Making A List, Checking It Twice…

Step 8

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed,

and became willing to make amends to them all”

 Today is Christmas Eve. For many of us, that means getting together with family we don’t often mingle with. Sometimes the mix creates a Molotov cocktail, with one incendiary whose mission is to pit family members against one another. (Wikipedia says these particular cocktails are “primarily intended to set targets ablaze rather than instantly destroy them.”) Perhaps you can even name that person in your family who moves from conversation to conversation setting everyone off. Perhaps you are or have been that person.

My Honey often repeats the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” When wounded families come together for the holidays, they don’t leave their hurts at home. Often the pain of mingling with abusive or intrusive family members is exacerbated by secret sins that have never been made right. With the just-right mix of people, ghosts of Christmas’ past, and often, booze, many families have a less than “holly jolly Christmas.”

If your family holidays are not Norman Rockwell worthy, and the above paragraphs ring true in any way, you are far from alone. Many people in recovery survive facing their families at holiday time. They even manage to look at these get-togethers as litmus tests of their own recovery. There’s nothing like “Uncle Joe’s” inappropriate comments that can bring the truth of where we are in our own recovery racing to the surface.

Do we react or respond? Do we get sucked into an argument, or walk away? Can we remember who we are now, not allowing ourselves to be placed into the ill-fitting boxes from yesteryear?

Or are the tables turned? Am I the one forgetting to allow another to grow out of their family straitjacket? Do I hold someone hostage with my jokes or innuendos? Are there amends I haven’t yet made or been made aware of?

One popular Santa song says:

“He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice”

Step Eight speaks of a different list, one that requires some serious introspection.FullSizeRender-1 In A Hunger For Healing, we see that, “Step Eight is a social housecleaning, just as Step Four was our personal housecleaning. In Step Eight we’re setting out to clean up all the bruised relationships and the pockets of guilt, pain, fear, resentment, and sadness that are stored inside, stuck to our shameful past deeds. For this undealt-with material blocks us from loving other people, ourselves, and God in the present.

It’s as if God were saying, “Okay, now you want me to take all of your character defects, fine. Then you can be free and serene and the person I want you to be. But first you must see that almost all your troubles involve other people. You’ve tried to control them one way or the other or fix them; you have guilty or resentful feelings about them; or you have been so preoccupied with yourself and your feelings, dreams, and plans that you have ignored them emotionally and caused them to experience some of their worst fears of being deserted. Now I want you to face what you have done and own your part in hurting each person in your life so you can move into the future I have for you unencumbered by the past and beginning to understand how not to keep repeating the mistakes of that past.”
– A Hunger for Healing, p. 135-136

The Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 8 reminds us that “The Eighth Step starts the procedure of forgiving others and possibly being forgiven by them, forgiving ourselves, and learning how to live in the world.”

As we celebrate the holidays with our families, we can remember that, although they may be far from perfect, so are we. Only with the true Spirit of Christmas in our hearts, can God restore the brokenness of our pasts and use our story to bring hope to loved ones who are still stuck in unhealthy places.

So, here’s the Christmas challenge for all of us, as we interact with others over the holidays: Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us aware of ourselves, and any amends we need to make. And then, let’s make our lists, check them twice, and pray for Spirit-led opportunities to follow through with Step 9.

Happy, emotionally-healthy holidays to all! And to all a good night!

 

 

The Bridge of Vulnerability

How deep The Father’s love for us… His timing is impeccable. He sees us. He knows what we need, even when we aren’t sure. May I share with you my most recent revelation of His love?

So, I’m simultaneously reading Daring Greatly, Brené Brown’s bestseller, subtitled, How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead and working Step 8 in my Twelve Step group. If you’re unfamiliar with the 8th Step, it goes like this: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” There’s a lot that is scary in “working” Step 8. It’s definitely an opportunity to prepare for the risk of being vulnerable with those who may or may not receive my attempts at amend-making or be interested reciprocation.

I’ve got my list made. I’ve asked God’s Spirit to reveal to me whether anyone else should be on it. One of the questions in my Step work this week asks, “What people have I injured by withholding response or relationship?” Ouch. Isn’t it so much easier to just remain silent? To allow years and decades to pass without responding to or engaging in relationship with someone who has crossed our life’s path and gotten injured in the crossfire of our own pain and the ways we’ve numbed it? If you’ve ever worked a 12 Step program, you know that the one who ends up injured most when “I” refuse to face truth is “myself.”

Honestly, I’m scared of Step 9. I know it’s coming. Making a list is one thing. Making “direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others” is quite something else. I’m nervous about what “they” might do or say, or worse yet, what they may not do or say. I’ve tried this before, with an ex-boyfriend whom I left in a hurtful situation. He didn’t acknowledge my angst. Didn’t accept my apology. I’ve not forgotten the aftermath. But I want to.

Guess what Our Loving Father did for me? Right in the thick middle of Step 8 and reading all about how vulnerability is (according to Dr. Brené Brown) “the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences,” He gave me the opportunity to know how it feels to be on the receiving end of “making amends.” He allowed me to hold the vulnerability of another person in my hands and to recognize the truth of what Brené Brown shares in her powerful book: vulnerability is not weakness. Instead, it is “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Brené says, “If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (p. 34) After last weekend, I am in full agreement.Vulnerability

Here’s the short version of how it happened: My biological father, whom I have not seen in four years, bought me a plane ticket to come for a visit to Colorado, where he lives with his wife and two teenaged sons. My husband came, too. We had a great time hiking in the Garden of the Gods and enjoying the beauty of a crisp Colorado spring. Then the blizzard came. (I can call it a blizzard – we were visiting from Florida, where it was 92 degrees Fahrenheit when we left home.) The chill forced us to sit by the fire one evening and talk. Talking can be pretty terrifying when it’s something you and your father have spent a lifetime avoiding.

The backstory may sound all too familiar to you (or to your children): My parents separated when I was 5. Divorced by the time I was 6. By the age of 7, I had a new stepdad and lived on the opposite side of the United States from my father. We rarely saw one another for most of my life. I was in high school before I made an internal decision to be intentional about getting to know him. We tried, but it was difficult because we lived in different worlds and connecting often felt awkward.

So, here I am last weekend, freshly turned 44, sitting in my father’s living room reading Brené Brown’s book on vulnerability, when he does one of the most outrageous, courageous, vulnerable things I’ve witnessed. He starts sharing his heart. With me. I will honor his privacy by not disclosing the contents of that conversation, but it was sealed with tears of anguish for the years of regret, and a passionate apology from a father who wished he had been able to be more of a daddy to my sister and me. I was dumfounded, frozen and staring. Then moved by compassion to embrace him with love.

As I lay in bed later, reflecting on the things my father shared, I was reminded of the way they parallel so many of our God stories. We may wander through life feeling abandoned, alone, and unloved, never realizing that Our Father agonizes over us. Unaware that He loved us from the very beginning and never once stopped, no matter how far away we were. He’s spent eternity longing for relationship with us: forever allowing us the freedom to choose to be “found,” always aware that true intimacy can never be forced, even by the Creator of those He longs to be intimate with.

I thought about the fact that my relationship with my earthly father shifted when I made a conscious effort to reach out to him as a teenager. That is when the walls began to slowly come down, brick by brick. Unfortunately, many partitions remained intact…until last weekend, when, with one giant leap of vulnerability, he bravely knocked down all remaining barriers, opening a way for healing to take place. It was a rare and beautiful thing to observe. He did Step 9 without even realizing it!

Being on the recipient end of “making direct amends” revolutionized my looming Step 9 and made it seem not so scary after all. I now understand how burden-relieving it is to witness the courageous vulnerability of a person seeking to make things right. I can only pray that I will be that brave.

Our earthly fathers are important. Whatever the status of our bond, it’s a relationship that matters. Unfortunately for so many of us, the fraying of fatherhood has deeply impacted our view of God and our perception of His view of us.

My Father's Bible

My Father’s Bible

Perhaps we can learn something from my experience with my father. Maybe it will be simply this, “For God so loved___________(put your name right here) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV). God longs for an eternal relationship with us. He has done everything within His power to provide for that. He has loved us from the beginning. Unconditionally. Even when we didn’t know it. The choice is ours. Do we accept His gift, or do we reject it? Will we take His ministry of reconciliation and spread it to those whom we, in our broken humanity, have injured? Will we dare to be that vulnerable…with Him and with others? I pray so. There is abundant life waiting on the other side of the bridge of vulnerability. Just ask my father.

How Deep The Father’s Love For Us… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7fGEOH2XiY