Working the Steps – Step Eight, Part 2

My newest book, Practicing Resurrection:  Radical Hope in Difficult Times has just been released by Smyth and Helwys Publishers.

When I began writing this series on the Twelve Steps, I had not yet even outlined the book’s chapters, but now that the book has been written and released, it is time to differentiate between this series and the new book.   I do, however, see that working the Twelve Steps is a powerful way to “practice resurrection.”  I hope you will read both.

Thank you so much for reading this series on the Twelve Steps, formerly named “Practicing Resurrection”. From now on, this series will appear as “Working the Steps”. Step Eight, Part 2 can be found below.


Working the Steps:  Step Eight, Part 2

Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them.

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive.

Leaving the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, on a late summer road trip across the South, I unwrapped my new CD of Elvis’ gospel music and popped it into the CD player in the car.

It had been years since I had heard this song, but I can remember my mother’s singing this old hymn.  For a few miles and with the power of memory, I was back in my childhood home, feeling nostalgic.

However, with a lot of life between then and now and a longtime practice of working these Steps, the “If I have” beginning to each line of that song caught my attention.

“The question isn’t if I have wounded someone else or gone my own willful way,” I told my husband.  “I have,” I stated firmly, “and it’s my job to know precisely how I have done that!”

No one sings a gospel song quite like Elvis, and I would love to linger awhile in the “If I have’s”, but these many years of working the Steps won’t let me play that coy game with myself.

“If I have” may be a substitute for “help me to see what I’ve done”, but it must be the first step I take toward becoming aware of the ways I have harmed myself and others.  If I stop with “If I have done anything wrong”, I’m playing games with myself, asking for cheap grace.

Before I can get to forgiveness, I have to look at my own actions, motivations, words and habits that have caused pain or suffering to myself or others.

I can tell myself “It wasn’t that bad” or I can hope that the persons I’ve hurt didn’t notice what I had done.

I can justify what I did by saying, “He started it” or “I didn’t know what I was doing.  I can make any number of excuses, but the only way out of the deep hole of denial is to stop digging and begin telling myself the cold, hard, unvarnished truth.

I can minimize what I have done or blow it up to be bigger than it was, which is a strange way of avoiding telling myself the truth.  Being the best of the worst sinners and doing the most horrible of all bad things that anyone could ever possibly do doesn’t really tell the truth about what I’ve done.  Awful-izing and embellishing the story is yet another way to distract myself and lead myself astray into the drama of it all.

Making the tale of my shortcomings and harmful deeds more than they are may be entertaining.  They might even make funny stories, but in the end the old “Tell the truth and nothing but the truth” is the best policy.

Working this Step is hard.  It’s humiliating and painful, but here’s the Good News:  It is also liberating.  It is the way to forgiveness and freedom.  It is the way to activate the amazing grace and mercy that is available, if we have the courage to open our minds and hearts to it.

* * * *  *

When I did this Step the first time, I divided my life into seasons, going back as far as I could remember, and simply asked God to show me what I had done to hurt someone else in each phase of my life.  I wish I could say that it was hard to remember, but it wasn’t, and what I was to realize was that all of those memories I had stuffed were wrapped in regret, embarrassment, shame and guilt.

So it as with a sense of relief and even hopefulness that with my journal in hand, I wrote down all I could think of as each incident came to mind, sifting through my memory.  Carefully, I wrote down the precise nature of my wrong.  I recorded how I hurt the other person, and sometimes I cried.

I had to take breaks, too, so that I wouldn’t overwhelm myself with guilt.  I remembered, as well, the counsel of my sponsor who told me to try to find just the right amount of zeal in uncovering my wrongs.  I didn’t understand at first by what she meant about finding the balance between being too hard on myself and not hard enough, but over time, I came to understand that finding that balance was a gift that came with a willingness to tell myself the hard facts and the unvarnished truth about my actions, attitudes and words.

When I finished with that first list, my sponsor had me go back to my journal and write down everything I had done to hurt myself, which included the times I allowed someone else to injure me.  Again, I wrote about the exact nature of that self-injury and how it felt when it happened.   Later, it occurred to me to write about how I felt about the incident as I was doing this Step, comparing the felt and perceived impact from the past and my experience of the incident in the present.

Over time, I have learned to keep my accounts current, to pay attention to the times when I offend someone, unconsciously or consciously.   I work to know what I’ve done when I have done it, and I work to stay conscious and aware of my motivations that cause me to say that cutting remark, withhold affection or love, criticize, offend or harm another person.

In these years of working this Step, I have also learned how to handle other peoples’ harmful acts toward me in a way that helps me acknowledge the hurt or anger, but not react to it in a way that makes the problem worse.  Ignoring the impact of others’ actions and words doesn’t make the hurt go away, but untreated wounds do fester over time.  I’ve learned that others’ injuries become self-injuries if I don’t deal with them, and I’ve also learned that if I allow resentment and anger to fester, those energies will leak out or explode out in words or actions that will hurt both myself and others.

** * * *

On surely one of the hottest and most humid days in Houston’s history, I stood in a line on the campus of Rice University for what seemed like an entire morning to hear the Dalai Lama speak.  My husband and I were herded with the crowd from building to building for some unknown reason.  Perhaps the crowd was bigger than expected or the security concerns were such that we were moved around so much, but the wait was so long that we were tempted to leave.

Packed into the basketball gym, we waited even longer for the appearance of the man who is an ambassador for kindness and happiness. I don’t remember what his topic was that day, but I do remember that the crowd listened to him in rapt silence.  At the end of his speech, he took some questions, and his answer to the last question is the one take-away of the day for me.

The Dalai Lama’s answer was powerful, but equally impressive was the change in his voice from the relaxed, happy tone to a deep bass and a stern tone.  He got up from his chair and walked to the edge of the low stage, getting as close as he could to the young man who had asked a question I have long forgotten.

“You don’t ever allow another person to abuse you or inflict violence on you by words or actions,” he said, which made perfect sense to me.  It was what he next that brought the entire gym to utter silence.

“By allowing another person to injure you, you are participating in his violence he is inflicting on himself.”

I have never forgotten what he said next.

“When a person abuses another person, he hates that person for letting him do it, and he hates himself for doing it, and the person who is abused hates the abuser and hates himself for letting himself be abused.   And that is how the cycle of violence is perpetuated.”

* * * **

The cycle of abuse begins with hurtful words – insults, put-downs, labeling, name-calling

The parties blame each other or someone else —

The anger escalates into actions that are harmful and destructive —

Left unaddressed, the anger escalates into physical violence –

Once physical violence begins, it can be deadly.

* * * **

What about you?

What do you dread most about writing down the actual names of the people you have harmed, including yourself?

Can you see this list as the way to forgiveness and freedom?

What do you have to lose?

What do you have to gain?

There is grace ahead – all the grace you need.

Believe it.


Growing Edges: Leave your troubles at the door  

(The blog posts based on the Twelve Steps will continue when I complete my current book, which is due to my publisher NOW!   The San Angelo Standard Times has given me permission to use my columns on this website after they have been published in the newspaper.  This one, was  published on February 25, 2017 )

I hope you left your troubles at the door because in here, we’re having a party.

And with those lines, the four young singers and dancers who call themselves Under the Street Lamp knocked themselves out bringing the music of the ’60s back to life for a full two hours. The talented quartet sang and danced their way through doo wop, Motown and old rock ‘n’ roll hits, and if someone there didn’t have a party, it wasn’t the fault of the performers.

I’m here to report that for me, the stated intent was accomplished. Those guys didn’t miss a beat, and those of us for whom the music provided an opportunity to feel the beat of our youth, it was glorious and fun and invigorating. I smiled through the entire concert and left thinking, “Troubles? Do I have to pick them up at the door, or can I leave them here?”

The music was wonderful, but the opening line has continued to echo in my mind. Knowing how to leave your troubles at the door is a good thing to learn, and if you need a little music from an earlier, unclouded day, so be it. I’m not too proud to regress back in time for an evening.

Leaving your troubles at the door doesn’t mean you are running away from them. It can mean you have learned how to compartmentalize the various and sometimes competing and troubling issues of your life. It could mean you know how to set boundaries and manage the stresses of life. It could be a strength and a discipline, actually.

Leaving your troubles at the door doesn’t mean you don’t understand the gravity of them, nor does it mean you are in denial about what is a real or present danger. It doesn’t mean you are avoiding facing what you have to face, calling problems by their real names or sticking your head in the sand, hoping if they are ignored long enough, they will magically disappear. It may mean you have learned the value of the occasional “time-out” for renewal, rest and regeneration.

Leaving your troubles at the door doesn’t mean you are leaving them for someone else to solve. You may be able to hand them over to your people, whomever those people might be, for an evening or a season, but for most of us human beings, there are certain troubles that are ours alone to carry. It may mean you are taking the time out to detach for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks in order to get some distance from a situation so that you can go back into it with a clearer focus, a firmer resolve or a solution you might not have noticed if you hadn’t taken the time to get your head clear and your body rested.

Nor does leaving your troubles at the door necessarily indicate a trust in magical thinking. It isn’t a blind faith in a benign deity who is going to work everything out, anyway. It isn’t a shrugging of the shoulders or a shrugging off responsibility, but it is often evidence of a faith that is hearty enough to know when it is time take a Sabbath break from the woes and worries of daily toil and the unrelenting problems of the day and truly rest and relax.

A full concert of the music of one’s youth may very well be an escape, but if it is, it’s a healthy escape with no unpleasant aftereffects, and with the little help from my musical friends, I relearned another one of life’s simplest and most helpful lessons. Taking the right kinds of breaks, including having fun with people you love, is a protection against the effects of sustained stress, an investment in your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health and a happy responsibility of those of us who dare to call ourselves adult.

Gratefully, my friends heard Under the Street Lamp on television and invited us to join them for the evening.  Isn’t spreading good news and sharing good times what good friends do?

We did join the party, and were better, happier and more relaxed for the time well-spent.

Jeanie Miley, a former San Angelo resident, is an inspirational author and speaker. Her column appears Saturdays. Email her at

Practicing Resurrection: Step 8, Part 1

Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

“If I have done anything to offend you…..”

“Tell me what it is that I did!”

“You know I did that only because you did what you did….”

Stop right here.

Those are not good openings for doing this Step.  In fact, if there were rules for doing this Step, these approaches break all of them, but they are common and frequent ploys for wiggling out of taking responsibility for the harm we have done to others.

The first one puts the burden on the offended party for being offended.

The second one makes the injured party do the work, setting up a line of defense in the offender.

The third approach places the blame on the person who has been harmed.

This is the point in the program when you really do start to grow up.   This is where the point is not about other people have done to make you do the things you have done or may even still be doing.

This is the point in the program when you do what spiritually mature people do and start taking responsibility for how you have hurt other people and yes, even yourself.

* * * * *

Taking Step Eight starts with making a list of all the people you have harmed, and on the front end, it’s only about making the list.  You can’t get ahead of yourself and go even to the second half of this Step just yet or you might get too scared and run back inside yourself and close the door.

On the other hand, you may want to ponder this list for a period of time because it is scary to think about having to own up to some stuff you’d rather forget in front of someone who already knows what you have done and may also be hiding in an inner cave, closed off in fear, disappointment, pain and suffering.

You might want to make a pact with yourself or with your sponsor, however, about timing.   If you linger too long, making that list, you might get stuck.  Moving forward it the underlying goal of this Step.  Moving from guilt and shame and through the paralysis of fear to the freedom of forgiveness, restitution and restoration is a worthy goal and worth the trouble.

* * * * *

When I come to this Step, I have to acknowledge that it is really truly hard and unpleasant and painful and just plain terrifying to have to face the truth about how my words and behavior have injured someone I love or maybe some innocent person who came across my path in a moment when I was out of control, either with my self-will running riot, my self-destroying behavior or an emotion that is out of control.

Face it, I tell myself:  It is so hard to fall from grace in your own eyes.

It is so hard to face the things I have done that injured other people — either emotionally, physically, financially or spiritually.

Just remember:  At this point, all you have to do is make the list.

Take out a piece of paper and a pen or go to your computer and start a list there.  This Step is potentially life-changing for the good, and the sooner you start, the sooner you will be able to experience mercy and grace.  This Step is potentially healing, liberating, transforming and empowering.  That’s not a bad outcome, is it?

Yes, there is a time and a place for dealing with what others have done to us, but at this point, the focus is on taking full responsibility for what you have done to harm others, either by word, action or indifference, neglect, abandonment or the violence of silence.

* * * * *

The first time I took this Step, I really wanted to shift the responsibility for what I had done over to someone else.  I can remember the look in my sponsor’s eyes when I started explaining to her why it was I was the way I was.  I remember how she listened to my justification for a moment, but I will never, ever forget the moment when she said these words of grace:

Yeah — That’s how you got this way.  Now……what are you going to do about it? 

Years later, sitting in my analyst’s sacred room, I knew I had another layer of stuff that I needed to confess.   You would think that I would have learned my lesson with my sponsor, but I guess I thought I might try a similar approach.

“I am not responsible for what I did when I didn’t know any better, am I?   I am not responsible for what I did before I was aware, am I?”

Even now, I cringe with embarrassment, but then I smile to myself, remembering his response, other words of grace.

Children blame.    Adults take responsibility.

That was then.  This is now.

Woe to the person who believes that grace always comes in a flavor you like.  Sometimes, grace begins with a terrifying moment of hearing someone say that whatever you have done, you gotta own it, and you’ll feel ‘way better when you do.

No more excuses.   No more rationalizations.

Don’t explain.  Don’t justify.

Own it.

Make the list. 

* * * * *

It is true that there are some wounds inflicted on us that we will carry for the rest of our lives, but this Step helps us carry them in a different way because there is something infinitely liberating about owning our own stuff.   Ironically, it feels good to admit that the way we have carried what others have done to us has also hurt other people.  The ways we have suffered have also done self-injury.  We all know that hurt people hurt other people, and we all know that our we have used our wounds as weapons.

The Good News  and amazing grace is that our deepest wounds can become healing balm for others.

Somehow, admitting the ways we have harmed other people by or because of  our character defects opens the door of mercy.  Even better, admitting our wrongs with ruthless honesty helps us join the human race.

A memory verse from Isaiah 53:6 reminds us of our common tendencies as humans:

All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned our own way.

 Either out of innocence or willful intent, ignorance or stupid carelessness, arrogance, indifference or anger, all of us sheep tend to think we can go down our own selfish path.

 Those words pretty well state a part of the human predicament, and there is more truth from 1 John 1:8.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

 I like the way Eugene Peterson renders 1 John 1:8 in The Message: 

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves.

A claim like that is errant nonsense.

 (As much as I resisted the pressures of memorizing scriptures when I was a preacher’s kid, those memory verses come back to me when I need them.)

Here’s the Good News:   It is in a simple process of making the list of those I have harmed and following a path that has been life-changing for countless thousands that I place myself in a position to experience amazing grace — and here is where 1 John 1:9  affirms this process:

On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—

he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself.

 He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. 

(To be clear, the “he” in these verses is God, and yes, we all have done things that have separated us from his love.)(And oh my goodness, could we ever have long and lengthy talks about this– Remember that God image discussion, ‘way back in Step 3?)

* * * * *

When I am guiding people through this Step, I see it as part of my job to stand as a witness to God’s loving compassion in this sacred process.   One of the things that means is that I attempt to empower the other person to claim the wrongs he/she has actually done out of his/her character defect.   I find it is vitally important to walk the fine line between being too hard on yourself and letting yourself off the hook too quickly or easily.

This isn’t so much about hitting your brother when you were a small child and it isn’t about saying bad words to annoy or offend your mother, and so some deep reflection and prayer for guidance is appropriate.    What it is about is owning your harmful words and actions when you were acting from your character defect.

When doing this Step, I always ask for God to give me the courage to see what I have hidden from myself, either by convenient forgetting, denial that it really was that hurtful, fear of what the other might do if I make myself vulnerable enough to make amends or by excusing, rationalizing, justifying and explaining my wrongs away.

* * * * *

It is important to keep a firm focus on my behaviors, my deeds, my attitudes, my wrongs and not let other peoples’ stuff bleed over into mine.

Sometimes it is helpful just to let the memories come to you as they will, and sometimes it is helpful to divide your life into seasons and comb through those years sequentially.  You get to choose how, but do it.

You may want to reflect on the time you first began acting out of your primary character defect.  Or, you may want to go to the first offense against another you can remember.  Suit yourself, but come clean, if only with yourself, for now.   Often, telling yourself the truth is the hardest part.

Let yourself feel the regret, the guilt and the shame, but count on your good and wise sponsor not to let you drown in your remorse.  An experienced sponsor has a keen sense of when you are into just beating yourself up, being super-scrupulous and trying to be perfect, which can be part of a character defect, and when you need to be honest to the bone.  Punishing oneself and taking responsibility for oneself are two notably different acts with  radically different outcomes.

* * * * *

So….back to making that list.    Just take the first steps.

Equipped with your computer or pen and paper, begin.

Ask God to help you and then, write.

Take breaks if you need to, but promise yourself you will stick with the process until you are finished.

When you have finished, offer it to God.

Give thanks that you have the moral courage to admit your wrongs, and give thanks to God for bringing them to your attention.

Take a walk.  Mark the moment.   Give yourself credit.

Be willing to understand that in the strangest way, it is God’s grace that allows us to come to our senses, feel the pain and shame and guilt and regret we need to feel, own our stuff and be open to the forgiveness and peace that is ahead.

Remember this:  Only the dead feel no pain, and only those who have a moral center and a healthy conscience  are willing to face the truth and tell the truth about the ways they have done to hurt another person.

* * * * *

When one of my grandsons was only four, he had enough of something one of his cousins was doing, and so he picked up a bucket and banged her over the head with it.  Of course that set up a great wailing in their Montessori classroom where they were both enrolled.

And, of course, the incident was reported to their mothers who are sisters, which set up another one of those conflict of interest things sisters tend to have.  Each of them was torn between wanting her own child to be able to take responsibility for what he had done, and each of them wanted to sort of blame the other cousin.

On the way home, my daughter asked the offender if he had hit his cousin on the head with the metal bucket.

My daughter could  see her child in the rear-view mirror as he sat in his booster seat, sucking his thumb.

He took his thumb out of his mouth and said, “I did,” and put his thumb back in his mouth.

“Why did you do that?” my daughter asked, probably hoping that there was a good reason.

Again, he took his thumb out of his mouth and said, “I just did it.”

Clear and simple, it was.  A confession and a statement of ownership.  No excuses.

Sometimes I have to suck my thumb — symbolically — when I’m up against a wrong I’ve done, but I have to make sure that whatever I do to soothe myself doesn’t encourage me to regress back into my old defects.

What about you?

Is there something you have done that is standing between you and someone else like a brick wall?

Have you tried to make amends before, only to have the other person wind up laying more guilt and bad energy on you?

Has anyone come to you to make amends?  Have you ever rejected another’s attempts at making amends?  How has that worked for you?

Is there something from long ago that keeps on knocking at the door of your consciousness, wanting to be faced and forgiven?   What holds you back from the free flow of grace?

Do you long for peace of mind?

I love the bumper sticker asks the question, “Do you want peace?  Then work for justice.”

Justice is about making things right.  Step Eight is a giant Step toward making things right, with yourself and with other people you have harmed.

Grace comes first, it seems…..and then, peace

I wish it all for you.


Practicing Resurrection: Step Seven, Part 3

Step Seven:  I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.


When ready, we say something like this: “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.” We have then completed Step Seven.    —  A.A. Big Book, p. 76

How much I long for this to be a one-time process.  I so want to pray this prayer and then move along, leaving the past behind.  I do not want to have to keep returning to this Step, and I want to finish recovery!!!

And then, I run into an older, wiser friend who looks at me with tenderness, kindness and compassion, and I know that part of my job as a recovering codependent is to make peace with a paradox:  I am to ask God to remove my shortcomings, and I am to learn how to live with my shortcomings.   I don’t much like that both/and deal, but look at this wisdom from an older, wiser friend.

Ring the Bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

The death of singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen last week made me sadder than I would have expected, though maybe sadness had been building up to last week. Repeatedly, I have read these words from his beautiful song Anthem in newspaper tributes to him, on Facebook and in e-mails from friends.  Clearly, that anthem has rung bells of hope and possibility, grace and mercy in the hearts of others.

In response to his death, I’ve been playing Cohen’s music on my Sonos, relishing the rich background vocals and instrumentals and finding comfort in his unique and compelling voice.   I’m paying closer attention than ever to the lyrics and remembering when I first heard each song over these many years that I have been a fan.

Years ago, a friend whose opinion I value highly placed a copy of one of his CDs in my hand after the Bible study I teach.  “I think you might like this guy,” she said, and so I took the CD home and put it on my player.

Though I have a wide range of music appreciation, I’m pretty particular about the vocalists I love, but when I love one, I’m all in and I want to hear everything that vocalist has ever done.

I must admit that it took me a few songs to understand why she thought I would like Cohen’s music, but once I got it, I was hooked on Cohen, not only to his mystical and mysterious lyrics, but to his arrangements.  Over time, I have increasingly appreciated his unique and powerful gifts.

The lyrics to Cohen’s Anthem seem to fit beautifully with Step Seven, even if they seem, from a superficial level, to be at odds with asking God to remove our shortcomings.  Cohen, by contrast, seems to be asking us to learn how to live with our shortcomings in a way that allows us to accept our imperfections and our shortcomings , but not letting them run and ruin our lives.

The logic — honed in a lifelong experience of working this step over and over — seems to me to indicate that this process of becoming sane, sober, whole, saved is a lifelong process.  No one ever gets all the boxes checked or to the finish line fully perfect.  It is quite possible that the desires to slip into old behaviors, the inclination to return to old tendencies and habits are always hovering over us, but so is truth that we are always on the journey of becoming whole hovering over us.  Salvation is something we work out with fear and trembling and recovery is an on-going journey, an unfinished project, a blessing in disguise.  And the journey is home.

I tremble when I hear someone declare that he/she has arrived, is fully recovered, has completely individuated and is “living the dream” of sobriety because I know, as my mother taught me, “Pride goes before the fall.”

Those of us who have worked a Twelve Step program for a long time are uncomfortably aware that while our shortcomings and defects may not have the upper hand today, a slip is always a possibility.   My codependency can kick in faster than I can blink my eyes, given the right amount of stress pressed on just the right complex.  My complexes can take over in a heartbeat, and the wicked thing about them is that they can convince me that  what I am doing is the right thing for me to be doing and makes perfect sense.

I live under the H.A.L.T rule:  I monitor myself so that I can know when I am edging up to the cliff of being too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired and take action to protect myself and prevent myself from going over the cliff into behaviors that do not serve me and, in fact, hurt me or others.

Sometimes now, years after I first took my first journey through these magnificent steps, I am astonished at how quickly I can regress into old patterns, but I’m also grateful when I can regain my balance, return to the first three steps and get back on program.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that relapses and regressions can be a necessary part of the recovery process.  I’ve learned that returning to the faith practices that build inner strength is actually a good thing . While the slip keeps me humble, it also keeps me on my knees and actively conscious that I am always standing in the need of prayer and help and aid.

Perhaps, then, this Step is not to be considered a “once and for all” prayer and practice, but an on-going practice and awareness that acknowledges the reality that we remain forever and eternally imperfect and subject to falling back into old patterns.

Back to an earlier verse in Cohen’s Anthem:

Ah, the wars they will

be fought again.

The holy dove,

She will be caught again

bought and sold

and bought again.

The dove is never free.

 Far from being discouraged that  I must live with my imperfections and shortcomings, Cohen’s words encourage me.   I am not a failure because I struggle with my darker angels, my insecurities, my scars and my wounds.  In fact, it is those very imperfections that I carry that can make me more compassionate to others, more connected to the human race and more kind and tenderhearted toward those who, like I, struggle toward redemption.  It is that I never am completely healed on this plane that keeps me on the journey, and it is the journey that keeps me alive and aware, discovering new horizons and exploring new possibilities.

So it is with this step that I have learned a powerful life lesson.  It is in accepting myself as I am — good and bad, strong and weak, loving and unloving, generous and selfish, critical and merciful, unforgiving and forgiving, humble and proud — that I can be at peace.

By contrast, it is living within the hard and unyielding bars either/or , perfect or imperfect, good or bad, pretty or ugly, worthless or worthy, dumb or smart, strong or weak that I am doomed to the prisons of my own making.

Frederick Buechner has famously said that “our worst thing doesn’t have to be our last thing, ” and that is pure grace to me.

Cohen says and sings mercy and grace like this in the opening stanza of Anthem.

The birds they sang

 at the break of day

Start again

I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what has passed away

or what is yet to be.

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

And I say Amen.

I love the slogans of recovering programs.  They are like straps on a bus or train that is lurching down the street or track, giving me something to hold on to while I’m traveling through my days.

I love it the idea that you can start the day over any time you need to, and I love the mercy in the slogan One Day at a Time.   I love the veterans of this program who remind me that sometimes, you can take it an hour at a time or a breath at a time.

I’ve breathed my way through many hard moments, wavering between my failures and self-punishment, and reminding myself of this scripture just before I slip over into familiar and seductive arms of my shortcoming that are always somewhere, lurking where I cannot see them:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. 

Lamentations 3:22-23


What about you?

Have you made peace with your shortcomings?   Or, are you still fighting them?

Can you accept that your imperfections may be some of your best gifts?

It is said that “What you resist persists”.   How might this come into play with this step?

What “light” has come in through your imperfections?

What ways have you tried to bandage or repair the broken places so that there are no cracks in your armor?   How has that worked for you?

Who has helped you most in accepting your imperfections?

When I first began an extended analysis with a Jungian analyst, he said to me, “We don’t want to get rid of your darker angels, for in doing so, we might be snuffing out the light that might come through them.”   What does that mean?   How does it apply to you?

A wise, older friend recently told me, “I hope you can hold your burdens more lightly”.   How might this be relevant to this step?”

How have your shortcomings turned out to be friends?

How have your imperfections moved you to wholeness?

What good has come from working with your character defect?

Grace to you —


And on a final note:   I always wanted to hear Leonard Cohen perform live, and so one of my regrets is that I never got to do that.   That is a reminder to me to seize the moments of doing those things that “I’ve always wanted to do”.   Time does finally run out……




Practicing Resurrection:  Step 7, Part 2

I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.

“Ask for what you need!” was a popular piece of advice from counselors and therapists when I first began to work these Twelve Steps.

And doesn’t it sound so easy, tripping off the tongue?

It is, however, the kind of counsel that strikes fear in the heart of some human beings who have grown accustomed to “doing it myself” and “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

I’ve read that a cynic is a person who doesn’t want to be disappointed any more, and indeed, asking for help invites the possibility that you might be disappointed.   Sometimes, you just can’t risk that terrible feeling of the fear of asking or the possibility of being ignored, ridiculed or denied one more time.


Asking another person for help of any kind can evoke all sorts of inner resistance.   Some of us would rather die than ask for support, a favor, money or other good, while others freely ask and freely receive.

I take this Step seriously because while there are only eight words in it, every word opens up a revelation about my life experience about my feelings about God, my image of God,  getting my needs met and my past history in asking for what I need. 

* * * * *

This past week I encountered a person who gave me her own personal course in miracles.  “We have to demand our miracles from God,” she said, and something in me shivered.

Frankly, demanding a miracle from God didn’t quite fit with my image of how I stand in relationship with the Almighty, and for the rest of the day, I recalled other similar messages about how to make prayer work.

We are to go boldly to the throne of God.

We tell him what we need and tell him we aren’t leaving until we get it.

God wants to bless his children, but we have to claim the blessing!

Name it and claim it!  It’s your inheritance as a child of the king!


 I kept pondering those thoughts, and the still, small Voice in my head and heart kept whispering, “The Father knows what you need before you ask.”

My lifelong practice of praying “Thy will be done” has served me well, and while I used to think that Jesus’ words about asking, seeking and knocking were about getting the results I wanted, I have come to understand that those words are about faithfulness, persistence and patience in seeking God.  They simply aren’t about nagging God into giving you what you tell him to give you.

Clearly, my God -image, my temperament and my past history had bumped up against this person’s, and so I wrestled again with what it means to ask God to remove my shortcomings.  I just don’t see God as my cosmic bellhop and I don’t see prayer as giving God his to-do list.

First of all, I believe with all of my heart that  God wants us to bring our shortcomings and our character defects to him.  I believe that we can freely ask God for what we need.

I believe that it is his joy to remove  our shortcomings and those impediments to our knowing him more fully, living more healthy and abundant lives and loving him, ourselves and others more freely.

My experience is that God helps us with those things we cannot do ourselves, and sometimes he works with us to help us do together what we need to have done.

I have no problem asking God to help me in my weaknesses, and I have learned and re-learned that it is where I cannot do for myself that God works best.  The place of my inadequacies is the very place the adequacy of God moves in to aid me.

But……the truth is that I also have the experiences of asking for what I need and being denied, disappointed or ignored.   Periodically, those memories kick in and start yammering such debilitating things as these:

You know you won’t get it.  Why are you wasting your time?

You know you don’t deserve it.  Look at how many times you’ve failed!

You know it won’t happen.  I never has; what’s different this time?

You’ve asked so many times!  God must be getting tired that you can’t get it!

And….when that happens, I have to remind myself that this Step doesn’t ask me to ask the people of my past or my present who have let me down or disappointed me.  The Step doesn’t ask me to help myself or rely on my own understanding.

It does ask me to risk even when merely the thought of asking evokes the voice in my head that shames me or tells me that I should be able to handle this shortcoming myself.

The Step simply asks me to ask God.

And….when that happens, I have to return to my mental processes of thinking through the difference in my old God-image and the one I have formed through a life-time of revising my God-image so that it conforms with what I know to be true:

God is love.

God’s very nature is about mercy, grace and forgiveness.

God wants my health and wholeness — and the abundant life of love, joy and peace for me.

Through  many years of practicing Centering Prayer, I have learned that while it is important for me to take my requests to God, the real power in prayer is listening, watching and waiting for the guidance, the direction and the precise help I need.

We know God in many ways, and one of those is through nature.   In his wisdom, God provided night and day.   I count on the words of the prophet:   His mercies are new every morning.

Maybe God created mornings so that we could see the dawn of a new day and remember that in his mercy, we can keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking, and that that is OK.

What about you?

How hard is it for you to ask a friend for a favor?

When was the last time you risked asking for help when you firmly believed that you should be able to do whatever it was for yourself?

Do you call in favors for persons you have helped?

Do you hesitate to ask someone to do something for you or to give you something because you are afraid of what the cost might be if that person does what you have asked?

What is the one shortcoming right now that stands in the way between you and the abundant life?

How do you get in your own way, sabotaging your own peace of mind?

For what do you need to ask from God today?

Are you willing to state your request to God and leave the details up to him, or do you need to tell him how to do his job?

Is your trust in God bigger than your trust in your own abilities to remove your shortcomings?

Do you feel you deserve to ask God to help you?

May grace abound for you —


Practicing Resurrection: Step Seven, Part 1

I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.

Then I was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin or desire not self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”                                                   –Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

 Read this again:    If only they could all see themselves as they really are…….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.

 Now, take a deep breath and notice how you react to that statement.

The first time I heard someone quote those words, I gasped.  Hearing those words of one of the greatest spiritual guides and writers of the twentieth century, my vision cleared and I could get breath down deeper than ever before.    I had to take off my shoes — figuratively– and bow my head because I knew that I was standing on holy ground, taking in those words.

That statement, my friends, defines humility, but it takes some rearranging of the furniture in one’s mind to allow the truth of it to sink down into your heart, and it takes some courage to live the truth of it in everyday life.

Merton’s definition of humility doesn’t quite square with the street definition that most of us have carried around in our minds, burdened by knowing we should have humility, but not really wanting it.  (Hint:  Always watch the “should” word; it’s laden with guilt and shame, dread and resistance.)


I want to be known for having humility, but allowing that state of being to grow in me is not so easy.   In theory, I want to be humble, but I’m not a fan of being humbled and I pretty much run from humiliation.   As a lifelong member of the Christian community, I know that humility is something I should want, but in my history, humility was too often too much like shame.

Part of the problem is that my mind, heart and will have been formed in a culture that places high value on self-reliance, independence and self-will, so to come to the point of having to ask for help requires that I admit that I need help and then I have to take the risk that if I ask, I will be given what I need.

In our culture, humility is sometimes associated with weakness, and sometimes “strong” people think they can run over those who are humble.

Another problem in this humility thing is that I have to get over my shame in order to humbly ask for help, and when I say “get over” what I mean is that I have to step around it or over it and in spite of it if I am going to muster the courage to ask for what I cannot accomplish myself, but truly think I should desire.

It’s the shame of having the character defect in the first place that binds me to my fear, and it’s the shame of having to admit the defect and my inability to obliterate it by myself — in my own power, out of my super-abilities or with my hard work.

Sometimes I find I can’t even pray my defect away, but then I go back to that scripture about “praying amiss” and I remember that if in my praying, I am focusing on my defect, I’m praying to the problem.   I should be better at praying a-right, shouldn’t I?

You know how that is.   If someone says for you not to think about the number 7, that’s all you can see:  7  7  7  7.  If you focus on the problem you’re trying to banish from your life, it will become stronger, dig in deeper and taunt you more because this principle works:  whatever you think about, you will become.

Jesus himself said it:  As you think in your heart, so are you.

To really understand humility and to work this step, I have to return to examine again the importance of how I relate to God, my God-image, God-as-I-understand him.

When it comes to humbly asking God to remove my shortcomings, an image of God that is of a loving, forgiving, merciful and gracious God goes a long way to making it possible for me to ask for his help.

Here’s what I think humility is not, then,  Humility is not groveling before God.  It is not declaring how horrible I am and how I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, tolerance or love.

Humility isn’t slinking around, ashamed and self-flagellating either with words or a whip.

Humility isn’t repeatedly reciting my lists of wrongs over and over.   It isn’t holding on to an image of myself as a zero, a good-for-nothing, unworthy of forgiveness, carrying a black stain around in my soul.

Humility is standing before God, opening my mind and heart to the Almighty, confident that as a creation made in his very image, created a little lower than the angels, beloved unconditionally by God, I present myself to him as one who has direct access to the Creator of the universe.

Humility means that I am strong enough to admit and confess my shortcomings and defects, my failures and my frailties to the One who understands how I am made and wants to help me.

Humility means that I can say, “I did that” or “I feel this” with the assurance that until I can say the hardest facts, I am bound by them.  It is in saying the truth that begins the process by which I can be freed from the shackles that bind me.

Humility means that I do not have to hide my shamefulness behind excuses, justifications or fears of God’s wrath.   It means that I am so confident in God’s nature of unconditional love that I can tell the truth without fear.  I can call things what they are and not use euphemisms.

I can confess my weaknesses to God without fear of his branding me by my worst traits.

I can confess my failures to God without being locked into them forever because it is God whom the psalmist declares is merciful and ready to forgive.

Humility is more about believing in the nature of God than it is about the nature of my wrongs.

It is about believing that however badly I have behaved, God’s goodness is greater. than all of my harmful deeds, added up over a lifetime.

Humility is confidence not in my ability to change, but in God’s great love for me, a love that transforms, heals, liberates and empowers us to be fully who we are created to be.

Humility is accepting my place in the order of things.   I am God’s creation

* * * * *

So, back to Merton’s bold declaration.  (Does it make you uncomfortable?)

If it’s hard to accept what Merton says, try this:

Imagine yourself standing tall before the grandeur of God, arms stretched out as a symbol of your confidence in God’s love for you.

How does it feel just to imagine that?

Imagine yourself standing boldly in the presence of God as a person created in his image and loved passionately by the Creator who made you.

How does it feel to imagine that?

Imagine yourself as that creature made just a little lower than the angels, deeply and unconditionally loved by the One whose very name is Love, unafraid and at perfect ease in God’s presence.   Imagine feeling completely free in the presence of God.

How does it feel to imagine that?

 Imagine that God is saying to you, “You are my beloved child”.

How does it feel to imagine that?

Imagine that at the deepest level of your consciousness you can know that “the Father is very fond of you.”

How does it feel to imagine you can feel that fondness?

Imagine that you can hear God telling you, “We are in this together.  I’m here to help you.”

How does it feel to imagine God as your Helper?

Imagine that humility is coming boldly and confidently to God with the assurance that God wants you to become all that you are created to be and will work with you, in you, for you to remove whatever is keeping you from living the one wild and precious life you have been designed and made to live.

How does it feel to imagine that God is like that?

 Humility begins with an understanding of the order of things and continues with the on-going awareness of who God is and who we are and how things are to work in the world.

Keep it simple.    Keep it straight.

Begin with this:  God is love.

Stay with this:  God is love and God loves you.

Grace to you —


Practicing Resurrection: Step 6, Part 3

Were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character.

As I sit at my desk with those italicized words — all of these defects of character— staring back at me, my mind takes me to the issue of polling.

That’s a strange connection, I’ll admit, but it makes sense if you consider the and times we are in and the frequency of hearing “the poll report.”   Though I have never, ever been asked to participate in a national poll, apparently there are many people who spend their lives taking polls, analyzing polls and either relying on them or discounting them.  To be sure, we are bombarded with poll reports in this current season.

If I could get in on the polling system, here’s what I would like to know:                                    –To what extent do you think recognizing one’s own defects of character is important?      –To what extent does personal responsibility in dealing with one’s own defects of character modify the tendency to project one’s own defects onto others?                                     — Do you agree or disagree that the unwillingness or inability to own, admit and take responsibility for one’s own defects of character is, in fact, a defect of character?                      –What effect does it have on others when a person cannot or will not recognize his own character defects?

If you have been reading this blog, my books or my Growing Edges column, you will know how I would answer to each of those questions, but for review, here is what I believe about how important this Step is.                                                                                                                             — If I were running the world (which, clearly, I am not) I would make learning to admit a mistake, learning to say, “I’m sorry” and learning how to make amends a part of every elementary school’s curriculum.                                                                                                                   — If I were in charge of things, I would find a way to teach children at all levels of their development how to give and receive forgiveness in age-appropriate ways.  I would find a way to teach the processes of reconciliation; I would teach that all of us humans have character defects and that having a character defect does not make you a horrible person.    –If I had any influence at all in the houses of worship and the communities of faith that are to be found in hundreds of places across my country, I would declare that learning how to forgive and be forgiven is one of the primary tasks of a spiritual life.  I would promote processes and programs to help persons learn the ways of reconciliation.

Since I am not in any of those power seats, I must return to one of the basic principles of working a recovery program, and it is this:  I cannot change anyone but myself. 

Brought to my knees and sometimes my face by the truth of that principle and the hard, laborious and tedious work required in changing myself — my mind, my habits, my motivations, my tendencies, my defects — I must also remember the other principle that skins my pride and draws blood:  That which I see in another that I hate is most likely present in me.   (Here me shudder; I have given up roaring!)

Over the years, I have learned that the only way I can have the courage and stamina I need to be boldly honest with myself about these snarly problems called character defects  is believing that when I turned my will and my life over to God as I understand him, God-Whose-Name-Is-Love took me seriously and will give me all I need to become aware of my defects, accept that they are mine and abandon those defects into his loving care.

And all of that, my friends, is made much easier when my working concept of God is not a concept that says that God is punitive, judgmental, vindictive and cruel.

My willingness and ability to face the things in myself that I do not want to admit is so much easier when I know that the God to whom I surrender my will and my life, and my character defects, is a God who is merciful and full of grace, compassionate and full of unconditional, unrelenting, pursuing love.

Don’t think for a minute that I am not keenly aware that we all live with the consequences of mistakes we have made, but by turning those mistakes and their accompanying heartaches over to the care of God, we can be given the strength and the grace to live with them.  God is not about our continuing to punish ourselves over and over.  He isn’t interested in our holding on to our failures.  God is interested in our living the abundant life of love.

God doesn’t love me — with all of my defects — because of what I do or how well I do it.  God loves me because that is who God is — Perfect Love.

And so it is that the more I can step up to the plate of self-examination and tell the hard, unvarnished truth about my strengths and my weaknesses, my abilities and my defects, the greater is the possibility that I will live in the sweet spot of mindfulness and awareness, love, joy and peace.

What about you?  What is hard for you about this Step?   How do you stumble all over yourself, avoiding the Step?  How does pride or fear, arrogance or resentment get in your way of facing yourself and taking responsibility for your part in a problem?

Is it harder or easier for you to identify your flaws?

Is it harder for you to admit your flaws or give them up?

Do you find it easier– and more pleasant —  to pick out the flaws and defects of others than to see them in yourself>

What hang-ups about God’s willingness to help you do you still harbor?  In what ways do you cling to unbelief in God?  Do you still operate with the idea that “if it is to be, it’s up to me”?

        How is all of that working for you?

Carl Jung said that “the person who knows he is ordinary is extraordinary, indeed”.  (I think he said “man”, but I’m daring to update Dr. Jung’s quote)

What does owning your character defects and being willing to have God remove them have to do with being either ordinary or extraordinary?   Do those dots connect for you?  (Hint: We all put on our pants the same way.)

Wherever you are on the path, I wish you well…..and.above all……

Grace to you-