Tag Archives: surrender

Santa's workshop

12 Step Christmas (Pt. 2)

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – catch up with Part I)

In Part I, the burden of grudges, resentments and petty hatreds, the burden of unforgiveness, was likened to a Christmas shopper weighed down and unbalanced by too many bags of purchases. Shoulders, arms and hands, backpack, all pulled to earth by what is owned.

The burden is not light

So burdened, we can’t skip along, or stride purposefully. We aren’t even walking, really. Because of the mass we choose to carry, we’re trudging, perhaps even plodding, or slogging. It’s no easy way to travel. Why choose it as a lifestyle by refusing to forgive?

Is it any wonder we speak of personal baggage when describing this? Baggage is something we carry. It has our “stuff” in it. When we travel on an airliner, the size and weight of what we can carry is limited. Too much, and the plane would burst at the seams, or not be airworthy. An apt metaphor for us as we journey through life with this junk!

So here we are, resolutely and stolidly toting all our baggage, refusing to relinquish it. What’s inside? Remember, in the shopping metaphor, we spent an entire day spending good money as it were to invest in these things. If they were a good investment, they will increase in value. But how can a grudge increase in value?

It can’t. It has no value in the first place. And anything times zero equals zero.

This begs this question: at what point do we cut our losses and divest? Why is divestment beneficial? And what are the risks, if any?

A frightening prospect. Is it worth it?

Here’s the upside: divestiture makes our lives, and our hearts, lighter. Without carrying baggage, we can pay more attention to what’s in front of us. We can enjoy the moment for what it is, instead of being on a fearful hunt for obstacles. When we carry so much weight, the risk of a drop or a stumble is so great, there’s no opportunity to stop being on the defensive.

Our feet become so occupied they are useless for anything but preventing a fall to earth. Our hands are so occupied they are useless for any good work. Our minds and hearts are so occupied by concentrating on the burden, we can perceive nothing else.

Our internal world consists of what we consider, and the things we refuse to forgive can eventually grow into the only things we consider, trudging along in that state.

Over time, without forgiveness, life then becomes a balancing act, full of deliberate steps not toward anything joyful, but away from or around anything which could possibly be harmful or painful. Our lives become filled with lack, not abundance.

The trap is this: until we lay down our burdens, we can’t feel free and easy, not ever, not for one moment. We can pretend they’re not there, but the pretence itself only becomes more mass in the sack. And on it goes.

Caution: divestiture also hurts. Holding something tightly for too long makes it painful to unclench the muscles. The path of least resistance is to leave it alone. It also hurts to emotionally unclench, because it means admitting failure. The ego resists that.

From capture to release

I started my journey toward forgiveness with self-talk like this: “If you only knew what he did to me…” “What happened was unforgivable…” “She has to pay for this…” “I can never forgive.”

The things I tell myself over and over become the elephant in the room. Living with an elephant in the room is messy and smelly and claustrophobic, but I got used to it. Worse – I became blinded to its presence, just as I become so used to the unhealthy ‘weight’ I carried, I couldn’t imagine living without it.

But if the elephant disappears, how do we clean up its mess and use all the space that leaves? The beauty of true forgiveness is that the space immediately becomes empty and clean, the mess being removed by the act itself.

Christmas should be a season of forgiveness, and the miracle of my AA Christmas was that this freedom was very near. It was right on the other side of one simple act. Forgiving myself.

Jesus says if I have a heavy burden, I should go to Him and get rest. I take off the painfully heavy yoke of my unforgiveness and put on His yoke, which He says ‘is easy,’, adding, ‘My burden is light.’ *

Once I realized I could give this weight to God, I could accept that He forgave me. And I could then forgive others. Everything tumbled into place. I am light, and free, and I refuse to go back.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

* Matthew 12:29-30

Image: Public Domain, Jenny Nystrom via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas presents

12-Step Christmas

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – read part II here)

Collecting garbage

By my early 40s, the world of weed was just too spooky. Maintaining a respectable image while simultaneously patronizing drug dealers became difficult. The dread of being busted was balanced uncomfortably with the fear of running out of weed. I carried an intense level of denial. Eventually, the pot did run out and booze took over. It was legal, easy, cheaper.

Where marijuana was a spirit guide, alcohol was a balm, a saviour, and finally, my master: the only thing I truly cared about. Even my sense of self-preservation was subservient to the need to drink. I lived to drink, and ultimately, drank to live.

Within ten years, I crashed onto the floor of a seedy motel room and began the return to life. I had to unlearn lies before accepting truths, undo evil consequences before accepting fresh ones and unburden myself of baggage before packing a new kit.

Doing the work presented by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was like getting through a busy Christmas shopping season. For many of us Christmas is jolly and joyful, but it can also be full of rush, pressure, expectation, a need to perform, and an undercurrent that something is not quite right somehow, as though Santa is about to drop the other boot.

12-Step Christmas

The softening of my heart was a 12-Step Christmas. It was messy and demanding, even while liberating. It centered on the greatest gift I could have given myself, the gift of forgiveness. The more time I spent drunk, the more the perceived wrongs done to me piled up.

When I got sober, I could finally smell the stink of them. They had to go.

I resisted the idea that I could only get rid of them by getting even. There’s no value in getting even, only in getting free. It’s a simple act; not always easy, but it changed my life.

Forgiveness of others can be a difficult, demanding and painful thing. I know. Some of the grudges and resentments I found myself with I’d borne for years. I needed to unburden myself.

Let’s consider them as a ‘burden’ because that so well illustrates what the unforgiving soul packs around. Unforgiveness itself is literally that: a burden, a drag, a friction. It keeps me weighted to an unhealthy past instead of releasing me for a better future.

An uncomfortable picture

To illustrate, imagine yourself walking along having just finished all your Christmas shopping in one go.

On your left shoulder is a very large bag, the long strap of which is over your head to keep it from slipping away. Your arm hangs out over its bulk in an uncomfortable arc. The hand of that arm grips another shopping bag, this one hanging low and heavy, outboard of your knee.

These stuffed satchels would have you tipping hard left if it weren’t for the oversized weighty sack you desperately clutch with your right hand as a counterbalance. Meanwhile, you’re kept from being hunched over by the giant rucksack resting heavily on your back.

That one appears to keep you above the center of balance, but it’s an illusion. In reality, it weighs you down even more, creating additional pressure.

This is the picture we need to see when we choose to bear a grudge or carry a resentment. Grudges are heavy things, and they get heavier over time; their inertia grows. It’s as though gravity increases where they are present. They are truly weighty matters.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

Read part II here

Oregon sunset

The Answer

(An eight minute read)

Last week I posed The Question, centered around the truths in Psalm 22. Here is The Answer.

‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’ 1

King David declares this truth at the opening of his best-known and perhaps most beloved psalm. If Psalm 22 is to be the question, then Psalm 23 is the answer. It was David’s answer to the trials of life when they threatened to overthrow his surrender to his Creator. It is my answer as well.

This verse actually contains two truths; both transcend space and time. God is the one to follow because He will always look out for me. He gives me everything I need. And, when I follow Him without question, like the dumb little lamb that I am, my success is assured, even into eternity.

As one who has raised sheep I can tell you that the brighter ones – the ones who get their own dim ideas – are the ones that don’t prosper. They have ideas, but no understanding. They work their way out of the paddock for greener grass but find themselves in a road in front of a car. They browse their way into bramble to be captured by their fleece until their struggle sees them die from exhaustion. They put themselves unwittingly into harm’s way without fail.

The healthy ones stay with their shepherd.

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.’ 2

The key to this success is surrender. After I get that working relationship with Christ and transition into Spirit Life, I don’t choose to lie down in green pastures. I surrender to His will that I must. He determines where I am to settle in and graze and He chooses the menu. He knows what will best nourish me, body, mind and spirit.

Still waters are essential for sheep. Sheep won’t drink from rapidly moving water. It spooks them, in part because it is noisy. As passive prey animals, they need to use their acute hearing to be on guard while at the watering hole. Still waters are important for us as human sheep as well. God knows we need time to rest and reflect, so we can come to Him in contemplation.

‘He restores my soul.’ 3

God created us and when we wander from Him, He restores us. When I sin, I must repent. The Hebrew word for this is shuwb, which means to turn back. It is the same word that is translated as ‘restore’. When I perform an act of shuwb (repentance) after I fall short, God responds with His form of shuwb (restoration).

‘He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.’ 4

Once again, I am reminded to live in a state of surrender. He leads; I follow. Because He is holy, the pathways can only be righteous, and those who tread them are in right standing with their Maker. But this is God’s creation not mine, and He is at the center, not I. Thus, He doesn’t do this for my sake primarily, and yet in doing it for me, He is glorified. The word ‘name’ here is shem, which means ‘reputation’ or ‘fame’.

This is an important part of the Christian journey, walking after Him in ways that bring Him honor and glory.

‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.’ 5

We all walk through this valley all our lives because we are mortal. Life is a narrow valley and there is no escape. Death waits at the end for us all. The walls are too steep for us to climb out. There is only one way through, and that is to move forward.

As I move forward through time, I fear no evil. No distress, misery, injury, hurt, calamity, catastrophe or adversity stops God’s victory through Christ. Any and all of these evils are temporary.

I am made secure in this by God’s rod – His authority. I have the authority of the believer. God originally gave all authority in the world to Adam. He sinned and gave it all over to the devil. Christ won it back – eternally, and brought us back into right standing with God the Father. And then He returned this authority to us.

We use God’s authority to undo the evils of this broken world until the Father deems our work is complete and Christ comes again to judge. As we do so, we have His staff to comfort us.

In the ancient world, a man’s staff was often carved to commemorate significant times of his life. It became his testimony. I am comforted by God’s staff – His testimony – because it is a reminder of His goodness toward me and all the good things He has done for me, the miracles He has performed in my life. If He has done these things once, He will do them again because He does not change.

‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.’ 6

Even as the devil and his evil servants try to harass me, God not only protects me, but lays out an abundant feast for me to enjoy. I’m not saying here that life is a bed of roses. On the contrary, my Christian life has been challenging and often frightening. Being a Christian is simple, but it is often difficult, sometimes very much so.

For example, I spent more than half of 2019 being treated for cancer, including surgery, 15 infusions of chemotherapy and 32 rounds of radiotherapy. I have written about that elsewhere, but suffice it to say that while this was simple to walk through, it wasn’t easy.

Was there pain? Yes. Were there unanswered questions? Yes, and there still are. Was there uncertainty? Of course! The important point is that the God I know was there throughout it all, providing encouragement in ways large and small, surrounding me with love and comfort.

He is the answer to every desperate question.

So, through it all, no matter how bad it may seem from the outside, I remain an honored guest at the banquet table. No evil can steal the bread of eternal life on the plate before me. This is a perfect image of the wedding feast that is promised when Christ comes back for his bride – the church.

Until then, ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ 7

His mercy gave me faith. My faith now demands that I praise Him in good times and in bad. He responds always with goodness – meaning His determination of what is good for me. I don’t always agree with His choices, but am experienced enough to know that they always bring better results than mine.

‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ 8

To which I can only say, ‘Amen, and amen.’

1. Psalm 23:1
2. Psalm 23:2
3. Psalm 23:3a
4. Psalm 23:3b
5. Psalm 23:4
6. Psalm 23:5
7. Psalm 23:6a
8: Psalm 23:6b