Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.Up until a few days ago if you had asked me what my addictions were I would have said I’ve battled the strongholds of drugs, alcohol, pornography, food and pretty much anything else you can be addicted to; but today I now realize at the core…
I Have Been Obsessed with Self
It has been what feels like 8 long years since I came to an overwhelming awareness and surrender to Christ in January 2011. Over this last year my tears have been “Lord when will this inner suffering go away, when does healing and redemption of my broken soul actually take place, where is the promised peace and rest”.
I knew I have been at this place for a long time, working too many hours at work, putting in all my spare time at church and in recovery ministry, and then cramming in family and friends more out of obligation and guilt than a Holy Priority or righteous desire.
Something Had to Give
And it did. On August 10, 2018, I hit the wall with force. Complete exhaustion had taken me out and I found myself in ER with significant health problems. 4 months later I’m still out of work trying to navigate how I got here.
“My heart is good, my motives are pure, I’m pouring myself out for everyone and everything around me, isn’t that being a servant Lord? Isn’t this by Your power and calling that I do these things? Why am I now flat on my back, I don’t understand.”
I have lots of acquaintances and even friends who don’t understand why counseling and recovery groups are necessary. The common pushback is “just get over it, forget the past”.
The problem is the past often won’t let go of us
Being in recovery ministry for many years and still experiencing my own emotional bombs that can take me out in a split second, I have wrestled deeply with several questions:
Is it possible that “being in recovery” is the reason why I can’t get over the past?
Is always looking back and peeling off more layers and sitting in more pools of sorrow and loss the whole reason why I feel stuck?
With the help of counselors, a trusted sponsor of many years, countless 12-step and Christian recovery groups like Celebrate Recovery, Every Man’s Battle, Waking the Dead and Pure Desire, I believe God in His mercy is answering that question for me.
I do now believe that all of those resources are what God used to prepare my heart for the biggest shock to the system I’ve ever experienced.
Just a few days ago I was given a look into the mirror of my heart like I’ve never had before and the horror of what I saw has undone everything, my entire life is suspect, even… no… especially the stuff of my life AFTER coming to Christ.
Allow me to explain…
One of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my young adulthood was my father’s death. Not so much that he died, but more the events that took place during the last time I ever saw him.
It was January 1990 in the hospital’s Critical Care Unit. The doctors had told my mother and I that he likely only had 24 hours left at most. His organs were all shutting down. He had been suffering on dialysis for failing kidneys and liver, having his lungs pumped of fluid several times a day and on oxygen for emphysema and a myriad of other tubes and machines keeping things going.
After getting the news that this could be the last time I would see my father, I had the desire to put our strained relationship of 25 years behind us and just tell him I love him.
I poured out my heart, apologized for being such a difficult rebellious kid and for the years starting in middle school of drug and alcohol abuse. I said that although he was hard on me I understood it was to make me a good man and that I would have never asked for another father, I said I loved him and none of the other stuff mattered anymore.
His response: “So, I suppose you are ready for me to die now huh?“.
I was floored, destroyed inside… “Really, I pour my heart out one last time and this is what YOU want to say to ME? Well, fuck you too asshole!”
I didn’t say those words to his face but my heart sure did. And something in me died in that moment, well before he actually died.
The hospital called several times in the middle of the night saying “your father is asking for you, he won’t make it to morning”. I said thanks and hung up the phone.
I then called my mom, I could tell she was totally hammered, drunk beyond description. We both agreed at that moment, he dies alone. His lifetime of abuse of my mother and my searing resentment and unforgiveness wrote the end of his story, and die alone is what he did.
That event became just one of the flagship recovery testimonies of how horrible my parents were to me, and how my addictions and bad choices were born out of the trauma of growing up in a physically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abusive home.
“Can’t you see, it’s not my fault. I’m like this because of them, my pain grows deep, you need compassion for me, not judgment”
Fast forward to today, nearly 30 years later
Matthew 20:32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
John 5:6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Those questions have been at the core of my journaling this past 4 months… I believe they have been God’s response to my plea mentioned above “when does the suffering end“.
As I have continued to press into Scripture, empty myself out at counseling sessions and deep dive yet again into the foundations of 12-step programs with Step Zero and Step One I have come to realize that in all honesty…
…my answer to Jesus’ questions have been NO!
“No?!?!?! How could anyone not want to be healed” I asked myself?
I now realize more than ever that being a victim is the most pervasive trap of Satan, it provides the seemingly self-righteous fuel for resentment of others and self-justification for the strongholds of our addictions and bad life decisions.
And I have also reeled back at the discovery that a stronghold is not the drink, drug, food or lust having a grip on me, we are the ones who are clinging to our vice(s) for dear life!
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
In the brilliant story of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, he draws the image beautifully of the battle with lust specifically through the parable of the Red Lizard
Excerpt from The Great Divorce…
“Would you like me to make him [lust] quiet?” said the flaming Spirit – an angel, as I now understood.
“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.
“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.
“Oh – ah – look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.
“Don’t you want him killed?”
“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”
“It’s the only way…
As I pressed into the reality that even after 7 years of sobriety over drugs and alcohol and “working a program” and leading men’s recovery ministries that I was still hanging on to the demon of lust.
Dredging up old thoughts and behaviors were still an option when the soul began to hurt and the bones became weary. Granted I was nothing like the old me who would shamelessly dive deep into depravity without hesitation, but the fact that feeding lust was still a viable option after all these years began to cut deep.
I have claimed to be “all-in” however I have still been hanging on to control, rebellion, and entitlement. I have said to myself “God understands”, “Grace covers this”, “you can’t out-sin the cross”, “it’s not about works”,
These may be true, but then 2 Timothy 3:5 began to sear into my soul
…having a form of godliness but denying its power…
Could that be me? Am I still in such denial that I’m operating on the brink of grace and judgment without even realizing it?
Galatians 5:19-21 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
As I gave God access to those places, begged Him for true healing, asked Him to lead me in the way of true repentance, reveal to me my own heart… I believe He has done just that with incredible mercy.
I asked my counselor what the definition of success is and he proposed the following:
“The easiest way to know if something was a success is to ask the question, did God get glory in it”
As I began to lay that litmus test over the events of my life the horror of what I found has become the foundation that has undone me. There is no place left to hide.
I’m coming to understand that the emotional scars of my childhood may explain the source of evil operating within my heart, but it does not excuse it.
The narratives I wrote throughout my childhood and especially on that last day with my father I believe has fueled my subsequent vows:
“Nobody will ever be allowed to hurt me again like that”
“I am a monster unworthy of love”
“My opinions, feelings and ideas are not worth putting out there”
God Was Not Glorified
As I now revisit that scene with my new perspective of glorifying God, clearly Satan won that final meeting between a father and son on earth. It fueled decades of resentment even though I claimed to have forgiven him.
As I stood outside the situation searching for my own “true” motives I realized that I did not give my father that deathbed speech as a gift for him to carry into the afterlife; I said those things to offer him one last opportunity to say to me:
“I know son, me too, I’m sorry, you are a great boy and becoming a great man. I was really hard on you. I am proud of you, I always have been but I just didn’t know how to show it. Have a great life son and know that I have always loved you as only a father can love his son and I always will”.
The reality: My entire life has been a desperate search for validation
I now realize that he wasn’t free to express his feelings and fears, I needed him to validate me on his deathbed dammit and he let me down one more time.
If I was truly there for him with compassion and love, my reply to his comment could have been something like this:
“No dad, I’m serious. I love you and I hate how we were somehow torn apart by my rebellion. I am devastated at losing you but I am forced to accept that neither of us has a choice in this situation. I need you to understand how desperately I’ve always loved you and I will miss you all the days of my life”.
But that isn’t what I said, in my heart, I said: “fuck you asshole”.
For the first time since coming to Christ the dark reality of how deeply-rooted my selfishness and fear has driven everything I do has begun to come into focus.
All this time I have seen myself as sacrificial and service-oriented, especially after coming to Christ, but instead, I have remained manipulative and self-serving with everyone around me so they will like and affirm me.
Proverbs 26:23 Smooth words may hide a wicked heart,
just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.
So what does this revelation have to do with this “I AM” Series, or the verse in Philippians 3:13 of not looking back?
The reality is, we must look back before we can move forward.
The only way to find true humility is to personally examine through the eyes and heart of Christ those scenes of our life where we felt righteous in blaming others and missed our role in the hurts.
2 Samuel 12:5-7 David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die…. 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man!…”
We must become intimately aware of our own wretched hearts before the cross of Christ and His Blood can do the redemptive work in our life that He promises.
Matthew 7:4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?
Secondly, we must then go back to take ownership and make amends where possible
Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
So you see, looking backward to extract truth is actually a critical process of straining forward
As I declared to my counselor a couple days ago through tears streaming down my face that “my whole life is a lie, where do I go from here” he said with compassion “we start at the beginning, we must undo the ultimate lie, your worth”… and he pointed me to Psalm 139
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
We are so incredibly precious to God, not because of what we do or don’t do, but because we were given this life by Him, created in His image for His pleasure and glory.
Why was I born? Because God wanted me to be born.
What is the meaning of life? To glorify God with all my heart, soul, mind and body
My success and failures, joys and sadness, victories and heartbreaks are all equal parts of this blessed journey called life.
To be “all in” is not to say I will make myself as perfect as possible to glorify God, it is that I will love and be loved as perfect as possible as I navigate within a broken body in a fallen world.
His joy is found in my joy, His peace is unearthed through my peace, His love is my love.
He is perfect, I am not… as it should be.
I’ll end with this one last revelation that I believe God placed on my heart to help me learn how to not let my desperate need for validation cloud my motives for serving and loving others.
“Feelings were never designed to be the pre-meditative consultant in making a wise choice, feelings are the righteous result of choices already made”
In other words, trying to avoid conflict or be nice to others only to manufacture a source of validation will never work. Simply step into the messy and trust God with the outcomes.
And, if I don’t want to feel shame, stop doing shameful things
Father God, the sting… no, the horror of seeing how my desperate search for validation has caused harm to those I profess to love breaks my heart. I will concede that I can’t change what I can’t see so with that I am grateful that you didn’t let me walk away from recovery groups with the lie that I don’t need to look back in order to move forward.
The cry of my soul has changed but continues to run deep Lord, search me and know my heart. Teach me in the ways of true repentance. Break my heart for what breaks Your’s Father. Continue to give me humility, strength, and courage to face the image looking back at me in the mirror knowing that the joy that awaits me through each level of sanctification brings You great joy as well.
Thank you for the realization that both life-changing decisions and inconsequential tasks only need to meet one criterion – which action, thought and belief will glorify You the most.
If this is what dying to self looks like then as difficult as it is I continue to surrender to the process Lord, by Your mercy and grace continue to reveal those strongholds of my own hands and heart that I haven’t been willing to let you kill. May I be allowed to move righteously towards the day that I will hear “well done my good and faithful servant”.
It is in the power, glory, and righteousness of Christ that I pray these things…