Practicing Resurrection: Step Four, Part 4

At the end of your life, you will be asked to account for the pleasure of life you refused to enjoy.

The first time I saw that quotation, I had to read it several times to make sure I had read it correctly.

Truthfully, the very idea of it did not resemble one thing I had learned about that end of life experience.   I had images of standing before God on Judgement Day and hearing him read all of my lifetime of sins over a loudspeaker for all of mankind to hear.  Mostly, I was worried about my mother hearing all I had done that I should not have done and those things I had left undone that I should have done.

Giving an account of the pleasures I had refused to enjoy?   Really?

It gives a whole new spin to making a fearless and searching moral inventory doesn’t it?

In an adolescent buzz, most human beings might make quite a list in a hurry, I suppose, but since I had long ago entered adulthood, I chose to take this part of my inventory seriously.

Honestly, I had to begin with getting in touch with what it was that defined pleasure for me, so conditioned I was to thinking in terms of taking care of my responsibilities, doing my duty, fulfilling my obligations, doing God’s will and…..avoiding pleasure.

Stop right here.   Ask yourself how you are responding to what I have written so far.  Do you think this is frivolous…..a waste of time….an effort in hedonism, narcissism or any other -ism?

Our life is a succession of Paradises successfully denied.

This quotation is attributed to Samuel Beckett.   The first quote was attributed to the ubiquitous Anonymous; perhaps Anonymous was too afraid to sign his name, or perhaps someone out there knows???

* * * * 

As I have worked with this idea over the years, I have come to understand that underneath the avoidance of pleasure is one of those Afflictive Emotions:  fear, guilt or shame, inferiority or inadequacy, hate or anger.

Refusing to experience and enjoy pleasure may indicate that I don’t trust myself to set limits or respect boundaries.

The avoidance of pleasure may also indicate a distorted view of God and the world.   It may indicate a feeling that I don’t deserve to experience pleasure, delight, spontaneous joy, fun and even serenity.

* * * * * 

Here are some questions that have evolved for me over time to help me with this pleasure issue.

Do I even know what brings me pleasure?   Do I know what it is I love to do?

Am I able to experience pleasure in the small gifts of daily life — a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the kind greeting of a stranger, the aromas of food, the festival of colors, textures and patterns, the brush of wind on my face, a warm bath at the end of the day?

Am I able to experience and celebrate the pleasure of a job well-done?  Do I enjoy my abilities to do my work, express my creativity, accomplish a task, connect with a loved one?

Do I take the time and the trouble to listen to music that pleases me?   Do I make time to read the books I love to read, see the friends who give me joy, cultivate my hobbies, pursue my interests, savor what to me are the good things of life?   Do I take pleasure in who I am and can I be satisfied with the way I am?

Am I willing to save the money and spend the money on things I truly love — without feeling guilty?

Am I willing to do the things in which I take pleasure even if others don’t?  And am I willing for my loved ones to do what they love to do without feeling jealous or burdened to like those things, too?

Am I able to know at a cellular level that I am the beloved child of God, made in his image — in whom God is well-pleased?  Can I be at home with myself and be OK?  Am I at home in my own skin?  (And what does that mean, anyway?)

I could go on, but these questions are starters.

* * * * * 

Here is what I have learned, taking my pleasure avoidance inventory:

As a recovering codependent, I am responsible for my physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual state of being, and that responsibility includes my responsibility to find the spiritual nourishment, the intellectual stimulation, the emotional stability and the physical practices that nurture, support and encourage serenity and peace for myself.

That responsibility for my own “wild and precious life”, to use Mary Oliver’s term once again, includes those things I enjoy that bring pleasure to me, day by day.

And when I neglect these parts of my life, especially the responsibility for pleasure, I can go off the rails into resentment, frustration, fatigue and even bitterness…..and that is when I turn to my addictive behaviors to soothe, distract and numb the pain of not getting that which is vital and even necessary to the care of my soul.

Here’s to pleasure!

Grace to you on this Second Sunday of Advent…..


Practicing Resurrection: Step Four, Part 3

November 16, 2015

 We made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our lives.

So, what’s bugging you about your life?   What’s bugging you most?

Do you find yourself doing the same thing, choosing the same self-defeating behaviors, re-creating the same problems in the same kinds of relationships over and over?

Are you in the midst of a situation, demanding to know how you’ve gotten in the mess you are in?  (Hint:  To whom are you directing that question?)

“Most people flail away at the smoke,” a wise man told me, “but neglect to look at the fire or the cause of the smoke.”

Years ago, I realized that getting to the source of whatever addiction, self-defeating behavior or habit was going to be a great deal more helpful than simply treating the symptoms.    At the root of those behaviors that I cannot seem to change is often one of these afflictive feelings:







(Before you read on, take a minute to look at those words again.  Number them from 1-6, with 1 being the one that bothers you the most.  Hint: If there’s one that you think is no problem, watch out!  Look again.)

It was in a Yokefellow Spiritual Growth Group that I learned that whatever the outward problem is, if I can trace it back to one of these motivations, I could work on the problem at the source.

In Yokefellow, those basic feelings were called Sins, with a capital S, and through the years I have learned that other afflictive feelings such as resentment, pride, frustration, jealous and envy, greed and even forms of depression are often a mixture of one or more of those afflictive feelings.

It’s one thing to make a list of the people I resent, but it’s another thing to identify the basic core feelings that fuel the resentment.   Separating them out from each other helps to be more specific in the inventory process.

The behaviors that are problematic for us — a critical attitude, bullying, people-pleasing,withholding, using and abusing  processes, people or substances to numb ourselves and many other hurtful behaviors are all masks of the real problem, the Sin that fuels the problem.   We call the behaviors the sins, with a lower case s, not because they are not as important or as harmful, but to differentiate the behavior from the root cause.

Indeed, this process requires self-reflection and self-honesty, but they yield great benefits.

Once you have identified the root feeling or motivation, you may be astonished at how many other places that feeling causes you trouble.   Again, a ruthless self-honesty in this process is a path to freedom, but it should never be seen as a cause for punishing yourself.*

* * * * *

In this moral inventory, there comes a time to examine your golden shadow or to take a look at the ways in which you have hidden your talents and abilities, your gift or your purpose in life.

It is also helpful to examine the ways you have given your power away to others — either your power to make choices or your power to live your life according to your values.   You may have taken the easy road through life, doing what other people tell you to do or want you to do, living to please or placate others and missing what Mary Oliver calls “your one wild and precious life.”

(Hint:  If you often feel resentment toward others, take a hard look at where you may be giving your time, your resources, your personal power away to someone else.  Takers are good at finding people who easily give in and give up to their whims, and givers are good at finding people who will use them for their own purposes.  Always, there is a need for balance in a relationship; when someone either takes or gives all the time, the relationship is clearly off-balance.)

Some questions to guide this exploration are these:

  1. Do you feel that you have neglected taking responsibility for any part of your life  that belongs to you?
  1. How have you “hidden your light”, either living through others, fearing failure, blaming others for not “letting” you shine?
  1. How often are you jealous or envious of others’ accomplishments or achievements?
  2. What dreams about your life have you relinquished because you simply “never got  around to it”?
  1. Do you blame anyone in your life for any failure or problem
  2. What excuses do you tell yourself and others for the reasons for your failure to be, become or do what you want?   How is that working for you?

* * * * *

Always, the purpose of examining one’s own life is to assume adult responsibility for what you have done that has hurt others and what you have not done that you should have/could have done.

I will never forget listening to Dr. James Hollis, Jungian analyst and author discuss the problem of being “guileless”, which is a word often used as a compliment .   Dr. Hollis firmly repudiated the compliment and made it clear that to be guileless often means that you are unconscious either of your own flaws and defects and those of others.   Often, those who carry a Pollyanna attitude about life or those who make a career of never calling a spade a space simply cannot bear the thought of looking bad to others.

Childlike innocence in children is a beautiful thing, but that same behavior in adults can be dangerous, and Hollis urged those of us in his classes to be bold in dealing with the toxic waste dump of unprocessed feelings and motivations in our own inner lives  and to face the violence within our own lives so that we would not project it out or take it out on others.

As I write these words, I am heartbroken over the latest acts of terrorism in Paris, a city I have come to love.  As I have watched the stories unfold over the past few days, I have remembered  Hollis’ words after 9/11.   He had much to say about what could happen if the people who have inflicted violence on innocent strangers had dared to face the violence in their own lives.  The truth is that that which is not healed, forgiven, addressed, managed in our own inner lives will be sprayed out onto others, one way or another.  What happens in one’s inner life gets expressed in the streets, in the boardrooms and in the marketplaces of our lives as we take out our pain on other people.

For more about this, I highly recommend Hollis’ masterpiece, When Good People Do Bad Things.

The Fourth Step is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful and healing activities or personal practices I have ever experienced.  It is one of the clearest ways to inner freedom; it is the way of taking full responsibility for one’s life.

* * * * *

What about you?

If you feel that you have wasted your life, what is the way forward?

If you are caught in a trap of blaming others for the state you’re in, what would happen if you started taking responsibility for your own life?

What about those secrets you harbor and the things you are afraid to tell about yourself?

Have you ever heard the truth that says, “We are as sick as our secrets”?

Have you ever had the feeling that if anyone knew you, they wouldn’t like you?

Is there someone who has tried to help you that you keep pushing away?  What’s that about?

Are you dying with your song still in you, yet unsung?

What are the excuses you tell yourself and others about why you are the way you are and why you do the things you do?

Do you secretly long for another chance to live a day, a week, a lifetime in a better way?

Can you see this self-examination as an act of love you give yourself?

What’s the biggest fear you have about getting sane and sober, free, healthy and strong, serene and at peace with yourself, your addictions, your pain, your life?

In that same Yokefellow Group I learned the following words, which are full of grace and mercy for me.

I am neither bad nor good, but both,

and because God accepts me, I will accept myself.

I am neither selfish or unselfish, but both,

and because God understands me, I will accept myself.

I am neither loving nor unloving, but both,

and because God loves me unconditionally, I will love myself.

Grace to you–


  • *I have written more extensively on this process in my book Joint Venture:  Practical Spirituality for Everyday Pilgrims, published by Smyth and Helwys Publishing.

Practicing Resurrection Step Four    Part 2  

October 23, 2015

We made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our lives.

 “I’m too scared to do an inventory of my life.   I’m afraid of what I will discover.” 

It’s appropriate to be cautious, setting out on an exploration of one’s life, and I always suggest that having a wise and experienced sponsor and having taken those first three steps  to persons interested in such an undertaking.

It’s wise to consider the challenge ahead seriously.  It’s important to set aside enough time for reflection and a plan for doing an inventory.

It’s helpful to plan ahead so that you give yourself the time to take as long as it takes, and it is a good idea to have a start-up time and a flexible end-time, and when you get bogged down or if you move from doing an inventory either to flogging yourself or making excuses for yourself, a good sponsor can help keep you on the course.

It makes a lot of sense, as well, to realize from the beginning that it’s pretty easy to slide over into telling yourself that “it wasn’t that bad” or “I am the worst person in the world”.

Either response to a moral inventory leads to a dead end.

It’s a good idea to have a sponsor who knows the program really well and who knows you really well so that he or she can tell you when you are blaming someone or something else for the pain you’re in.

Children blame.  Adults take responsibility. 

* * * * * 

There are all kinds of barriers that will seemingly rise up out of nowhere to keep you from moving through this step.   Here are some I’ve had to face:

Inability or unwillingness to see or to own responsibility for one’s own actions.

Over-responsibility that makes a person take all the blame for a situation.

Misunderstanding of the purpose of the Fourth Step….or of the whole program of recovery.

Fear     Fear     Fear

of doing it wrong

of finding out something that is too terrible to admit

of having to change

of thinking that self-awareness and self-knowledge will lead you to self-disgust

of thinking that following this program will somehow give others control over you

Commitment to living as a victim

Lack of practical aids — a sponsor, a guide, a plan, good support

Flawed understanding of God and sin and self-knowledge

Seeing only your liabilities, defects and sins

Fear of discovering the gifts and assets that are yours and taking responsibility for them

You may have your own unique and self-designed resistance to this moral inventory, but  at the heart of the process lies the question, “Do I want to recover from my ________________?”

If the answer is no, then you can keep on keeping on down the road you’re on, and with this reality:

We always arrive at the destination that is at the end of the road we’ve chosen to walk. 

* * * * *

               Question:   “Can’t we just leave well enough alone?”

Answer:      “Yes, when it is well enough.”

Here’s what I know for sure:  Cleaning up the inner  toxicity of my life — my guilt or shame, inferiority or inadequacy, anger or hate and fear — is one of the most loving things I can do for my family and the world — and for myself.

That which is not worked out or talked out will either be projected out, taken  out or acted out onto others, often the ones we love the most.

Guilt that is not forgiven will either be self-punished or repeated.  Count on it.

This step isn’t punishment, for crying out loud. It is about live in grace and mercy and freedom.

Step Four is about liberation, healing, transformation and empowerment to live the “one wild and precious life” you have been given.

So, have courage. Go boldly, and yes as fearlessly as you can into a clear-eyed, loving examination of your life — your strengths and your weaknesses, your successes and your failures, your good deeds and your mistakes, your loving acts of kindness and your sins against yourself and others.

My guess is that knowing oneself as one really is opens the possibility of loving oneself — one’s True Self — as one is taught to love one’s neighbor.

* * * * *

What about you?   What is your experience with the whole issue of admitting your defects, sins, flaws, mistakes to yourself?

Have you ever “gone to confession”, only to have it be a forced, phony expression of contrived contrition?

Have you ever done a “Daily Examen”?

What is your biggest fear in knowing yourself as you really are?

A Prayer for Self-Honesty

Oh, God,

how can I ever see myself

as I really am?  I am so good at hiding

from myself.

How can I stop

the wide spring, back

and forth


being too hard and too harsh on myself

on the one hand,

and then,

letting myself off the


making excuses,

justifying my behavior,

turning a blind eye

to the things

I don’t want to see?

(How can I finally understand

that just because I refuse to see

myself as I am

doesn’t mean that others

are as blind as I choose to be?)

Please grant me the grace

to see myself as You see me.

Please grant me the mercy

to accept all of mySelf…..even as You do….

And Please give me the courage

to come to You….as I am.

Show me who You made me to be

and who You intend for me to be today….

and help me to accept mySelf,

no matter how wonderful I might

turn out to be.

JM   11-13-03


Practicing Resurrection Step Four Part One

October 6, 2015 

We made a fearless, searching moral inventory of ourselves. 

This Step is what separates the men from the boys,” my sponsor told me, beaming her dark brown eyes in my direction.

I laugh now, thinking about how the “men from the boys” wasn’t even a glancing blow to my consciousness.   It should have, but it didn’t.

In these decades since that moment when my sponsor set my feet on a new path of awareness and accountability, I learned that when it comes to the Steps, some people never get past the Two-Step, doing Step One (admitting powerlessness) and Step Twelve (bringing someone else to the meetings) or the Recovery Waltz, doing the One-Two-Three of the first three steps, but coming to a dead halt at the thought of moving on to the Fourth step and doing a moral inventory.

It is pretty terrifying, unless staying in the pain is worse.

The first time I did a Fourth Step, it was a pretty feeble attempt to name my flaws and list the things I had done that had hurt other people or myself.

In the first place, my sponsor was pretty easy on me, and besides that, I still had residual effects of an image of God that demanded perfection and punished imperfection and mistakes harshly.

That God-image I carried, albeit unconsciously, had a profoundly negative effect on my developing self-image.   To put it bluntly, I was afraid to tell the real truth about myself, even to myself.  I held back and so did she, and so I pretty well flattened out at that point.

Finally, I chose a woman who is what I have called a “black belt sponsor”, a woman who had worked the Twelve Steps rigorously for over twenty years.   She took me on with great hesitation, but I was persistent. She told me she was tough, and I told her that that was what I wanted.  She was a recovering alcoholic and had worked the Steps to save her physical life, and sometimes she would put her head in her hands in despair over me and say, “It would be so much easier if you were a drunk, but your gods look good.”

(She was talking about my codependency and my tendency to put persons on what she called the throne of my life.   She was right.   Workaholism and codependency are hard addictions to break because we who practice those patterns get praise for them.  Furthermore, when we begin to make the changes necessary for our survival, the persons who have benefitted from our addictions to pleasing them, performing for them or idolizing them aren’t happy.)

To my sponsor’s credit, she hung in there with me, and I began to work on those Steps as if my life depended on it.  The truth is that it pretty much did, but it took me forever to recover even a little bit from my need to please.

I worked hard on the Fourth Step, mostly because I desperately wanted to experience some relief from the pain I was inflicting on myself, but if I tell the truth, I also wanted to please my sponsor and make her glad she was hanging in with me.  (See?  Sometimes our flaws and our complexes actually help us get to the places we long to be!)

Before I set out on this part of the venture of self-discovery, my sponsor had me read about the Fourth Step in the Big Book, and then she began setting some direction for me.    I remember feeling that this was going to be an extremely important and liberating effort.

My sponsor started out by talking about an inventory as being an assessment of both the strengths and the weaknesses, assets and liabilities.  “We aren’t going to talk only about your failures and your sin,” she told me.  “We are going to take an inventory of your good qualities.”

What a relief it was to think in terms of an inventory.

Once she thought I had grasped the concept of an inventory of my life, she expanded the idea of what “moral” meant, in terms of this Step.

“One of the ways I’ve come to look at the word “moral” is in terms of who makes me whole and what keeps me from being and becoming whole.”

We sat in the afternoon sunlight for a long time as I began to make a shift from viewing myself as either good or bad, right or wrong to a broader, deeper and more loving view of my life as a journey and wholeness as the ultimate goal.   Suddenly, something in me began to relax as I pondered my sponsor’s words, but also felt her acceptance of me just as I was.

In that tender moment, I began to move slowly and ever-so-carefully from an either/or perspective to a both/and view of myself, a view that was merciful enough to include all the parts of myself.

“It wouldn’t be right for you just to list the negatives,” she told me, gently.  “Besides, I am pretty sure you would beat yourself up, and that is not the point of a Fourth Step.  We must list your positives and you must claim them as much as you claim the negatives, or it won’t be a moral inventory.”

Not only did I feel this woman’s acceptance, but I began to feel a kind of grace.   In that moment, she brought no judgement to the conversation.   I wasn’t going to have to earn her approval by telling her only my polished up life, nor was I going to get her disapproval for the mistakes I had made.  Whatever I found in this moral inventory of my life, I was going to bring into the light of grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Whatever my sponsor said or did to convey those qualities to me, I knew she had received and worked deep into the soil of her own life.    She could be with my stuff  calmly and with no condemnation because she, too, had experienced the acceptance of her imperfect life.

She had been radically honest, and it had saved her life, and so she could give  me the safety of coming clean, first to myself, in an inventory of my life.

* * * * *

And so it was that I went to work with the first part of my inventory.

My sponsor asked me to go through my life, listing everyone I resented.  She wanted me to write the names in a notebook and tell exactly why I resented them.   She asked me to tell what kinds of actions I had done that harmed me or that person by holding or expressing resentment.

I thought the assignment would be easy, and parts of it were.  Parts of it surprised me, and there were situations I wanted to leave out.   My sponsor had told me, however, that this was to be done in ruthless honesty, and that if I wanted to recover from my need to please, I’d better tell the unvarnished truth.

And so I began, and that first Fourth Step was going to set me on a path of self-awareness and God-consciousness like nothing else ever had.

What about you?  Have you ever worked a Fourth Step?

Do you long to be able to be free from those things you did that you wish you hadn’t done and the things you didn’t do that you wish you had done?

Do you keep repeating the same mistakes, never figuring out why it is you self-sabotage, choose the wrong partners over and over, keep having to learn from the same mistake?

I highly recommend the Fourth Step.  It’s been a powerful, even miraculous tool for those of us who are flawed human beings, stumbling around, but sometimes soaring.

Grace to you —