GRACE AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
God's Amazing Plan For Change
James O. Henman, Ph.D.
This essay explores the impact of faulty perceptions on our Christian experience. In Changing Attitudes In Recovery – A Handbook On Esteem (Henman, 1990) it states: "Our perceptions are filtered through our beliefs and assumptions, our internal dialogue (thoughts) and images, our physiological and behavioral responses, and our emotions. All of these interact to form a filter through which we experience the world." As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:12"For now we see through a glass, darkly."
We will examine some of the underlying assumptions and beliefs forming our perceptions of spirituality and recovery. We will reexamine the "fall from innocence," when mankind gained the knowledge of good and evil, and how we became separated from Him through our rebellion. We will see how God’s plan is designed to dissolve this separation, and allows us to again experience ourselves through His loving reflection, and to be in intimate relationship with Him, as we grow into His likeness.
His Plan takes the toxic power out of the knowledge of good and evil. He allows us to be born again, with His Spirit and His Nature planted deeply in our heart. Have you allowed yourself to accept this free gift that He purchased with His Son? It is important to digest each paragraph slowly and give yourself the gift of prayerful thought as you apply what you learn in the process of your own recovery. (Stop and Reflect)
This essay is a brief summary of the material I had shared previously in the video presentations: "Transforming Grace – Healing The Wounds That Bind," "God’s Grace and Our Freedom To Obey," "The Truth Can Set You Free," and "God’s Amazing Plan For Change." The essay captures the focus for discussion and sharing our recovery process in the "CAIRing Grace Groups." The essay will explore the Nature and Style of God’s Plan for changing our lives in the present. It will help you learn how to apply His Plan in areas of your life where you want growth and healing.
How you approach His Plan, determines how much of His Power you will have available in your recovery. His Plan is based on His Nature, and without that, His Plan looses its power. As you start the adventure of reading this essay, you need to borrow the Lord’s eyes, and allow His Nature to be reflected in your reactions to where you are starting today. How have you approached your relationship with the Lord up until now? How has that relationship been brought into your recovery? (Stop and Reflect)
In this essay I am sharing from the perspective of a "liberal fundamentalist" Christian. "Liberal" refers to my freedom to relax into becoming a new creation in Christ, "Fundamentalist" refers to the depth of my relationship with God, believing in His Perfect Plan of Grace and accepting personal responsibility to desire and allow His Holy Spirit to transform me, as a new creation, through a deeper, growing relationship.
My grateful humility for His free gift helps create the emotional, perceptual ecology necessary for His Spirit to transform my life. Grace is not about following rules; it is about our free, unearned relationship with God. I see Jesus as also being a liberal fundamentalist. He didn’t try to be perfect, He was in perfect relationship with His Father and everything came from that relationship. He is the model for my "becoming".
This essay presents some of the assumptions and perceptions that can help you focus on what you truly believe about being a Christian. Bring each paragraph to Him in open reflection and sharing. (Stop and Reflect)
The distinction between salvation and recovery is important in this essay. Many of the assumptions and perceptions examined in this essay may not harm salvation, but they do have a profound affect on recovery. The C.A.I.R. Handbook defines recovery as "the process of reclaiming lost ground which allows health." Our recovery/Christianity is an imperfect process of steps forwards and backwards and we will never arrive during this life.
Many of the perceptions that will be explored in this essay have been additions to His Plan or distortions in His Nature and the Covenant of Grace. Since the beginning of time, when God gave man a perfect opportunity for learning and growth, we have been trying to improve on perfection. Each step of "improvement" takes a little more power out of His Plan. (Stop and Reflect)
Paul wrote in Colossians 2: 6-17: "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."(Stop and Reflect)
These words capture the essence of God’s Owner’s Manual for our healthy living under this present covenant of Grace. Let’s look more closely at Jesus, the "root" and source of our salvation and a perfect model for our recovery from dysfunctional patterns in the present. Jesus said: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
Let’s look closer at how Jesus describes Himself and what he wants to offer us today. He is reaching out to those of us who feel weighted down by aspects of our lives: Addictions, depression, anxiety/panic, relationship difficulties, poor esteem, etc. He offers rest and the opportunity to learn from a perfect coach, how to live life to its fullest. His style is gentle and humble. He is the perfect counselor for recovery: perfectly honest, accurate, and loving. I use Him as a Model for relating to my clients in therapy. (Stop and Reflect)
When we begin to filter our perceptions of this guidance through unconscious assumptions and beliefs, the effect on our recovery can be disastrous. One form of distortion is taking something out of context. Many people read the following words from Jesus without putting it in the context of how Jesus describes Himself.
Matthew 7:13-14:"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Fear, in its many forms, obscures our experience of living life as God intends for us. (Stop and Reflect)
Presuppositions play a significant role in finding meaning in these words. If narrow refers to rigid, then those who experience their Christian walk with "white knuckled" tension, trying to "do it right" and "do it good enough" to earn God’s free gift of Grace, seem correct.
If narrow refers to a delicate balance, e.g. body temperature, the percent of oxygen in the air we breathe, etc., then a whole different set of assumptions, attitudes and beliefs would be more accurate. Matthew 11:28-30 reflects the second interpretation, a delicate balance. I believe that one thing that has made the way of the world a wide road, and the road to salvation and recovery a narrow road, comes straight out of the garden: The Knowledge Of Good And Evil.
The effects of this "knowledge" without God’s Love are the same on us today, as on Adam and Eve. What do we begin to notice, as we become more aware of our underlying assumptions? What is the effect of seeing God through faulty "Perceptual Filters"? (Stop and Reflect)
I believe that one aspect of sin is the knowledge of good and evil unfiltered by God’s Love: "But sin used this law against evil desires by reminding me that such desires are wrong and arousing all kinds of forbidden desires within me!" (Romans 7:8)
In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul points out that: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." It is clearly an imperfect process. Our job is to relax into His Spirit, as we transform, a layer at a time, into Him. (Stop and Reflect)
I believe that fear has done great harm in the Christian family. Examples of fearful presuppositions are: trying to earn God’s free gift ("As I am in the present, I am not good enough to approach Him"), misunderstanding self-esteem, and not seeing Jesus as our loving "big brother." God does not save us because we are worth saving, but rather because of His Nature. It is His love for us, in our imperfection, that caused Him to reach out to us, in our flawed state, with His Grace.
When we accept the presupposition that Salvation is about our nature, rather than His Nature, fear and perfectionism make perfect sense. The truth is that Salvation is about His Nature. "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." (1Corinthians 2:12) The result of this truth for us is grateful humility. (Stop and Reflect)
As a Christian, my esteem is based on my true identity in Christ, as a new creation. "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." (2 Corinthians 3:4-5)
My esteem comes from seeing myself through His eyes. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)
Jesus described us in John 15:15: "I no longer call you servants, because the servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." What greater esteem could I have than to be called friend by Jesus? (Stop and Reflect)
Notice how God wants you to approach His Perfection in Romans 7:4-6: "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve a new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."
He does not want you to be bound and weighted down with rules for perfection, but rather to be drawn into His Perfection through His Spirit. Do you have trouble releasing your "white knuckles" of perfectionism, so that His Spirit can transform you into His Perfection? (Stop and Reflect)
I believe there is a reason that Jesus came in the particular relationship He did with us. "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:29)
In Ephesians 1:5 Paul states: "In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves."
In CAIRing Grace Groups we embrace this special relationship: "Because of God's loving Grace, who I am is 'becoming' in His Holy Spirit, and my recovery is the process of experiencing the adventure of becoming like the person and nature of my Big Brother Jesus."
(Stop and Reflect)
Scripture has many examples of the power of unchallenged assumptions on the unfolding story of man. In Genesis 3:1 the serpent asked the question: "Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?" This question distorts God’s Word because He did not say that, and is the beginning of undermining Eve. We often underestimate the power of questions. In therapy I find that clients are often trapped by the questions they are asking and the assumptions they make about the process of change.
Eve responds to this distortion with one of her own: Genesis 3:2 "The woman said to the serpent, ‘we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’
Eve added to God’s Word by saying "you must not touch it". Man is continually adding to God’s perfect Word. When you try to improve on perfection, the only way to go is down. Notice how the weaving of false or distorted assumptions is beginning to build. (Stop and Reflect)
In Genesis 3:4 the serpent adds challenge toward God’s word with a powerful presupposition: "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
The presupposition is that the knowledge of good and evil is what makes God who He is. It also assumes that God is insecure and afraid for us to know what He knows. Is that how you see God? Throughout Scripture God is described most often as Love. Knowledge without love is not of God, but rather is the source of shame. (Stop and Reflect)
The fact is that God never intended man to have the knowledge of good and evil without it being filtered through His loving reflection. He knew that the predictable reaction to such unfiltered knowledge would be shame and the death of innocence. Through shame, God knew that our defensiveness would mushroom as we began feeling our separation from Him. (Stop and Reflect)
Eve also confuses knowledge of good and evil with wisdom in Genesis 3:6: "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it."
This is something man has been doing ever since the fall. There is a profound difference between God’s Loving Wisdom and the knowledge of good and evil. The first leads to the Nature of God, the second leads to shame. The world today is drowning in knowledge and thirsting for wisdom. (Stop and Reflect)
Another presupposition that is often presented from the garden is that because of man’s pride and rebellion, God punished him by kicking him out of the garden. The effect on man of the actual knowledge of good and evil without God’s loving filter is seldom mentioned.
After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil: "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (Genesis 3:7)." We have been using our own means since the fall to cover our shame and the resulting defense mechanisms fuel addictions and psychological problems to this day.
(Stop and Reflect)
In Genesis 3:12 "The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Eve turned around and blamed the serpent. We have been blaming and deflecting responsibility ever since.
I truly believe that freedom is the willingness to accept the consequences of our choices.I wonder what would have happened if man had responded to the knowledge with humility and asked God for forgiveness? (Stop and Reflect)
What was God’s actual reason for removing man from the garden? Genesis 3:22 says: "And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken."
God put guards in front of the tree of life. Removing man from the garden was the most loving act God could do under the circumstances. Man was drowning in shame and defensiveness. If man had eaten from the tree of life, he would have suffered in that state for all time. God gave him a way to regain healthy relationship with Him outside of the garden, safe from the tree of life.
In Genesis 3:21: "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." God did not stop being in relationship with man after needing to banish him from the Garden. The way we look at the fall is basic to how we experience God. (Stop and Reflect)
Pride and rebellion respond to the knowledge of good and evil with shame and defenses. Our "fig leaves" as Christians, often come in the form of perfectionism. Man’s pride has caused him to try to be good enough on his own to earn God's free gift. Paul clarifies the painful cost of choosing this path in Galatians 5:4:"You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace."
He shows us how to approach the experience of being a new creation in Christ in the next verse, when he says in Galatians 5:5 "But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." When we try on our own, we throw Christ's gift in his face. Our role is to want to be transformed, to eagerly look forward to becoming more like Him, seeing ourselves and others through His reflection, as becoming. It is our responsibility to imperfectly choose to believe this Truth. (Stop and Reflect)
Notice how God wants you to approach His Perfection inRomans 7:4-6: "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve a new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."
He does not want you to be bound and weighted down with rules for perfection, but rather to be drawn into His Perfection through His Spirit. Do you have trouble releasing your "white knuckles" of perfectionism, so that His Spirit can transform you into His Perfection? (Stop and Reflect)
Another assumption comes into play when God made it possible for us to become a new creation. In 2 Corinthians 5:17,Paul states: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God."
This is the heart of God’s Plan for our recovery and growth – a new identity in Him. We are given a new role/function in His Service: to be His ambassador in the reconciliation process. This is true reaching out to others and also reaching inward to the wounded parts of ourselves that are currently stuck in our old nature.
When you think about "who" you really believe yourself to be, your true identity, does it reflect yourself as a new creation or your old nature? Is your identity based on the "rear view mirror" of your life story or the "windshield" of becoming, as a new creation? (Stop and Reflect)
Many Christians take the position that we should ignore the past, because we are a new creation. How can there be reconciliation with that attitude? When Paul says that the "old has gone", I believe he is speaking of identity. Clearly our old patterns are not gone. Would Paul want us to use denial? There must be a process that God intends for us. He offers to stand as our loving Parent, to guide us into health and growth.
We are no longer "stuck" with the programming we have had up to the present. Paul clearly explains the process of God’s Plan: "This being so, I want to remind you to stir into flame the strength and boldness that is in you, that entered into you when I laid my hand upon your head and blessed you. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7).
God’s Plan involves our accepting His free gift of Healing Grace and accepting the reality of the present, without shame, self-hatred, or blame toward others, as His ambassador of reconciliation. "Cheap grace" is the notion that our choices do not really matter. It tries to remove personal responsibility from our choices and actions. Cheap grace cannot create an attitude of grateful humility, and therefore can never transform. (Stop and Reflect)
In the Introduction To CAIRing Grace Groups it states: "C.A.I.R. Groups are not therapy! We try to create a safe place to practice and share a growing transparency in our 'becoming', as a new creation, with others who are also committed to growing. With grace we take our masks off a layer at a time as we realize that ‘we are not our story and our story affects where we are starting today. When we are sharing from our old nature, we are given ‘grace filled’ respect and support for reconciling our woundedness with our true identity in Christ. We can remember that who we are is not defined by how we are doing or what we are feeling at a given moment."
Are there people in your life who you can be open and honest with about where you are on your Christian walk? Do you find yourself wearing a mask and hiding parts of yourself that you feel ashamed about when talking with others? Do you judge and condemn yourself and others? Do you fear judging from others? Do you hunger for the freedom to take your masks off and be loved where you are starting today? (Stop and Reflect)
In Ephesians 4:22-23 Paul states: "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
This does not mean to put on a mask. It means that we must believe the truth of our identity in Christ and through borrowing His eyes and His Nature, we can reconcile the wounded parts of ourselves with loving supervision as His ambassador of reconciliation. (Stop and Reflect)
Paul shares openly his struggles with his old nature in Romans 7:15-20: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."
This is not denial and blaming like Adam and Eve did in the garden. It is a simple statement of identity. The fact that we may be going the wrong direction at a given moment must not define our Identity or lack of Identity in Christ. It is sad how many Christians fail to understand this all-important point. What is it like to realize that Paul has shared the same personal struggles and failures that you have?
Paul deals with this struggle by claiming his true identity as a new creation in Christ. Paul’s identity did not come from how well he was doing, or how he was feeling at any given moment, it came from loving faith in Jesus being his vine and embracing his role as a branch. How have you dealt with this struggle in your life? (Stop and Reflect)
James 1:22-25 says: "And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. So don’t fool yourselves. For if a person just listens and doesn’t obey, he is like a man looking at his face in a mirror; as soon as he walks away, he can’t see himself anymore or remember what he looks like. But if anyone keeps looking steadily into God’s law for free men, he will not only remember it but he will do what it says, and God will greatly bless him in everything he does."
We need to understand this important point of identity, and "rest" in the growing belief that who we are is "becoming" in Christ, through the power of His Holy Spirit. We need to remember that "becoming" is more like peeling an onion than peeling a banana. There are many layers in the "becoming" process. There are also frequent tears and sometimes a foul odor. (Stop and Reflect)
The C.A.I.R. Handbook describes: "Another common pattern which we call the success trap works as follows: When we begin to make positive changes in our lives, there is a natural tension between our new experience, and our ‘normal’ self image. (See the Self-Image Thermostat section in the Handbook.) If we do not consciously and deliberately change how we see ourselves, then the tension becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Because we do not expect positive things to be uncomfortable, we try to find some other explanation for the discomfort. We will often find some way to understand the discomfort which allows us to go back to experiencing ourselves within our ‘comfort zone’ in Old Program. There is a feeling of relief when the tension is reduced. (Stop and discuss.)"
Are there times you are making positive changes in your life, only to begin feeling increasing tension and discomfort. Are you allowing yourself to adjust your self-image thermostat to include the healthy changes? (Stop and Reflect)
We need to appreciate the difference between shame, guilt, and regret in the recovery process. Shame, a direct result of the knowledge of good and evil, is a destructive feeling and perception of self-rejection and self-hatred. Shame says: "I am bad and wrong" rather than being a statement about specific actions. As a Christian, since my true identity is in Him, there is no place for shame.
Guilt can be a healthy, useful signal from the Holy Spirit (conviction) when we are going the "wrong direction" in the present. It is a feeling signal to an action, rather than a statement about self. We need to feel good about noticing guilt in the present, turn toward a healthy direction, and release the feelings of guilt. God only wants us to feel guilty as a motivation for change; guilt is not a goal in itself. Guilt about past events or actions, no longer present, tends to transform into shame over time.
Regret is a healthy grieving reaction. It can be experienced as a variety of different feelings that come with the accurate acceptance of past events. Regret says, "I feel badly that this happened and wish things had been different." "What can I learn from this to help me move toward the Lord in the present." (Stop and Reflect)
The issue of rebellion is often distorted by a "Black or White Perceptual Filter," which limits our options to either/or choices. Many Christians believe that if there is any area of our lives that is not in submission to Him, we are completely out of relationship with Him.
While it is true that He cannot work in areas of our lives where we are rebelling, as Paul shared so honestly in Romans, we need to keep our focus on our true identity in Him and pray for the Holy Spirit to continue changing us from glory to glory.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39) I believe that when Paul says nothing can separate us from Christ, he means nothing! (Stop and Reflect)
Matthew 21:28-32, the parable of the two sons, makes it clear that God would rather have honest rebellion, which transforms into obedience, than the mask of obedience that leads to rebellion: Jesus said: "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
That does not mean that God wants rebellion. Because He loves us perfectly, He wants our complete submission to Him, for our own good. The Truth is that He knows our submission will come in steps and layers. (Stop and Reflect)
We can only start where we are starting in the present. One of the biggest roadblocks to change is demanding that we start where we want to end up. Only when we feel good about noticing where we are starting (Grace allows this to be possible), which is different than feeling good about where we are starting, can we begin to take the destructive power out of the knowledge of good and evil.
Grace can only transform us when we believe the truth of our identity as a new creation in Christ, and through that realization, begin taking responsibility to supervise, in the Spirit, our old wounded nature from the past, in a process of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17). (Stop and Reflect)
We must understand paradox in order to successfully embrace Christianity and recovery. Many of us are afraid to loose control of our lives. In Matthew 10:39, Jesus shared that "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
The First Step in A.A.’s Twelve Steps expresses such a paradox: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable." Only by accepting our powerlessness are we paradoxically free to choose differently, through His Spirit, to be drawn toward the rest of the Twelve Steps, which lead to sobriety and regaining sanity.
We can only become our true selves as we die to our old nature and continue becoming in His. Our "Self-Image Thermostat" needs to reflect this belief in our true identities. (Stop and Reflect)
An unexpected paradox has to do with getting what we really want and the natural reactions when that happens. We have feelings about our feelings, in a process that I have termed "Second Order Feelings" in the C.A.I.R. Handbook: "It is important to realize that we have feelings aboutwhat we are feeling. These second order feelings are often much stronger than the original emotions.
We may feel scared about feeling angry. We may feel angry about feeling sad. We may feel afraid about feeling happy. We need to look at the kinds of feelings we are having about our feelings. Is there a harmful pattern that keeps us from moving forward in our recovery? (Stop and discuss.)"
We desperately want to feel loved and accepted. When we begin to experience the depth of relationship the Lord offers, we are both drawn toward, and repelled by the intensity of the feelings. We may have feelings of anxiety that the good feelings won’t last, or God will realize we don’t deserve His gift.
These feelings often cause us to try too hard to be perfect, which interferes with the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform us as a new creation in Christ. We actually get in the way of our goal. (Stop and Reflect)
Pride often stops us from receiving His loving guidance and support. If our shame creates overwhelming denial, so that we cannot accept the fact that we need God’s Grace, then we are not free to accept it. Our definition of "freedom" and its presuppositions has a powerful impact on our perceptions of choice. . In CAIRing Grace Groups we have two definitions of freedom: "Freedom is the ability to do what we want to do, even when someone is telling us to do it", and "Freedom is the willingness to accept the consequences of our choices."(Stop and Reflect)
Another assumption that often causes a stumbling block for many Christians in recovery is the use of the word "dysfunction" and the tendency to see that word associated with blaming parents for the emotional and relationship problems in our lives today. We need to look at the concept of dysfunction in "normal families".
In over 28 years of full time practice as a psychotherapist, I have found that clients often came from what could reasonably be called normal families. These clients would often feel guilty because they could not find "justification" for their psychological problems. They were afraid that I would blame their parents or them, assuming that their problems had to be someone's fault! The assumptions underlying these reactions include:
- Normal families will not generate dysfunctional learning patterns for those growing up in that "normal" environment;
- We must blame the source of our dysfunctional learning patterns;
- Overlooks the fact that patterns that may be functional in one setting, may be dysfunctional in a different setting;
- The dynamic difference between observing and judging.
(Stop and Reflect)
Dysfunction can be used as a judgmental word to place blame. The fact is that blaming prevents learning and change. You can not blame and change at the same time. "Look what you did to me!" only makes sense when you are feeling badly. Those words do not fit with feeling good. To blame is to trap yourself in bad feelings.
Remember that normal families do pass on patterns and attitudes that are imperfect and can often carry high price tags (remember we have all grown up in an imperfect world of sin). (Stop and Reflect)
Dysfunction can also be used to simply express noticing patterns and attitudes that make it difficult for a person to have a successful relationship, end a constant state of anxiety or depression, have greater choice in some area of addiction, etc. God’s Grace allows us to give ourselves and others the freedom of growing in the present.
Shifting from blaming to noticing, allows us to take responsibility for seeing our patterns from the past more accurately. I call this aspect of Grace "No-Fault Learning". We need to be free to learn new attitudes and assumptions in the present. Recovery is the process of gaining and applying these new tools in our lives today. It is a process of building healthy esteem, and it is always imperfect. Abbott and Costello captured the reality of recovery: "I've got it, I've got it, I ain't got it!" (Stop and Reflect)
The flip side of normal childhood is often terrible "war stories" of deep, profound wounding. The trap here is often the assumption that "I am my story," and that "I am broken beyond repair." In my clinical work I have seen many examples of people embracing their identity as "codependent", "incest survivor", and other labels as "victim" rather than their true identity of "becoming in Christ".
When we see ourselves as victim, that perception becomes a "self-fulfilling prophecy" that can actually perpetuate the dysfunction. We must be aware of the labels we apply to ourselves and others. This is not a denial of the real wounds that need reconciliation and loving healing in the present. It is only an appreciation of possibility and identity in Christ. (Stop and Reflect)
These wounds often create an "Adult Child" character, which feels shame for the past events stored in timeless "Tupperware". This process of storing painful events is how the Adult Child character develops. It does not take "war stories" to develop disconnected aspects of self.
The Tupperware keeps the feelings fresh over many years. This shame prevents reconciling these wounded parts with our true nature in Christ. When we disown these parts of self, the Holy Spirit will not make contact. He is a gentleman and will not go where He is not invited. (Stop and Reflect)
We must be willing to reach out to these parts of self, through the Spirit, with a humble spirit of grace. God gives us perfect, unearned Grace because of who He Is. We receive His Grace imperfectly, through our "perceptual filters," as "grace." According to His Plan, we are to give this "grace" to ourselves and others, imperfectly. The more we freely give this grace, the more Grace the Lord will pour into our hearts.
As we experience giving grace freely to ourselves and others, we can receive His Grace more abundantly. We will never receive it perfectly. This is not a "white knuckled" process of our will. It is a willingness to allow the Spirit, through us, to lead us into His Nature. It is a process of relaxing into where we are starting, and becoming in His Spirit. (Stop and Reflect)
Attitudes and assumptions are absorbed subliminally, in the process of going through life, and form patterns of perception in our lives. I term the impact of these patterns "addiction to the familiar." It doesn’t mean that we want the patterns or like the results, only that it is familiar. Our survival mode is drawn to the known, regardless of how painful it may be. As long as we live our lives on automatic pilot, these patterns will direct our choices. We are responsible for whether we choose to live manually (in recovery) or default to automatic pilot ("that's just the way I am"). (Stop and Reflect)
I truly believe that our attitudes and assumptions about life have a profound effect on our experience of life. I have found over the years that certain attitudes lead to emotional and relationship success (as defined by my clients), and other attitudes keep showing up with problems in these areas. It is no surprise that the attitudes reflected in Scripture lead to healthy living. Because of His love for us, God has given us an Owners Manual on how to approach life. Because of His love for us, He wants us to follow His Word for our own good. Two attitudes that affect our experience of life deal with the issues of forgiveness and healthy boundaries. They are both concepts with many assumptions. (Stop and Reflect)
In the C.A.I.R. Handbook it states that: "The issue of forgiveness is at the heart of this problem. Forgiveness is often misunderstood, or misused, and we need to be clear about what is meant by the term. Forgiveness simply means that we are allowing ourselves to be free to learn from the past, without dragging the past into the present. It means the process of ‘letting go of holding on.’ It does not mean that the past events were O.K., or that we need to forget that they happened. The problem with holding on to the past is, it makes it difficult to make changes in the present. We are controlled by the things we do not forgive. (Stop and Discuss)"
We cannot force ourselves to forgive without generating resistance that makes the whole situation worse. We can sometimes only want to want to forgive, through the power of the Spirit. Sometimes we don’t want to forgive at all! In truth, forgiveness is really a gift to ourselves, not to the person or situation we are not forgiving. We become freed from the original situation when we freely forgive.
If we put on a mask of forgiveness, because we "should" forgive, or we are getting pressure to forgive, it will simply push the unforgiveness deeper into subliminal storage. We will then be at risk for feeling guilty when the unforgiveness resurfaces in the future. We need to accept ourselves where we are in our forgiveness process – Grace makes this all possible. (Stop and Reflect)
Another attitude with complex presuppositions has to do with setting healthy boundaries and limits in our interpersonal lives. If we assume that we must "protect ourselves from others", then our primary feelings and attitudes are based on fear. If we assume that we want to "protect others from hurting us", then our primary feeling and attitude can be love and respect – both for ourselves and others.
When we approach others with fear, we do so on our own, because the Spirit is not a spirit of fear. When we are afraid of saying no, or not pleasing others, we are truly unable to give freely. With "free" giving, there is a net gain, while "forced" giving leads to a net loss.
When we approach others with an attitude of mutual respect and valuing, we have the fullness of being a "new creation in Christ", at our disposal. When we are not conscious of the assumptions we are making in the present, we often do not see ourselves as choosing. The truth is that we constantly choose, either manually or on automatic.(Stop and Reflect)
To live consciously, aware of proactively seeking to borrow the Lord’s Eyes and His Nature, to respond through His Spirit to what we see, makes recovery possible. We need to accept any dysfunctional elements from our past, and take the responsibility to learn healthy attitudes and assumptions to deal with these problems in the present, as a new creation in Christ.
We need to remember that God has given us His Holy Spirit to illuminate our path, share His Wisdom, and draw us closer to Him. Change and growth are possible. The way we approach change will determine how successful we will be. God knows that an attitude of grateful humility will help us in our process of growth and change. How we illuminate our perceptions has a profound affect on the quality of our recovery.
Do you use a flashlight or a lantern? A flashlight shines harshly in only one direction at a time. The result of the flashlight is often shame or blame. The Lord's light is a lantern, not a flashlight. The Holy Spirit illuminates in all directions with loving Truth. (Stop and Reflect)
As Christians, we need to understand deeply before we judge, either ourselves or others. Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:1-2)God wants us to notice accurately, choose according to His Word, and leave the judging up to Him. (Stop and Reflect)
His Word calls for us to keep our eyes on Him: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith."(Hebrews 12:2)There is a pattern in this approach. Modeling is the most effective learning process to gain complex abilities and changes in your life. As you borrow His eyes, you are not only keeping Him in focus, you are experiencing through Him as well.
In psychology, the more you can identify with the model, the greater the learning. Jesus allows you to see God through Him and His Nature is perfect for modeling how God wants you to be becoming. This special relationship as your loving Big Brother, allows you to want to be like Him.
When we walk His walk (imperfectly), through the power of His Spirit, we will draw unbelievers unto Him. When we try to be perfect (wearing masks), attacking others for being different than we think they should be, and constantly walking in fear, we actually become a stumbling block for unbelievers coming to the Lord. (Stop and Reflect)
Paul expresses this modeling relationship in Ephesians 5: 1-2: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explained: "Because you are sons, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, the spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." (Galatians 4:6-7) Take a moment to experience God’s Plan for your life. Do you believe His Plan is a personal gift for you? Can you feel the difference between imitating God as a dearly loved child, and wearing a mask to hide your fallibility? (Stop and Reflect)
Jesus shared how He approached daily living inJohn 5:19-20when He explained: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all he does."
In 2 Corinthians 3:6,Paul tells us: "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." God has given us the opportunity to take away the power of the knowledge of good and evil, and regain the loving relationship He offered in the garden. Grace allows us to see ourselves again through His loving reflection. (Stop and Reflect)
Jesus calls us to: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)
Jesus goes on to clarify further: "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." (John 15:9-12)
Take a moment to imagine how a branch and vine relate to each other to bear fruit. What would it be like to draw your strength directly from your personal relationship with your Big Brother Jesus? He has placed His Vine in your heart and provides His Spirit to feed and support your branch, as you choose to connect and get your strength from Him. (Stop and Reflect)
We need to take responsibility to choose whether or not we want/need outside help in living our lives. If you like the results you are getting, great. If you don’t like the results you are getting, great. Feel good about recognizing that fact, and give yourself the freedom to ask your loving Big Brother, Jesus, to offer a hand. The Big Book of AA says that: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome." We need to accept different choices, in order to gain different results. "If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it." (James 1:5)
James went on to say: "And it was a happy day for him when he gave us our new lives, through the truth of his Word, and we became, as it were, the first children in his new family." (James 1:18) (Stop and Reflect)
I am often accused of being too deep for the average person in recovery. Paul and James could be given the same accusation, so I feel in good company. We often put deep and heavy together, but because of Grace, I see myself as deep and light.
Grace allows "no-fault" learning and growing, which takes the power out of the knowledge of good and evil, and allows us to see, through His Holy Spirit, how far short from God's perfection we are functioning at any given moment, without shame and defensiveness.
We need to explore the presuppositions that underlie our positions and the positions we are judging. We need to be deep in Christ. The world is full of surface interpretations; Christ's family needs to be deep and light, not shallow and heavy. (Stop and Reflect)
In Romans 5:1-5 Paul concludes "THEREFORE SINCE we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
Although God does not cause us to go through difficult times, He promises to go through those dark times with us and to give us loving, humble guidance in the form of His son, our Big Brother Jesus, in His Holy Spirit. It is a great comfort to me to know that I will never have to go through painful, difficult times alone, He will always be there with me, crying with my tears, laughing with my joys, allowing me to truly be all that I can be in this life. (Stop and Reflect)
In spite of the many Scriptures shared in this essay, which support the perspective of freedom in Christ, many of you will continue to let shame and fear rob you of this blessing. You may try to earn His free gift, you may deny needing a bridge between your imperfections and God’s Perfection, or you may simply decide that God doesn’t exist.
The C.A.I.R. Handbook explores the impact of how a question is worded on our choices: "Why should I believe in a Loving Higher Power when you can’t prove that one exists? Vs. Why shouldn’t I believe in a Loving Higher Power when you can’t prove that one doesn’t exist?" "What would it cost me to believe in a Loving Higher Power, if one really does exist? Vs. What would it cost me to believe in a Loving Higher Power if one really doesn’t exist?" "If there is a Loving Higher Power, then why does God allow bad things to continue happening in the world?" "Is it useful to believe in a Loving Higher Power? Will it help in my recovery?" Allow yourself the gift of deep reflection on the presuppositions you bring to your spirituality and recovery.
For many years, when I would be working on a major project for Him, He would give me a special nugget to share with the audience. This time has been no different, except I would never have guessed what the nugget would be. This week, my younger cousin Ray, 45, died of a massive heart attack.
Our two families grew up together. His sudden death left his wife, pregnant with twins, and a young son with their world turned upside down. We had been preparing for the death of his older brother Kent, 48, who had been struggling with a virulent form of brain cancer. Kent had already beaten the odds, but was beginning to loose ground again when Ray died.
The overwhelming shock and loss cannot be described. The nugget was the experience of sharing with my family and Ray’s friends at his memorial today. It has never been clearer to me that He is closest to us in the valleys. It was struggling with this tragedy that led me to expand the essay to include more about His Plan.
We so often demand to know WHY things happen. WHY bad things happen to good people? Why things aren’t fair? Ray’s family is one of the most loving and giving you could ever meet. What touched me so deeply was seeing His Love flow between us, in our grief and sadness. The words from Scripture: "Blessed are the sorrowful" has a much deeper meaning to me now.
If we had gotten stuck on WHY, we would have missed the wonderful blessing of our grief together. The Lord never promised us it would be a fair or understandable life, only that He would walk it with us, and share our joys and tears, guiding us when we let Him. I felt His carpenters hand on my shoulder, and His Spirit flowing through me as we all shared together. I believe the Lord was weeping right along with the rest of us. Explore the assumptions you are making in your valleys. Have you allowed your valleys to bring you closer to Him or wound and distance your relationship with Him? (Stop and Discuss)
As I come to the end of this essay, I am impressed with God’s great sense of humor. I am a very imperfect example of "becoming", with many flaws. I am not what I want to be, but I am continuing to grow in His Nature. I truly believe that His Spirit will continue to transform me from glory to glory.
In spite of my fallibilities and areas of resistance to His Will, He chooses to use me for His purposes, as part of His family, as a friend. I am overwhelmed with grateful humility. I want everyone to get to know my Big Brother, He is too cool!
The depth of my relationship with my father God and my big brother Jesus continues to grow freely, with the focus on becoming, as I receive His Grace and give that grace to myself and others imperfectly.
The more I pour grace inside myself, as His ambassador, to help in the reconciliation process between my true identity in Christ, and the wounded parts of myself, that are stuck in my old nature; and the more I pour grace outwardly to those I touch, the more room there is inside me to receive His ongoing Grace.
As God's son, I will always have a Father that loves me and offers me His Home. I will always have a loving Big Brother who I can turn to and ask for guidance and direction. No problem is too great for me to handle through Him.
Therapeutic Coaching is an integrated process of bringing this wisdom and these resources into building your own Inner Coach - with God living in you and through you for good. (Stop and Reflect)
The modren world going round on the axis of money power. It is wealth today which is more appealing than God because it is the only means today by which a person’s worth is recognized. We have all become so materialistic that spirituality holds no charm for most of us and we have nearly forgotten that all the wealth even a multi-millionaire possesses cannot buy him peace of mind unless he is blessed by God.
‘Grace of God’ may have been forsaken by most of us except a miniscule few who believe that it is only this Grace which will light up his life and make the present day world a more beautiful place to live in.
Grace of God is what really matters as it brings you the support of friends. Wealth is a phase which is very turbulent. There have been innumerable cases where extremely wealthy men and women have been reduced to penury. As long as they had wealth and could flaunt it, there were friends galore who were ready to do anything for him at any time of the day or night but the moment these so called friends found out that he had lost his wealth, they would vanish like the ‘Fog on Sunny day’.
Here we must define friends. Friends have been defined by the age old adage “A friends in need is a friend indeed”. The opportunists who leech onto a wealthy man are not friends, indeed they proclaim themselves as one but are really not what they profess. They are evil men who by their sycophancy tend to mislead others and usurp their wealth. They are never there by the Grace of God. It is only by this Grace that a person is fortunate to have good friends and advisors who will protect him and his belongings, at the time of adversity. They are really and truly, the wealth of a man and more important than material wealth.
Without the Grace of God, a person forgets his humility. He becomes proud, arrogant and a non-believer. He starts believing in his invincibility which results in evil deeds. He becomes a person who is not moved by the sorry of others and in fact instead of pitying they will try to take advantage of this situation. Our present day mafias are examples of this category. These evil men have reached the position of strength by hook or crook and believe in the power of wealth only. When they are jailed or removed from their position by the wrath of the befooled and swindled public, only then are they reminded of the Almighty and ask for his Grace. It is only then that they realize that all their ill begotten wealth is of no use and what is more powerful is the ‘Grace of God’.
We remember till today, men of eminence who have died long ago, because of their good deeds, all done by the ‘Grace of God’. The names of Swami Vivekananda, Gurunanak Dev and Gautama Buddha are in this level. They had all renounced the materialistic world in pursuit of spirituality and even after so much time has elapsed, we remember them as great men who tried to change the approach of humanity, by diverting and enhancing their level of thinking.
‘Grace of God’ is not limited to religious men only. There are others who may not be religious minded to that extent but their belief in “God and His Grace” are infallible. There have been God fearing men of eminence too. We remember our Father of Nation – the great Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He had served mankind all his life, believing it to be the command of the Almighty. He had never discriminated between castes, creed or religion. He did not discriminate between the rich and the poor and never considered any work below his dignity. His total faith in God and his Grace was proved by his love for fellow human beings.
Thus wealth is like the sand which a person tries to hold in his fist but runs through his fingers, whereas Grace of God is there with him for life. It is only due to His Blessings that a person can retain his dignity.
Thus, we have come to the conclusion that Grace of God is better than Wealth.