by ProfDave, ©2021
(Sep. 27, 2021) — This is the top of the mountain. Step Four is a long hard climb, but from here you can see forever.
We are all broken people living in a broken world. We have flaws in our DNA, our minds, our emotions and our spirits. We have wounds and hang-ups from childhood. Many of us have picked up habits and addictions. We have sinned against God, ourselves and our neighbors. We have been injured by others and we have injured others. The Twelve-Step process supports us in dealing with our stuff. In step one, we admitted we had issues. In step two we found hope that God could help us. In step three we committed to letting God do it. In step four we did an exhaustive inventory of what was right and wrong with us. Now in step five we turn it in – sharing our inventory. We turn a corner and begin the process of “getting right with God, yourself, and others.”
Step Five: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed.”
We have been pretty much dealt with ourselves in the process of writing out our inventory. And – if we were wise – God was included.
But just one more time, we need to read it over to God, on our knees preferably, and pay attention to His comments. He has promised to forgive us, if we confess to Him. There is no sense holding back: He already knows it all. Recount the dark times in your life while you hold His hand. The light will shine in those dark places – light enough to see the cross where all darkness was judged. Even yours. See the wrongs you did nailed to that cross? See the wrongs done to you redeemed. He will not explain it all. But the wounds in His hands and feet are your guarantee that all that is wrong will be one day right. You can trust Him. You can tell Him anything – He already knows even better than you do.
We all know that doing “the right thing” should come naturally, but it doesn’t. Our capacity for rationalization, denial and self-deception is unlimited. So, the Good Book urges us to bring others into the battle: don’t fight evil alone! Monks in the Middle Ages, Renaissance Brethren, collegia pietatis of the pietist movement, class meetings of early Methodism, support groups in the recovery movement – all address this principle with intimate accountability. Guys with guys, gals with gals, dealing with our stuff together – we are much stronger together than alone. God has already forgiven you – this is for healing.
Step Five goes one step beyond. My challenge was to find one guy I trusted enough to share my most intimate document with him, face to face. My spouse knew me extremely well in the day – but she never heard this! As a woman, she could not have fully understood my gender-specific issues any more than I could understand hers – she didn’t have the right glands for it. God isn’t even enough because I can’t actually see His eyes and facial expression.
My sponsor! He was a safe and trusted guy, he struggled with some of the same issues but had completed the Steps, knew the drill and he had skin on. He didn’t excuse my wrongs, didn’t fall off his chair or laugh at my foibles, nor did he reject or condemn me for what I had done. In short he was Jesus-with-skin-on to me.
What does it feel like to turn yourself inside out to another guy? [Women have the same experience, but for the sake of simplicity and clarity, forgive me for using the masculine pronouns] To make yourself totally vulnerable? To speak out loud all the stuff I had never told anyone before – not my mother, not my wife, not my best friend? My inventory included things I had just barely admitted to yourself a few days previous! I’ve done it six times now. Of course, my “trustie” had been in Step group with me and already knew the general nature of my wrongs, but this was exact.
Why does it have to be exact? Because you want to be healed exactly! You are only as sick as your secrets. If you want to keep that festering splinter, then go ahead and hide it. Otherwise, bring it out into the light where it can be pulled. If the something bothers you, or should bother you, or might bother you if you allowed yourself to remember it, let it out. The more gunk that rises to the surface, the better you will feel when it is gone. And you can’t heal a wound by pretending it isn’t there.
What does it feel like? A tremendous burden is lifted. We leave walking on air. The shame is washed away, and we feel clean. Your sponsor doesn’t have the power to forgive sins, but his respectful listening reminds you of the One who can and does. He may make observations or ask probing questions, but he doesn’t berate your, ridicule you or try to fix you. Chances are you have already heard – or fear hearing – the “easy solutions.” One word: grace. You go away with a clean and light feeling of one who has been forgiven. And you have! OK: you are still a mess, but an open mess – open to the grace of God. You can be confident that He can clean it all up!
Accountability is essential to a healthy spiritual life. This is perhaps the most neglected part of the gospel in the church today. We are so focused on our own rectitude that 1) we forget that God (not us) is the only legitimate source of righteousness, and 2) we are not supposed to struggle alone but to fight shoulder to shoulder. The lions make their living on the animals that stray from the herd.
This happens on different levels of intimacy and confidentiality. A church should be a safe place to admit we are not OK. At the very least, we admit our need of God by showing up at all. But too often it is looked upon as a museum for “nice” people and the pressure is on to look and say we are fine. In smaller and more limited classes and small groups we can be real because we get to know and love each other. In groups like Celebrate Recovery, we take a pledge of anonymity and confidentiality. Transparency is expected and practiced. We hear others share who they really are and what they are really going through. We find strength and support in our deepest struggles by sharing our hopes, victories and defeats in a safe atmosphere. In Step Five, we go one step further, sharing the exact state of our souls with one other human being.
And healing happens.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.