We came to believe that a Power Greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
So, what about this “Power” that is greater than myself?
And how does one come to believe in that power?
Are they talking about…..God?
I know that people in recovery groups often talk about “not-God”, and I think I have an experiential understanding of just what it is to make what is not-God into a god.
Like most human beings, I know what it is like to put activities, people or substances in a position in my life that belongs only to God and wind up serving that which demands more and more of my attention, energy and finally, my life — to my detriment.
Now and then, it is important for me to think about how much power I have given to things which are “not-God”, also known as idols.
other peoples’ needs
other peoples’ opinions
other peoples’ feelings
other peoples’ approval
other peoples’ preferences
other peoples’ bad moods
other peoples’ schedules, agendas, etc.
It works like this: Instead of consulting my own needs, wants, etc., I am more tuned in to what other people are needing or wanting, or what I think that they want or need, thereby giving other people authority over my life, which includes my choices, my feelings, my schedule.
Instead of following my own Inner Guidance System or following what I know of God, I allow another’s guidance to overtake mine, even if it means that I do something I know is wrong for me, go along with something I don’t believe in or concede to a decision that is counter to my best interest.
When I do that, I’m in the throes (stranglehold, grips, iron bars) of codependency. I’m not thinking clearly. I’m not choosing wisely. I am giving away my personal power, and I’m likely going to be full of resentment when I wake up out of my codependent fog and realize that “I’ve done that thing one more time” that I said I wasn’t going to do.
There are other things which are “not-God”, to which we bow in worship, often unconsciously, sometimes deliberately and usually with a full-blown rationale for why it is the right thing for us to do.
Here are four “not-Gods” that we treat as gods, with great justification:
caretaking of others
doing good works
These idols are tricky because they make us look so good.
The problem with those idols is that we get so much reward for serving them well, and if you happen to be in a relationship with someone who makes one of those four good things his god, you may feel guilty if you feel resentful or angry toward the way that person choose to spend his time.
The problem with recovering from our addiction to work (It’s called workaholism) or people-pleasing and care-taking of others is that when we begin to take care of ourselves, set healthy boundaries and bring our lives back into balance, other people may not like it. They may, in fact, get really, really angry at us, and they may even punish us or leave us.
I have made up my mind that it is enough of a burden for me to serve what Carl Jung called “the complexes” that belong to me without also being forced, manipulated or seduced into serving other peoples’ complexes.
There is a another “class” of activities we humans turn into idols, activities that, in some peoples’ lives, are not addictions. In others’, addiction to gambling, shopping, gaming, watching television all lead to a life half-lived. The inability to stop doing those things that steal your time, your money and your best energies is an addiction that can destroy relationships, careers and health as surely as an addiction to a drug can. Sex and love addiction and the addiction to power and control reveal a mis-guided dependence on those behaviors that are intended to bless us and give us meaning and joy.
It is also possible to turn substances into idols, and those gods — alcohol, drugs, food — can become such dominating and dominate gods in our lives that we live for the next meal, the next fix, the next drink and miss out on the best parts of life.
* * * * *
All of those idols I’ve listed, and more, are one thing, but the hardest idol of all to knock from its throne is the tendency of all of us to believe that we are lord and master of our own lives.
We can create our own reality, we’re told, especially by gurus who make millions of dollars with that seduction.
We can chart our own courses in life, we are told by people who have something to sell or want you to be a salesperson for their product. We are the masters of our ships and the shapers of our own destiny, and while there is some truth in that and while I believe in goal-setting and working for your goals, the truth is that no one of us has control over other forces that impinge on our daily lives. Such audacity reminds me of a poster I saw when I was in college:
The only thing you need to know about God is that you ain’t he.
In Greek mythology, the one thing the gods won’t tolerate is human hubris, which is the tendency of us humans to believe that we know best or that we can write the rules of life. That arrogance leads us to think that the same rules that apply to the rest of the human race don’t apply to us and that we can ignore the laws of nature and get by with it.
* * * * *
There came a day, then, when I came to believe — with a whack on the head — that there is a God bigger, greater, wiser, smarter and more magnificent than I am.
Repeatedly, then, from that first encounter with the grandness of the real God, the creator of the universe, the source of all that is and the dynamic life-giving energy that pulsates throughout all of creation, I have come face-to-face with the reality that God really is bigger than
my ability to force things to conform to my way
my understanding or knowledge
my street-smarts or common sense
my connections to power sources
my family name or reputation
the biggest bank account in the world
the loftiest seat of power, prestige or position
the longest resume
the most degrees
the biggest honors
and all other things I have tried to solve my problems and all other things on which I have relied for my happiness, security and meaning.
I’ve often said that the recovery is akin to the ash heap on which the biblical character Job had to sit in order to “recover” from his old ways of thinking and be reborn into a new way of life, which included, primarily, a new relationship with the Almighty.
I love Job 38-41 when, after all of the yammering of Job’s friends, God says, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me,” (Job 38:3) and then goes on to ask in vs. 4, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?”
For four chapters — and God only knows how long that interrogation actually took! — God questions Job about the creation of the world, essentially putting Job in his place with a firm and unrelenting confrontation with the reality that it is the Creator of the whole world who ultimately wins.
Here’s the good news: I believe in the God of unconditional love, and I believe that in the end of all things that concern me and all things in the universe, God and his love win.
We live, however, in the meantime, and sometimes that interim time is mean, especially when we get confused and think that we are God and that God answers to us.
My gosh! I want a God who is greater than I am, don’t you?
(Here’s the rub: When your God-concept is anything other than Unconditional Love – or if your God-concept is a Cosmic Bellhop, Santa Claus, a County Sheriff, a Judge and Jury or a kindly old grandfather who will look the other way when you’re in your addictions, you’ll probably just as soon go along with a god-concept that looks a whole lot like you!)
Ponder this: What do you think it means to believe in a “God greater than yourself”?
Does that scare you or make you feel hopeful?
Which of the gods that you serve causes you the most trouble?
Have you noticed that the small gods, like those I listed above and more, always demand more and more of you and give less and less back to you?
Where did you get your God-image? Have you updated it since childhood?
Does your image of God include a God who can help you let go of your dependencies and addictions to the lesser gods and live into the fullness of life intended for a person made in the very image of God?
What does your dependence on little gods have to do with your ability to trust in the God of the universe?
Does your God-image look anything like your earliest caregivers or authority figures?
“I don’t believe in God,” persons sometimes tell me.
“Tell me about that God you don’t believe in,” I respond. “I probably don’t believe in that God, either.”
Then again, sometimes I tell people who are enslaved to a God-image that is beating them up, “You need to fire that God. That God isn’t serving you well. You need a new God-image.”
As for me, I’m not likely to be able to go very far with a God I can’t trust.
Let me know what you think.
Grace to you —
(I wrote a lot about the God-image in my books Sitting Strong: Wrestling With the Ornery God and Joint Venture: Practical Spirituality for Everyday Pilgrims. You might want to check them out, if you are interested.)