by ProfDave, ©2021
(Sep. 14, 2021) — Do you really want to change? To be free? To grow? To improve your relationships with yourself, with others and with God? To start the process in earnest, you need to examine yourself systematically, so that, at last, you can leave the hurtful past behind. If you have acknowledged in general that you need to change, that there is hope in God in principle, and you are ready to let Him, then the next step is to be specific about what exactly needs healing. The Twelve Steps has a step for this:
Step Four: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Lamentations 3:40: Let us examine our ways and test them and let us return to the Lord.”
Now is the time to itemize. Like the inventory of a store, the Celebrate Recovery process involves a spread sheet and is a little complicated, but thorough. I once bought two new tires and forgot to tell the shop where to put them. They almost threw away a perfectly good tire! You don’t leave the mechanic until you give him a list of exactly the things you want fixed. Your new doctor needs a detailed medical history to know what your pre-existing conditions and baseline readings are.
We list the good, the bad, and the ugly. God already knows, but you need to know, too – to agree with Him on your condition and what needs to be fixed so that you can grow to be what you were meant to be. You are not yet as whole (and happy) as He means you to be. You don’t know what’s wrong but it makes a funny noise? He will show you. It is amazing!
Your inventory of yourself needs to be “searching and fearless.” It is like Step One in detail and on steroids. Don’t try this at home. Alone and without a Higher Power, you will run off the rails into negative thinking, regret and despair. You need a group to support you, a sponsor on call, and The merciful Savior at your elbow. Maintain a balance between gratitude and remorse.
The past, we say, is “a mile post, not a hitching post,” “a spring-board, not a sofa.” With Christ it does not bind our future. Repressed memories may emerge. Nailed to the cross they lose their power. We remember for Him to de-fuse. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We take the Crucified back to those times of fear and hurt. “By His stripes we are healed.” Our Good Friday is followed by Easter.
“You are only as sick as your secrets.” The worms die when the sun comes out. We will see how we got to where we are today and our underlying character defects. We will make a list of things to be made right, but remember Step Two? There is no wound that He cannot heal – if we will let Him at it.
Speaking of Fourth Step, I spent a week in my new garden one spring trying to get my peas in. The boys cut down the seven-foot crop of weeds the previous fall and someone roto-tilled my white-fenced patch of good earth. But I have never seen soil so rich in roots – perennial, woody, weed roots! Two granddaddy taproots under the shed were more than 5 inches in diabolical diameter! Thanks, Adam! Pick and shovel work. There’s a parable in there somewhere. Is your heart like that?
The Good Book tells us, “It is appointed unto mankind once to die and after death the judgment.” Do the judgment now and the Judge won’t need to later. There is pardon and healing offered to those who ask. That is what Step Four does.
Socrates said, “know thyself.” Twelve Step self-examination begins with a list of important people and institutions that have marked our lives. Especially those we resented, feared, or who have hurt us in some way – those who have contributed to our brokenness, intentionally or accidentally. For example: my father, my mother, the bullies on the playground for starters. I also put God (His shoulders are broad) and myself (the cause of most of my troubles) on my list, too. To balance your inventory, I also listed the people and institutions that were blessings from God to me. The second column is the actions of each. Then, third column, how these actions affected me. Fourth, how this impacted my basic instincts, long term. And finally, my part in each relationship, the people I have hurt and how I hurt them.
The wounds in my life – and yours, as you do this – that need to be recognized, addressed and presented to Christ to be healed. Gotta take the makeshift band-aid off that festering wound. It’s been getting worse by the day. I don’t want the Doctor to touch it! It’s tender. It smells. It’s going to hurt, I know! But how else is it going to heal? You can’t heal a wound by hiding it. Go to a doctor, not a bar tender, to an ER, not an ATM. Expose those roots!
Celebrate Recovery principles emphasize the confession part of this: “Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.” Matthew 5:8 – “Happy are the pure in heart ..” I begin with myself. Obviously, this stuff isn’t anything that I – and God – didn’t already know. But putting it down on paper, in black and white, gives everything a cathartic clarity I never had before. Even the third time around! Being more honest with myself than ever before, I can see hidden conflicts, strengths and weaknesses, things I’ve done and things done to me, what was my responsibility and what wasn’t, where I went wrong (and right), character defects, and the path to restoration. With prayer and support from my Step-brothers it didn’t hurt as much as you would expect. Doing my laundry. I am safe from the condemnation I have felt all my life – because I’m being healed from the sickness of my secrets.
While the “moral inventory” is pretty much specific to the Twelve Step process, serious Christians have been examining themselves and confessing their faults and sins to God or to a confessor for centuries. But what I confessed from time to time, silently, weeping over the altar rail, was pretty vague, disjointed and soon forgotten. I felt forgiven and restored in spirit and relationship. It was once and done. Or was it? God delivered me from my guilt and sins, but character defects and personal weaknesses remained. The forgiveness and commitment were real, but silent confession alone did not form a platform for spiritual and personal growth.
Note: God can and does deliver people instantly from virtually hopeless addictions. I’ve seen it. But frequently (always?) that instant leaves us with more work to be done: hurts, habits and hang-ups. You don’t get bulging biceps instantly. Complete healing is His purpose, but we still have to take our medicine. It is His design that we rely on Him and not ourselves until the holy seed planted in our hearts makes our whole beings and lives holy – like His Son. Ready for Heaven? If you are still here, He’s not done with you yet. You’re a piece of work! The more transparent you are, the easier His job is.