Practicing Resurrection: Step Five, Part 3


We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

If only we could confess in generalities, skimming over the surface of the exact nature of our wrongs and hinting at those wrongs.

If only we could come clean by praying one of those oft-heard prayers such as “Oh, God, forgive us of our sins, as we are all sinners and don’t deserve your forgiveness.”

Wouldn’t it be easier if we could get a print-out of sins with multiple choice options as to how bad what we did really was?

How we humans tie ourselves up in knots of our own making, trying to avoid looking another person in the eye and saying, “I did this.”

And yet, there is such grace to be discovered when there is a straight-forward statement with no blaming, no excusing or justifying and neither minimizing or awful-izing the thing we have done.  How liberating it is to say, “I did this” and to take full responsibility for the thing you have done.

How empowering it is to say what is true without editing to soften the effect, without worrying about how the listener is going to respond and without holding back.

A good sponsor is trained best by having been through the rigors of the 4th Step moral inventory and the 5th step confession and is likely nonplussed by whatever admission she or he hears.

The good news for those who tremble at the thought of admitting the exact nature of his wrongs is that the sponsor’s qualifications for being a sponsor begin with his own experience of having looked straight into the truth of his own defects, mistakes and wrongs, called them by the precise names and has survived the process.

One of the most important life skills that is learned by those who have been through this program is to take full responsibility of the exact nature of wrongs inflicted on others and on herself, and in the practice, the relief of telling the truth is indescribable.

* * * * *

In one of his most riveting lectures on his book Why Good People Do Bad Things, author and Jungian analyst Dr. James Hollis spoke at length about the problem of guilelessness.

Whereas the term “he is guileless” is often used as a compliment , the reality, according to Hollis, is that being guileless is more an unconsciousness about one’s own inner shadow, wrongs or evil.

Once we have faced our own inner demons, our wrongs and defects, our sins and failings, we are not so prone to project them out onto others.

Once we have admitted that we have the capacity in us to do what any other human has done or might do, given the right circumstances, then we are more likely to be able to admit the exact nature of our wrongs.

“There is a Hitler in each of us,” Hollis said, and while I shudder at that thought, accepting that part of being human in myself somehow liberates me to tell the whole, unvarnished truth about what I have done or what afflictive emotions have me enslaved to another human being.

As a person who is attempting to follow the teachings of Christ, I am well-acquainted with the part of myself that is the Judas and the Simon Peter, denying the part of myself that is made in the image of God, the True Self.

Hollis spoke, as well, about how recognizing and admitting the darkest parts of ourselves gives us better judgment about the dark intentions and actions of others, helping us to recognize that in others and protecting ourselves from inadvertently colluding with the evil in others because we are “just too nice to see it”.

To tell the raw, uncensored, unvarnished truth in confession to another human being can be one of the most healing and empowering acts of our lives.

* * * * *

A good confessor is one who is unafraid to hear the depths of pain, the cries of anguish and regret or the holy silence of sorrow in another person, and in that gift of listening, the one who is confessing feels the grace of being known.

It is in being known that one has the opportunity and the possibility of rising from the ashes of self-condemnation and appropriating the grace mediated through another human being. The more clearly you can speak and the more specific you can be, the more complete and thorough you can be, the more you clear the way for God’s grace to begin its transforming work.

It is in being fully heard with no condemnation, no judgment and no censure that the one who is confessing can begin to imagine a life outside the prisons of her own making and the sludge of unconfessed sin.

“That is the first time I have really felt love,” a person said after having taken this 5th Step.  “I have spent my life hiding behind all kinds of masks, scared to death that if anyone really knew who I was or what I had done, that person would condemn me and hate me.   For my whole life, I have felt separated from others because I thought what I thought and felt and did made me unlovable, but it turns out that I’m not the only one who has sinned.”

“Now I know that it is possible for me to be loved by another human being in spite of what I have done, and I never would have dreamed that was possible.”

It is in the relief of having said  spoken the unspeakable and surrendered the bonds of guilt and shame that one has the possibility of being liberated to become the person he was created to be.

It is in the exquisite words of mercy and grace, “You are forgiven”, that a human being has the possibility of being empowered to accept that God’s forgiveness really is possible.

Those who act as confessors — sponsors, priests, therapists, analysts — can actually give a person his life back by mediating God’s love, and in doing so, those confessors have the capacity to heal, transform, liberate and empower others in the name of Christ.

We are, after all, capable of being priests to each other.  We have the capacity to be Christ to each other, and in the mysterious ways of love, hearing the confession of another human being has the possibility of healing the confessor, as well.

It is a powerful thing, being a mediator of grace and mercy.  We dare not take the giving or receiving of it lightly, lest we miss the opportunity to be God’s hands and hearts and voices on earth.

* * * * *

Do I believe that God can forgive us without the involvement of another person?

Of course, I do!

Somehow, though, God has chosen to work through human instruments, and in thinking of the persons who have heard my confessions, I am reminded of a story that my friend and mentor, writer Madeleine L’Engle, told about a little boy who had been put to bed by his parents in an upstairs room.  Afraid of the dark, he called out, “Could someone come up here and be with me?”

After several reassurances from the downstairs and several repeated requests, one of the parents finally went upstairs to the child’s bedside.

“I’m afraid of the dark,” the child said, clutching his parent’s hand tightly.

“All you have to do is pray,” the parent said.  “God is here with you.”

The child thought that over for a few seconds.

“I know,” he said, “but sometimes I need God with skin on.”

We live in a culture that values self-reliance highly, but for whatever reason, sometimes most of us wind up in a situation when we need God with skin on.

There’s nothing that can take the place of a good sponsor who is willing to be just that to us as we dare to tell the truth for the purpose of being forgiven and moving on, changed by the power of being heard, accepted and loved in spite of whatever wrong we have done, or how many times we have done it.

What about you?

Who have you allowed to know you, really know you?

With whom do you feel free to reveal your dreams and hopes, your failures and wrongs?

How closely connected is being honest with yourself, with God and with another human being to being “comfortable in your own skin”?   How are you doing with that?

Have you come up to Step 5 and turned away?  What is that about?

Has avoiding doing the 5th Step hampered your process of recovery?   Are you happy with that, or would you prefer moving on through the steps of recovery?

If you have completed this Step, how do you feel about that?

What would you say to someone who is balking at confessing to another human being?

Describe the benefits you have experienced in taking this bold Step toward serenity, peace and courage.

Grace to you-


I love serendipity.  Just as I finished posting this blog, I opened my email and read this in today’s post from Inward/Outward from the Church of the Savior in Washington, D. C.  I add these words to reinforce the importance of Steps 4, 5 and 6.

Forgiveness Creates Community

According to Gustavo Gutierrez, to recognize one’s own sin implies also the will to restore broken friendship and leads to asking for forgiveness and reconciliation. The capacity for forgiveness itself creates community.


   Being in Relation

To live a “forgiven” life is not simply to live in a happy consciousness of having been absolved. Forgiveness is precisely the deep and abiding sense of what relation—with God or with other human beings—can and should be; and so it is itself a stimulus, an irritant, necessarily provoking protest at impoverished versions of social and personal relations.





Practicing Resurrection Step Five, Part 2

We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The importance of a good sponsor in any recovery program cannot, in my opinion, be overstated.

In fact, I know when someone is really serious about recovering when he or she is serious about finding or choosing a sponsor.

How do I know who is right for me?”

Is it enough to say, “You’ll just know” or “You will be led to your sponsor”?

At first glance, those responses might seem flippant or superficial, but are they?

I rely heavily on two factors when I am consciously seeking a helper in any part of my life.

My gut instinct and intuition are generally pretty reliable, but they work far better for me when I am not actively engaged in whatever it is I do to keep myself numbed out, distracted or asleep at the wheel of my life.

The other factor is the faith factor.  One of the benefits in growing up as I did is that I was taught to rely on the guidance of God.   I saw that faith factor alive and operative in my parents’ lives, and so when it was my turn to begin acting as an adult, I asked God for direction as a habit.

Later — years later — that habit became something more, but we aren’t there yet.  (We still have a way to go to get to the 11th Step!)

It is said that “when the teacher is ready, the student appears.”   I have noticed that that same principle works when you are seriously looking for a sponsor or another confessor or teacher, and the ways that happen are as varied as there are people and relationships.

What if I choose a sponsor and it turns out it’s not the right one?”

The short response is, “You’ll both probably know it if it isn’t the right one.”

The more thoughtful answer is this:

A really good sponsor is not driven to accept a person to sponsor out of ego.  He or she doesn’t need the ego-gratification of that potentially powerful relationship, but knows, instead the gravity of the relationship and takes seriously the sacred and delicate relationship.

“The right” relationship of sponsorship involves time and energy for both persons, but when it really is right, what happens in both persons is healing for both persons.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances;

If there is any reaction, both are transformed.

Carl Jung

The first sponsor with whom I attempted to work did not work for me.  If I had known then what I know now, I would have had an honest conversation with her about the issues that prevented an easy and natural flow between us, but the truth is that I was so deep into my habit of not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings that I could not do that at the time.   Life circumstances made it possible for us to simply drift apart, and I regret that now.

Looking back, I think our tendencies to avoid conflict were equally matched, and that prevented either of us from dealing directly and productively with the ineffectiveness of the relationship.

Later,  I decided to ask a person who was a recovering alcoholic with long years of sobriety if she would work with me to help me understand the Steps and integrate them into my life.   At first, she was hesitant because my issues were codependency, but I persisted.

This woman was strong and, when necessary, she was tough, but more than anything, she was boldly honest about her life and fiercely courageous in helping me face mine.  I asked her to be my sponsor because I knew that her recovery and her faith had been tested in the hot fires of time and experience.   I wanted the best teacher I could find and I wanted someone who would tell me the truth and take my struggles seriously.

As we met together week after week, there were times when she would put her head in her hands in despair and lament, “If only you were a drunk, I could help you, but until you take ________ off the throne of your life, there is no way I can help you!”

(Fill in the blank with any number of names of people whose approval I needed or persons I thought I must please!)

I will forever be grateful for her willingness, patience and persistence, her honesty and her fierce commitment to her own recovery, even after many years.   I will never forget her kindness, mercy and gentleness when I took my Fifth Step with her on a cold winter day, sitting by her warm fire.   I will treasure her wisdom for the rest of my life, especially her tenderness when I was too hard on myself, too judgmental of my life and too unforgiving of my flaws, defects and mistakes.

Who could I possibly find that I can trust to hear my confession?”

Within that question lies the crippling tendency to think either that we are so bad or so special that we need a really special confessor.

“Terminal uniqueness” is one of the hallmarks in addiction, even when it is expressed as “I’m the best at being the worst person you’ve ever met” or “I have the best terrible story of anyone you know”.

The truth is that all humans have baggage.  All of us have issues, and we all have messed up our lives in one way or another.  We have all fallen short in one way or another, and we all tend to wander off like sheep, dumbly following who knows what?

A good sponsor is one who has faced and worked her own mistakes and failures, flaws and defects and has likely looked her own evil right in the eye and survived telling herself the truth.

A good sponsor has had the courage to have looked in the mirror and called the darkness what it is, but has also has the humility to embrace his own goodness, his own courage and his own strengths, gifts and abilities to himself.

A good sponsor knows that when he/she hears the inventory of another human being, he is holding precious material in his heart and hand and that he is an instrument of healing, mercy and grace in that person’s life.

The way my sponsor took my first Fifth Step so seriously didn’t communicate the gravity or terribleness of what I had to say to her.

The way she took the event so seriously communicated to me how much she valued my life and how deeply and personally she was with me in the process of my becoming whole and healthy.

A good sponsor is acutely aware that the worst thing anyone has done doesn’t have to be the last thing, and that the collective badness of all humanity is nothing to compare with the unlimited and unconditional love and goodness of God who longs to forgive and set us free.

I wouldn’t mind doing that Fifth Step if I never had to see that sponsor again!”

Come on, now.   Really?

Most likely, that person who has sat with you in the confessional is going to be one of the persons you will want to see most — and again and again.

When the confession of one’s life is done in the presence of someone who has done his/her own inner work and is committed to the health and wholeness of the person who has been willing to be vulnerable before him, love wins and grace covers the multitude of sins.

People who have done their own work are comfortable with persons who are doing theirs.

To be known by another human being — really known — is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Sometimes our light goes out,

but it is blown again into instant flame by an encounter

with another human being.

Albert Schweitzer

There is nothing like a good confession with a loving sponsor or confessor to blow the flame of life back into a struggling human being who has put his/her light under the bushel of addiction.

What about you?  Have you come up to the “admitting to another person” part of this program and stalled?  What is your biggest fear?

Or, have you had an experience with being known by another human being that you have found to be cleansing, healing, transforming and empowering?   What was that like?

Have you been the one who has listened to another’s inventory and found a lost part of yourself in the other’s confession?

Is there someone in your life before whom you can speak the truth, stutter out your wrongs, cry out your failures and mourn your actions that hurt another human being without fear?

May all of us learn how to be instruments of mercy, grace and peace in each other’s lives.

Grace to you — Jeanie


Practicing Resurrection: Step Five, Part 1

We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

There is nothing like being asked to admit the exact nature of your wrongs that is more likely to slam you into a confrontation with your very own God-concept and your beliefs about forgiveness, mercy and grace, all of which may be largely unconscious to you.

Believing that God is a benevolent grandfather-type who looks the other way when you do something stupid or wrong doesn’t do much for helping you take seriously the nature of your wrongs.  Imaging God as a jolly old Santa Claus or a Sugar Daddy will always sabotage an authentic relationship with the Holy One.

Believing that God is a cruel judge who keeps a ledger of your sins in a big book, marking each infraction with a big, black marker can make you tremble when it comes time to face the inventory you have written.   Seeing God as the county sheriff, always coming after you can prevent you from taking seriously the path to freedom and forgiveness.

How many are the ways we conjure our God-images to suit our personal philosophies of life and how many are the paths we find to run away from ourselves and from God, often repeating our lifelong scripts of self-sabotage over and over.

This Step can be terrifying, and the truth is that many people stop here.

For whatever reasons, by the time I got to this Step, I was eager for the process.  I wanted to make confession; I wanted the burdens of guilt and shame off my back.   Since the first four Steps had already been so beneficial, I moved into this Fifth Step with both eagerness and terror.

Since that time, I have found that facing the truth about myself and telling the truth to another human being has been so liberating that I have made these Steps part of my on-going spiritual practice.   I found what my mother said was true:  Confession is good for the soul.

At first, I did have to stumble over my own God-image.  I had to do some thinking to separate the man behind the pulpit (my father and then my husband) and my mother from the nature and character of God.  I had to work at identifying the ways I had learned to project rejecting and disapproving humans onto God.  It took time to separate the condemning words I had heard as a child or adolescent from the compassionate words of God.

I had to get clear about who was not-God, and then, steeped in the biblical stories about forgiveness, mercy and grace, I a deep inner freedom began to grow in me, little by little, and it was that growing awareness of the true nature of God that made it possible for me to offer my wrong-doings, my sins of action and my bigger, deeper and more pervasive Sins that motivated me to do the things I did that caused separation between myself and God and myself and other people.

Hiding those afflictive feelings, attitudes, actions and habits caused me to do the things I didn’t want to do and prevented me from doing the things I wanted to do, but I found that it was revolutionary to come out into the light, beam the light of truth on my defects and flaws, tell the truth about my life and join the human race.

Instead of the judgment passages in the Bible, I chose to read and underline the many verses about God’s forgiveness and compassion, his grace and his mercy that are new every morning, extending as far as east is from west.   Instead of focusing on Judgment Day and my fears of having God read aloud all my sins in front of my mother and the rest of humanity, I soaked my mind in Luke’s account of the Waiting Father who met his wayward son with open arms and threw a party, welcoming him home.

And then there was the day that I heard one of my heroes, Frank Pool, tell me about his mother’s words to him.  “The goodness and grace of God is greater than all of the badness in the worst of us.”   Coming from a man whose faith I admired deeply, those words were full of grace for me.

Next week is Ash Wednesday, and for the Christian church, the season of Lent is upon us– yes, already.  In my religious tradition, we did not observe Lent, but I have embraced this season with gladness, relief, expectation and hope since my first experience with this these Steps.

This coming weekend, I am facilitating a retreat for Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, as they prepare for the Lenten season.   When planning the retreat, it came to me that Lent can be seen as a call of redemptive love from God and an opportunity within the Christian church to examine ourselves to see where we are out of step with God’s love.   More and more, I understand those places in me that are not yet in harmony with my True Self and with love are the very places God wants to restore my soul, heal me, forgive me and set me free to live more fully in the wider places of his unconditional love and mercy.

Instead of seeing Lent as a time to point out all of my badness, I am proposing that this call to Love is an opportunity to identify the places in our lives where Love is blocked or thwarted, allowing the healing balm of God’s great love for us to flow in us, for us and through us, transforming, liberating and empowering us to live more fully in a state of grace.

About that hiding my character defects from God?   How silly is that?    If there is nowhere I can go where God is not –if God knows my thoughts before they are conscious to me — it seems to me it’s time for me to stop hiding from myself and come clean to God one day at a time.

I think God knows, anyway — and that is a very good thing.

What about you?

Is it fear of God that keeps you from taking this Fifth Step?

Or, do you take God seriously enough to see the importance of admitting your sins and your Sins to him?

If you are resisting admitting your wrong-doings to God, what excuses are you using?

What does your resistance reveal about your God-concept?

Do you really believe — do you trust — that this Step that has proven to be life-changing for countless others might also be beneficial and perhaps even life-saving for you? — Even you???

My life experience is that the longer I avoid coming clean, the harder it gets, and the truth is that what I resist really does persist.

It’s just so much easier to say Yes to God’s love sooner.

And it’s so true that the hard way is the easy way.

Just do it.   Dare to fall into the compassion of God…..

Grace to you —