Step 10- Day 18

Proverbs 18:1-2, CEB

1Unfriendly people look out for themselves;

    they bicker with sensible people.

2 Fools find no pleasure in understanding,

    but only in expressing their opinion.

(Editor’s note: Scott [me] made a mistake when he wrote this.  He thought we were still on step 9.  Oh well.) 

One of the things that is so interesting to me is how often people say things when they obviously haven’t considered how their tone might impact the way another person receives their thoughts. For instance, people are constantly critiquing the things mom and I write and say.  And to be honest, many times they’re right.  We’re never going to get things perfectly quite right.  Sometimes these critiques are offered in love and are quite constructive, and very much appreciated, but then other times it goes something like, “I can’t believe you write like that,” or, “Why did you say ____ instead of _____?”  There’s a big difference between saying something like, “Hey, I wonder if you’ve thought about this topic from this perspective,” versus, “How could you be so dumb?”  I believe that difference can be summed up simply as “kindness”. 

I have had this experience a few times recently and it’s really caused me to think a lot about the nature of kindness.  (Also, just FYI, by and large people are very gracious and appreciative of our work, the situation I’m talking about is quite rare, and in no way causes me to lose sleep at night).  But I realize, in reflecting on these kinds of moments, how I do the very same thing to others.  In fact, I do this to my own parents a lot.  I think I’m being frank but I’m actually being rude when I say to dad, “Why would you handle that situation that way?  That makes no sense.”  Or when I say to mom, “Probably don’t use that phrasing.”  Or whatever.  I tell people what to do all the time and it’s actually quite embarrassing to think about.  The thing is, behaving in this way is just not that kind.  I can recognize that because I know how I feel when other people speak to me this way.

One of the things I think we should think about when it comes to step 9 is simply kindness.  The last phrase of the step is important, it reminds us not to make an amends when we might cause harm.  Now, this has to be discerned.  Sometimes an amends might be necessary even in a place where it will cause harm.  Every situation is different.  But perhaps think about whether or not making a particular amends to a particular person is actually a kind thing to do.  Jamey has spoken up on Saturday nights a few times about the importance of a “lifestyle amends”, which basically means you don’t make a verbal amends to a person but you live differently so as to avoid hurting anyone else in the same way.  That seems to me to be very kind, and a good thing to keep in mind when dealing with step 9.

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Step 9- Day 30

18 I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. 20 Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25, CEB

If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope.

Hope is an interesting topic.  Sometimes I like to take a random topic, or concept, and think about how it applies to something else I’ve been thinking about.  For instance, I’ve been writing all these step 9 devotionals.  I’m getting pretty close to the end; in fact today is the last day.  I’m running out of material and my brain is fried from lots of travel.  So I stumble upon this passage on hope and I can’t help but wonder, how does hope apply to all this step 9 stuff?

What do we realistically get to hope for when it comes to step 9?  I’m not really sure.  We may hope for restored relationships, but there are certainly no guarantees.  We may hope that the guilt we’ve carried over damage we’ve caused goes away.  But then again, it might not.  What are we hoping for?  What’s really the point?

One thought I have is that the hope we have for step 9 is the same hope we have for any other step, or for all of the steps together.  From small to large: We hope that we find faith in a God who restores us to sanity.  We have hope for restoration and transformation for ourselves.  We have hope for restoration and transformation for all of humanity and creation.  We have hope that God is at work bringing His kingdom to earth.  If we can muster hope for these things, we have a hope that is much larger than our ability to work through the steps, or to overcome our addictions.  We have hope in a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a new reality.  We have hope that God will reign, and that He will rule the world according to His perfect standards.  In this world, we won’t be subject to the way things are.

We have hope for the way things are going to be.

Step 9- Day 29

14 Seek good and not evil,

        that you may live;

    and so the Lord, the God of heavenly forces,

        will be with you just as you have said.

15 Hate evil, love good,

        and establish justice at the city gate.

Perhaps the Lord God of heavenly forces

        will be gracious to what is left of Joseph.

Amos 5:14-15, CEB

When I see a verse that says something like, “seek good and not evil” I usually think about that in terms of what I learned watching movies growing up.  As a little kid, I watched Disney movies, so “Good” meant being a chivalrous knight like in Sleeping Beauty or the Sword in the Stone.  “Evil” meant something like Cruella Deville or the Queen from Snow White.  As I got a little older I watched Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch, where the good guys are a cop and an investigative reporter and the bad guys are drug dealers.  Essentially, good and evil are very clear-cut.

And then I got a little older still and became obsessed with Spaghetti Westerns.  For those of you who don’t know anything about those, it was a genre that came about in roughly the mid-60’s, focused on injecting a stronger sense of realism into Western-style films.  (They’re called “Spaghetti Westerns” because they were filmed in Italy- the terrain made sense and it was cheaper).  When they “injected realism” into these movies, part of that meant that the characters were no longer clear-cut good guys or bad guys.  It’s difficult to tell what each character’s motivation is beyond just their selfish impulses.  Does anyone have a sense of a greater good?

It’s really nice to have an unambiguous understanding of “good” and “evil” in the movies (or in certain types of movies), but I wonder if real life is anything like that?  Do we have a strong sense of what is “good” verses what is “evil”?  Sure, sometimes.  But not always.  I’ve mentioned this in a previous devotional.

Perhaps it would be helpful to broaden our definitions of “good” and “evil”.  Is it possible that that they aren’t simply these grand cosmic gestures?  Could it be simpler than the Rebel Alliance (good) taking on the Galactic Empire (evil, in Star Wars)?

What if being good is a matter of being a decent human being?  What if it’s working through the steps?  What if it’s a desire to live a different kind of life in accordance with God’s plans, even if it’s not particularly flashy? 

How might this change our perception?

Step 9- Day 28

As you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, our visit with you wasn’t a waste of time. 2 On the contrary, we had the courage through God to speak God’s good news in spite of a lot of opposition, although we had already suffered and were publicly insulted, as you know. 3 Our appeal isn’t based on false information, the wrong motives, or deception. 4 Rather, we have been examined and approved by God to be trusted with the good news, and that’s exactly how we speak. We aren’t trying to please people, but we are trying to please God, who continues to examine our hearts.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-4, CEB

We aren’t trying to please people, but we are trying to please God, who continues to examine our hearts.  I suspect that if you’ve been working through step 9 that you already know that this step is not about pleasing people.  It’s perfectly possible to have positive experiences when making amends to people but I would imagine that more often than not these talks don’t go incredibly well.  Fortunately, like Paul and the others, we aren’t doing this in order to make other people happy.  At least, that shouldn’t be our motivation.  Instead, we are trying to please God through learning how to live a life in accordance with His plans and purposes.  When we do this, we open ourselves up to the possibility that people might reject us, but we can find comfort in knowing that we are living a life that is pleasing to God.

We also know that we’re not going to get away with anything.  We’re not going to “pull a fast one on God”.  We can’t pull the wool over the Lamb’s eyes.  (Sorry, terrible joke).  We know this because we know that God continues to examine our hearts.  He knows our attitudes, our motivations, the driving forces behind our actions.  So not only must we abandon trying to please people but we must also make sure we’re not “going through the motions”.  God is fully capable of discerning the level of sincerity with which we approach this process and because of that we should perpetually evaluate our decision-making processes. 

Of course our motivations will never be perfectly pure, but we can try to exercise some level of self-awareness, right?

Step 9- Day 27

18 Cry out to my Lord from the heart, you wall of Daughter Zion;

make your tears run down like a flood all day and night.

Don’t relax at all; don’t rest your eyes a moment.

19 Get up and cry out at nighttime, at the start of the night shift; pour out your heart before my Lord like water.

Lift your hands up to him for the life of your children—

the ones who are fainting from hunger on every street corner.

Lamentations 2:18-19, CEB

Do you ever pray this way?  Does it even seem like an option?  Surely God doesn’t want us to cry out to Him in a teary eyed flood of emotion, right?  

It sort of seems like we’re advised to.

Would that be helpful?

Maybe you should try.

Step 9- Day 26

20 They brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a fit. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been going on?”  He said, “Since he was a child. 22 It has often thrown him into a fire or into water trying to kill him. If you can do anything, help us! Show us compassion!”  23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can do anything’? All things are possible for the one who has faith.” 24 At that the boy’s father cried out, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!”

Mark 9:20-23, CEB

Many of you probably know the father’s words in verse 24 as, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  This is probably one of the more profound and honest confessions of faith that we find in scripture.  At the very least, it resonates with me in that way.

Working through the 12 steps requires a tremendous amount of faith.  It is a long and arduous process and we simply would not do it if we didn’t think that it would provide us with some kind of positive result.  We have faith that working the steps will guide us down a better path than the one we’re on.  More importantly, this act of working the steps requires that we have faith in God and His ability to act in our lives.  We need to have faith in order to submit to God and His way of life.  And from faith, we find hope.

Yet our faith is often imperfect.  Finishing the first 3 steps doesn’t mean that we’ve conquered faith and moved on to the next thing.  It is a process that we wrestle with over time throughout our lives.  This is why we can have faith and need to overcome our lack of faith in the very same moment in time.  Faith is messy, and we might not ever get it quite right, but at least we know where to turn when we believe, but need help with our unbelief.

Step 9- Day 25

10 God found Israel in a wild land—

        in a howling desert wasteland—

    he protected him, cared for him,

    watched over him with his very own eye.

11 Like an eagle protecting its nest,

    hovering over its young,

God spread out his wings, took hold of Israel,

    carried him on his back.

12 The Lord alone led Israel;

    no foreign god assisted.

Deuteronomy 32:10-12, CEB

I spoke yesterday about the seriousness with which I think we should take the 12 step process.  I urged us to be open with friends or others and to allow accountability into our lives.  I insinuated that if we didn’t do this, there might be negative consequences.  Today, I’m going to take a softer, gentler approach to talking about step 9.

I once heard a story about a man who took step 9 incredibly seriously.  He sought to make amends to anyone he’d ever wronged, without fail.  Now, maybe he failed to take into account the “…except when…” part, but at least he was diligent.  Well, when he made amends to one person in particular, that person called the police on him. Because he was making amends for something illegal, he ended up in jail for 18 months.  This is obviously a very extreme example but can you imagine trying to do the right thing and instead ending up in jail for something that took place 20 years ago?

I think this raises a number of serious questions.  Was he wrong for making an amends for something he did, even if it was illegal and took place 20 years ago?  Should we hide those things so that we escape jail because we know that we’ve “changed”?  Should we turn ourselves in for punishments we “deserve”?  I have no idea.

I will say this.  We should be as wise in this process as we are diligent.  We should take into account all the possible ramifications, be that jail time or simple re-injuring someone we’ve injured before (or perhaps injuring someone for the first time).  The answers to those questions above should be approached on an individual basis.  Each person needs to think through them on his or her own.

Basically what I’m saying is try not to be too impulsive with the steps, particularly this one.  Take the time to reflect on exactly what is taking place because, as we can see from stories like the one above, we can’t always predict how an amends is going to turn out.