of friendship worth following.  We had been resenting each other for ages before we dealt with it.  But what I am suggesting is, conflict, while uncomfortable in the moment, can lead to very positive changes in the long run.  That is exactly what we see in this passage here with Paul and the Corinthians.  And I believe we can hold out hope for that type of result in practicing steps 8 and 9.  Granted, not every experience of admitting wrongdoing and offering amends is going to go well or have a productive outcome.  But I think if two people care for each other and are willing to persevere through a difficult conversation then good things can definitely come out of that.