mercy

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”CANDLE

A key element in sobriety is forgiveness.  Bill W. comments that until I have completed a 4th step inventory and then gone on to a place of showing and accepting mercy, aka forgiveness, I will not understand or achieve sober-living.

The power in this act is that it is a mutual undertaking, it’s a two-way street.  I ask my Higher Power to forgive me, I ask those whom I have offended to forgive me through amends-making, but I also must forgive those who have injured me in any way by word or deed.

This is a facet of the powerlessness necessary to overcome self.  When I am able to accept the forgiveness of God and of other people, I am giving up that sense of pride which has been telling me that I’m better than mercy, I’m going to accept forgiveness on my terms.  “Self-will run riot” is quick to return to me unless I am vigilant.  God uses me best when I am fully powerless, when I am humble.  Humility is defined in the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”, pg 58, as “….a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be.”  Step 5’s admission of my defects to another human is a step toward humility.

“Withholding forgiveness is a form of power over another person, a way to manipulate, shame, control, and diminish another.” cac.org

That’s a convicting indictment of my unwillingness to forgive.  My Higher Power does not play that game and neither should I.  In retrospect, owning up to the control freak that I can be, I should not be surprised that accepting forgiveness from God or from others has been difficult.  I did not want to become powerless.  Grudges are a result of this unforgiveness.  Grudges justify my resentments, my need to be right, and my anger.  And, yes, I have held grudges, resentment, and anger toward God.  It’s part of my alcoholic personality.  It’s part of that old personality which refuses to accept responsibility for myself and my actions.

“But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of harboring resentment is infinitely grave.  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT , pg.5

Forgiveness is the gift of mercy in action.  I desire mercy but, I also need to extend it.  In the Beatitudes, the message of Jesus compacted into the book of Matthew 5: 3-11, the author says:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  

 

 

 

 

praying rightly

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”

namaste rainbowSeveral years ago at my recovery meeting the topic of discussion turned to prayer.  It’s a hot button issue to people who are willing to start a minor skirmish over God and the definition thereof.  I had opted to not share but then the meeting chair called on me to speak.  Oh no!

Briefly, I tried not to get into specifics by citing only the need for prayer in our programs. However, I made the mistake of saying that I do not make requests for God to fulfill my wants or desires.  Immediately, I sensed the intensity of the man sitting next to me, a person I had never seen before.  Sure enough, when I had finished, he jumped my frame.

“When I pray, if I want a new car, I ask for it.  If I want a girlfriend, I ask for it.  If I need money, I ask for it …..blah, blah, blah.”

The man was angry and turning red.  Looking around the room I noticed other people smirking and shaking their heads.  I then realized again why I don’t discuss at meetings the actual phrasing of prayer, only the need to pray and the confirmation that a Higher Power will  indeed respond.

What do you pray for?  No, I’m not digging into the privacy  of your prayer life.  Let me share a story.  For years as a teen-aged boy growing up and as a young man caught up in alcoholism, my prayers centered around me.  And they always ended with, “Hear my prayers, give me what I ask and I will live a better life for you.”  I was trying to bribe God and I always ended, as I was taught, with the words “in Jesus name.”

It was an egocentric trip to the candy store where I expected the proprietor to dispense forgiveness, mercy, and heavenly favors and then put the bill on the tab of a man called Jesus, someone I scarcely remembered from Sunday School, someone whose name I used more often in fits of rage than in worship.  But I prayed heartily.

Today we joke about the bowl prayer:  “Oh Lord get me through this night and I will never drink again,” as we hang our drunken heads over the toilet bowl.  But it was a nightly occurrence years ago.  I must remember those nights lest I convince myself that it wasn’t really that bad.  Again, my prayer was a communication with God which invoked a promise that I never intended to keep.

Even in early sobriety, my prayers were centered around me and my needs.  But, I did learn to start with a gratitude list and then a sincere thank you.  Changing habits takes time and work.  Changing prayer habits usually takes a kick in the butt by God interceding on my behalf through the words of another brother/sister in brokenness.  As my friend was praying aloud with me, he emphasized the  words, “….and Thy will be done,” looking directly and intensely into my eyes.

Why was this such a profound revelation to me?   And why was the timing right?  I haven’t a clue.  All my life the words, “thy will be done” were included in my prayers.  But, on this particular day I finally understood that we were not talking about my will, but rather God’s will for my life.  My petitions would be filtered through God’s will.  And that’s how I learned not to pray for specific things, not for specific actions, not for specific favors.  Why?  Because God knows every one of my needs even before I do.  They will be fulfilled, or not, according to the wisdom of a Higher Power.

Today, the reason for my prayer life is to specifically list the things for which I am grateful, list the things which I have done in error, beg for forgiveness, and intercede for other people.  And then, “thy will be done.”

But, that’s not the end.  There is a price to pay.  Self-sacrifice.  Theology says God’s grace is free but the book of James 2:20 says, “faith without works is dead.”  Those works are the things I must pursue in service to my fellow-man.  I am in no way trying to tell anyone how, when or where to pray.  I know better than to go down that thorny trail.  But, I can testify to the miracles that happened for me when I turned my prayer life from one of “me, me, me” to one which implores, “thy will be done.”

“We had not prayed rightly.  We had always said, ‘grant me my wishes,’  instead of ‘Thy will be done.’  The love of God and man we understood not at all.  Therefore we remained self-deceived, and so incapable of receiving enough grace to restore us to sanity.”  Bill W., AS BILL SEES IT, pg 295


 

faith without works

I have a tough time feeling grateful.  My bank account does not rank up there in the stratosphere with the top one percenters; my transportation is a 21 year old pickup truck; my wardrobe is the finest the local thrift shop can provide; my daily menu is usually a variation of beans and rice.  Yes, when I compare to my neighbors and friends, Larry has missed the prosperity boat.happy thanks

Then I go to Reuters or Aljazeera or BBC, networks which present the world uncolored by rose-tinted glasses and news not saturated by American politics, and there I see the rest of humanity struggling in war-torn desolation, there I see a father unable to provide survival necessities for his family, there I see poverty which is unparalleled in our sheltered, ego-driven society……. and I get grateful for my beans and rice menu and my second-hand clothes.  A majority of the world’s population subsists on poverty level income often without even the basics of clean water, shelter and food.  Oh Larry, I say to myself, you are such an ingrate.

I cannot fathom the poverty of the world for I have been blessed to live in an America which has seen the greatest material prosperity ever witnessed by humanity.  Three car garages, college educations, designer jeans, meat and potatoes on the dinner table, boats, exquisite jewelry, penthouses, retirement accounts, golf resort vacations, all these are commonplace in the America I see surrounding me.  And still, Larry sometimes feels ungrateful and poor.  Then God says, “Rejoice!”

“Really? For what?  The country is going to hell in a handbasket, our government is corrupt, the poor are getting poorer, the rich don’t give a damn, and Florida State has a losing record this year.  What is there to be happy about?”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

“Oh.”

It has just now been pointed out to me by HP that “poor” is not a bad thing, at least not spiritually.  Those who, with humility, realize and recognize that they are impoverished in spirit and need assistance are indeed blessed for it is then that God can and will intervene if that intervention is sought.  Only then can God fix what is broken in me.  It is not something I can buy at WalMart, it is not a commodity available through a broker, it is not a shiny new vehicle.  Even my church does not hand it out at the front door.  I need to earnestly assess my own weakness and spiritual poverty in order to be blessed.  I need to get grateful for the love and compassion given to me by a gracious God and then share that same love and compassion with humanity.

Gratitude is an attitude.  Gratitude is also an action.  Just as the feeling of love becomes active through participating compassion, gratitude is useless if it is not shared.

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  James 2:17

“We believed that faith without works was dead, but we have now conclusively proved that works without faith is dead also.”  Bill W. letter of 1940

What a concept!  Faith demands works and works build faith.

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the angry tongue

CANDLEWorking with a new guy in the fellowship is a privilege never to be taken lightly.  I have been blessed many times with this challenge sometimes successfully, other times not so successfully.  Having pulled back in recent years from a rigorous association with Alcoholics Anonymous and focusing on a church affiliation, I was somewhat cautious about once again extending myself to a young, homeless man who chose me to help him.  In retrospect I know that it was God leading this broken man to me.  In all the times of reaching out to another alcoholic, it was I who received the blessing and it was I who stayed sober regardless of what my newbie did.

I am not a young man full of energy these days.  My afternoon naps are important to me and bedtime seems to crawl upon me earlier in the evening.  Habits and routine have made life more manageable.  Therefore, adjusting my schedule to meet the needs of someone who believes I can guide him through the craziness of early sobriety does not come easy.  I still remember the powerful healing days of early AA fellowship, meeting new friends, giving up old friends, doing 90 meetings in 90 days, and forging a life which before was unimaginable.  But then that voice from within said, “Larry, it’s time to refresh yourself in Alcoholics Anonymous, to recommit to the program.  Do 90 in 90.”

“Oh no,” was my first response.  ” I don’t have the time.”

“Really?  I gave your life back to you when you were a basket case.  I sat up with you when you spent nights in sheer terror afraid you were going crazy.  I brought you through the valley of the shadows.  And you don’t have time?”

My Higher Power settled that argument without further dispute.  Now, you all need to understand that although patience is a virtue, it is not always readily available.  Sometimes, especially for an old man, it is in short supply.  My new protégé is someone I have known for several years who recently suffered reversals in life which, hopefully, brought him to his ‘bottom’.  And because we have been friends, the conversation is usually free-flowing and lively.  Sometimes it gets out of hand.  As most of you know, I am still a broken vessel needing a lot of healing and mending.  My mouth still opens before the brain is engaged and, as happened a few days ago, words which were not of a spiritual nature flowed freely.  Ouch!

After a few solitary hours in my private attitude adjusting cubicle, I offered a sincere apology, a hug, and a promise to count to 10 before offering my lame – brain diatribes.  It is once again “well with my soul” and peaceful in my household.  But, that’s the beauty of sober living.  We can be honest, we can argue, we can disagree, we can yell and then promptly make amends.

It’s the yelling part that concerns me because that was a strong feature of my active alcoholism.  Just flying off the handle over stupid stuff, being irrational and abrasive is not who the sober Larry wants to be.  Wisdom gleaned from the literature of AA and Christian scriptures warns me of the consequences of a mouth which spews indiscriminately.  I believe during the next few months of readjusting my life to the needs of someone who is reaching out, I will need these readings more often.

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”  James 3:10-12

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”  Proverbs 13:3

“A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.”  Proverbs 18:6  

“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us.  Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but not for us alcoholics.  It is poison.”  Bill Wilson  AS BILL SEES IT pg 5

embarassed

humbled

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”  Bill W. 12 AND 12 pg 58cropped-brilliance.png

Bill Wilson’s definition of humility can be extremely difficult if I try to cover it with my old ideas about being humble.  I don’t want to be weak.  I don’t want to be submissive.  I don’t want to turn the other cheek.  Humility is not the American way.  We are proud, strong, and invincible.  Then I take a look at my flawed condition and my brokenness.  “Yeah, and look where your pride has taken you,” a voice inside says to me.

That inventory which we are guided to do early in recovery can be a very excruciating experience when we go into it honestly with courage.  I shuddered at the list of transgressions and defects which had to be shared later with God and another person.  I did not want anyone to know my deepest, darkest secrets.  Exposing myself like that would shatter the self-image I presented to the world.  “Yeah, and look where that image has taken you.”  Damn that voice inside.

“His admission is the beginning of humility – at least the newcomer is willing to disclaim that he himself is God.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT pg 191, from a letter of 1966

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are….”  Like most newcomers to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I had lived a life apart from the concept of God.  Some of us never knew God, some of us refuted the God which we knew.  When my new sober friends advised that initially the group itself could be the greater power necessary to begin me on the road to recovery, I cautiously accepted that idea.  I had no choice.  My way was described as ‘self-will run riot’ and I had to reluctantly agree.

I love Bill Wilson’s connection between Higher Power and humility.  It tells me that I am not in charge, that I am not in control, that I am not God.  And Bill goes on to say “this is the beginning of humility.”  In my active alcoholism, I had never given credence to the thought of not being the master of my life.  It was an alien idea and totally un-American.

I am not God.  When the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous is undertaken with this understanding, the 12 steps are not a daunting, unpleasant experience, especially steps 4 and 5.  I am humbled in a fellowship which advocates honesty and courage.  Sober living becomes second nature because I am no longer forced by ethic or tradition to be the man in charge.  No, I don’t control the miracle happening.  I am still a work in progress.  I am still flawed and broken.  But today I know a Higher Power who can heal and fix me.

“Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  1 Peter 5:6

namaste rainbow

 

 

surveys

CANDLEBill W. in AS BILL SEES IT urges me to “survey the past”.  Step 4 is an integral part of my recovery program which then guides me in subsequent steps to release those deep transgressions, which have darkened my soul, to the Higher Power of my understanding and to another human being.  It is a fundamental process which leads to clearing the past that exists in my mind as a monumental impediment to a joyful and fulfilling future.  This release enables my Higher Power to then use me in the work of recovery and discovery of my divine purpose.

However, it is not a ‘one and done’ deal.  Step 10 then urges me to continue this inventory-taking and promptly clear the slate of any further hindering thoughts, words, and deeds.  It is also means that I should continue surveying my past for those things which had been forgotten or deeply buried within my soul.  This soul-searching is an ongoing endeavor which enhances a “joyful” recovery and frees me of self-loathing and doubt.

What also needs to be realized is that quite often those transgressions, which can be catastrophic in my mind, are usually a mere blip on the screens of victims of my selfishness.  If I were to ask one of them, “Do you remember….”, they would probably reply in the negative or they would have processed that happening and moved onward with life.  Rarely has my indiscretion devastated his/her life.  Even if I have caused extreme hardship or harm to another and their forgiveness is not offered, I have a merciful, steadfast Higher Power which has the amazing capacity to forgive and restore.

It is not a selfish undertaking to view the damage I heaped upon myself physically and emotionally as the ultimate, most important target of my inventories, self-assessment and amends.  Making amends to others is, of course, significant.  However, I am the brokenness that needs to be fixed.  As an alcoholic, I suffered a deep hatred of myself.  It colored every day of my life and every relationship in which I participated.  As a recovering alcoholic, I must see myself as deserving of a loving and compassionate God.  When that happens I can get on with the work of serving in a meaningful way the humanity to which I belong.rainbow-solidarity

 

as “BILL SEES IT”, pg 111

Dhammapada 1: the twin

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Even if the thoughtless can recite many of the scriptures,
if they do not act accordingly,
they are not living the holy life,
but are like a cowherd counting the cows of others.

Even if the faithful can recite
only a few of the scriptures,
if they act accordingly,
having given up passion, hate, and folly,
being possessed of true knowledge and serenity of mind,
craving nothing in this world or the next,
they are living the holy life.

Doesn’t get any simpler than that, does it?  I believe in American culture we would say, “Talk the talk and then walk the walk.”  It’s all about the journey which we walk and not the scriptures we have read.  Some of my friends are well versed in Christian scriptures and they do indeed live by the principles.  Surely they will be blessed.

But, we increasingly witness the preachers of the “talk” who haven’t a clue nor a desire to live the “path” of the Buddha nor the “way” of Jesus of Nazareth.  Their talk is big while their performance is dismal.

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.  Jeremiah 23:1

To my friends in recovery programs, this is not religious stuff; this is the essence of the program we have learned around the tables at our meetings.  Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson did not pull their life-saving principles out of thin air.  No, they took the wisdom established centuries earlier and transitioned it to fit contemporary society.

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