Who’s In Charge In Here, Anyway?

Who’s In Charge In Here, Anyway?

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution? Ever had to make the same one more than once? Have you ever started a statement with the words, “I want to…” “I’m going to…” “I think I should…”? Have you actually reached those goals in your life? Do you have compulsions to act in certain ways or have plain old bad behaviors? Are you a serial procrastinator? Are you addicted to anything?

img_2915Think about this for a moment: If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then quite simply, You are doing something Yourself doesn’t want to do. Did you catch that? Does it sound like there are two people, two wills, operating inside you?

There are. There is the one doing those things and the one who doesn’t want to do them and instead, wants to do these other things, that are probably much better for your health, wealth, and your true happiness.

Would it surprise you to learn that this has been a problem for people for thousands of years? Here’s a quote from quite a long time ago:

“Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong.”

Or to put it another way:

“I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I don’t want to do.”

img_0885So I have a question for you, “Who’s in charge inside of you, anyway?” One way to answer this is to think of those two selves as your body and your mind. Body wants everything that’s fun and pleasurable; Mind has dreams of being something in this world. The two are at war because bringing dreams to life requires hard work and sacrifices; it means Body gets less – sometimes far less – of what it lusts for.

I have good news and bad news for you. There is a way to break these habits, BUT it’s no miracle cure, no single button to be pushed or spell to be incanted. Transforming your life is a day-by-day journey, a voyage of discovery, and likely is a lifelong trip.

If you want to be the best you can be, take hope, it is very possible, but there are a few important facts to know before you start.

#1 The right word

First and most importantly, your “best” is that condition you have reached when you’ve run out of time. It’s the furthest you’ll ever get in this life. Were you ever to reach your “best,” you’d have nowhere to go but down. Better to want to be … better. Better today than you were yesterday, last week, last year. Behavioral change is all about progress, not perfection.

#2 You can’t do it alone

small-groupThere’s a saying, “People don’t lack strength, they lack will (power).” The way to build the determination you need is with support, especially support from others who are traveling the same path as you are. This is the idea behind 12-step programs like “______ Anonymous” and “Celebrate Recovery.” You meet with and get to know people who understand what you’re going through and why, and you share the struggle, out loud. You talk about it. You listen. You learn helpful stuff.

It also is a benefit (a huge benefit) to have an “authority” figure with expertise in self-improvement, in renewing lives. (For many, that ‘higher power’ is God or The Creator of everything. The reasoning is that He created each of us, so who better to know how to get us working well and feeling good?)

#3 You can’t “stop,” you must replace

I have a saying, “Thinking about not doing something, is the same as thinking about doing effortit – you are still thinking about it.” Call this a Law of Attraction. If your mind is focused on a thing, your body will follow right along to that thing. When you try to leave one habit behind, you must have somewhere new to head toward. With Mind focused on that (and not the old actions), Body follows and becomes able to do things you never thought possible.

#4 It’s no overnight stay

IMG_3215Here’s a great example: Imagine you’re relocating to a foreign country. It’s a permanent move, not a vacation. You have to learn the language, the customs and geography you now find your self in. You immerse yourself in it, but it’s still going to take time. Eventually, you’ll feel at home again. Each day you’ll make progress – sometimes only a little. It’s a process of improvement. It’s growing.

To conclude, I have a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Matrix. The characters in this film leave the real world to enter a simulated environment – a virtual reality. Their bodies remain behind, comfortably seated. If they die in that alternate setting, their bodies die, too.

“The body can not live without the mind.”

cslewisWe could go deep into philosophy and theology here and argue about whether the mind continues without the body or not, but the body definitely does not live without the mind. For me, that means that “I” am first my mind (the order giver) and secondly my body (the order taker).

“You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

My Past Must Stay Passed

My Past Must Stay Passed

This is a post about a key part of being made new; living (present tense) in recovery today. My past must stay passed. I’ve posted about this before (patient-for-the-present/), but it’s worth repeating. Much of my falling down is caused by my falling back, re-living the same old hurts and habits. I literally repeat the same old bad behavior, expecting a different result.

Because I am doing something new! Now you will grow like a new plant. Surely you know this is true… (Isaiah 43:19a ERV)

Think of a plant, overgrown in a little pot. It’s roots are cramped. It stagnates, or worse. It stays small and it looks dreary. But move it to a bigger pot and it blossoms and increases. The moment I entered recovery was like being put into that bigger pot, with fresh new soil and room to grow and stretch.

Clearly, I remain the same person, my past doesn’t change, but now everything is new and full of potential. Bigger and better, I flower into the beauty the potter (lol I like the redefinition!) intended. And anything becomes possible, even what had seemed impossible before:

I will even make a road in the desert, and rivers will flow through that dry land. (v :19b)

But I remember that God is the difference, as the verse shows. (‘You’ will grow, ‘I’ will make.)  It’s not me on my own. Humbly, I acknowledge that He is the change in my life.

One of the things I like about the Celebrate Recovery 12-Step program is in its first word, ‘Celebrate!’ Present tense, it means now! This moment! It reminds me that I’m on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment journey of progress, not perfection. It reminds me to consider all the growing I have done: into a for-real worship musician, a program leader and teacher, a testimony sharer, and a volunteer experiencing the benefits of giving and service instead of taking, hoarding, and selfishness. I am living and not just existing!

Today I’m focusing on the new, the now, and what’s on the way, both in this life and the next. I can remember and accept my past and that it can’t be changed. But my past doesn’t define who I am now, and I understand that I do not have to keep going back to it, as if there is an answer in it.

Verse :18 puts it more directly:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

A great song that expresses this letting go of what’s behind is Let It Fade by Jeremy Camp.
Download it here for only 69 cents!

Have you been walking on a surface that’s uncertain?
Have you helped yourself to everything that’s empty? yeah!
You can’t live this way too long.
There’s more than this, more than this.

Have you been standing on your own feet too long?
Have you been looking for a place where you belong?
You can rest, you will find rest.
You can rest, you will find rest.

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Let this new life offered be your saving grace.
Let this old life crumble, let it fade, let it fade.

Have you been holding on to what this world has offered?
Have you been giving in to all these masquerades?
It will be gone, forever gone.
It will be gone, it will be gone

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Let this new life offered be your saving grace.
Let this old life crumble, let it fade, let it fade.
Let it fade.

Are you carrying the weight too much?, are you running from the call?
Let it fade, Oh yeah.
You can rest, you will find rest.
You can rest you will find rest.

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Have you been standing on your own feet too long?
Have you been looking for a place where you belong?

Step 4: A Searching, Fearless, and Open-Minded Self-Examination

I am a grateful believer in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, who is transforming me from sexual brokenness, alcohol and substance dependence, some severe health issues in the last few years, and, currently, from an obsession with idleness. My name is Marshall.

Have you ever heard of the 1-2-3-shuffle? This is when people who know they have hurts, habits, and hang-ups (aka addictions, unhealthy obsessions, and compulsively-bad behaviors) undertake the 12-Steps of recovery, who diligently work their way through the first 3 steps, but who then stall out at the 4th, The ‘Moral’ Inventory. They may repeat this pattern several times before the pain of staying the same is finally greater than the pain of change.

I should say, “before the fear of the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of the pain of changing.” For it is fear that makes this part of the process so difficult:

  • fear of the real written-down-in-black-and-white words;
  • fear of emotionally-revisited-pain and the hard work of “going there,” to the places in our hearts and minds we’ve walled off;
  • fear of what we think we will find there.

But I tell you, it is more correct to say ‘what we might find.’ Because it is possible to be pleasantly surprised by what is revealed; by good days that had been hidden away and forgotten in the dark corners of our memories, overlooked because they were inconsistent with the negative self-image we held before beginning recovery. I can say this from personal experience ,especially of the first time I made it through the inventory. And, now, every time I do my daily review.

The Inventory is perhaps the most important – yet the most difficult – part of the early stages in a recovery journey. If not approached inclusively, with the right attitude and for the right reasons, it could easily do further harm, instead of healing.

I think this can be attributed to the wording of the step. Let’s take a look:

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The Christ-based 12-Steps  #4

Openly examine and confess our faults to ourselves, to God, and to some one we trust.
Celebrate Recovery Principle 4

“Moral” is a word that these days has a negative aspect; it kind of defaults to the meaning that actually belongs to the word “immoral.” And the phrase “confessing our faults,” used without any other qualifier implies that failures are the only type of character trait we have – that we have only flaws to examine. But the actual definition of “moral” concerns both the right and the wrong, the good and the bad. I’ve found it helpful to think of the inventory as an “open-minded-self examination,” allowing me to “identify and confess my true faults” and “to be absolved (and self-absolved) of the guilt and shame I carry that does not belong to me. I can then focus on the healing and forgiveness of what I truly am responsible for.”

Bringing my virtues back to my attention is key to making my turn back to God; key to seeing myself as He does. Have I sinned and made mistakes? Yes, “all have sinned…” (1 John 1:8). But I am not evil through and through. I’m just “human.” There is good in me. Accepting this – by documenting its evidence – is extremely important to my transformation to a child of God.

Let’s consider the Bible verses usually matched up with The Inventory – Step 4, with the expanded meaning I include:

Matthew 5:5
Happy are the pure in heart. [Confession is psychology good for the soul and the body. “We often feel different as soon as we admit our feelings.”]

Lamentations 3:40
Let us examine [all] our ways, [all our behaviors and attitudes], and test them
[against what has recently been revealed to us as “moral”],
and let us [re]turn to the Lord. [Let us turn our flaws over to the Lord, so that we may turn from them and back to Him.]

I like Jeremiah 33:3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to summarize the effect I found in doing the inventory with this in mind:

Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not [currently] know [or remember].

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.

Doing the inventory is basically like taking a very extensive trip down memory lane, especially of early life, because that’s where the roots of hurts, hang-ups, and habits are found. I visit every memory, good and bad. Humans remember significant events from childhood because they had a significant impact on us. The first time I went through a 12-step program was in Colorado with Final Freedom – which was specifically for men suffering from sexual-brokenness.  I specifically looked at each phase of life separately:

  • early, early years
  • elementary school years
  • adolescence/puberty
  • young adulthood
  • later years

Again, I stress the need for BALANCE! My impression of myself before beginning recovery was overwhelmingly negative. I viewed myself as almost completely sinful and unsalvageable. But, in doing my inventory, I was careful to be completely open (open-minded) to the good and the bad, and I put extra thought into being honest about my part in each incident. I literally color-coded events: red for bad, green for good, yellow for neutral. In the end, there was far more green than I expected!

Can you imagine how I felt when I realized there was more good than bad about me?! Talk about a self-attitude change! Some of my cherished memories from when I was very young include

  • sitting on the floor of my Gramma Bunny’s kitchen, drumming on those Quaker Oats cylindrical cartons
  • Nana Benny’s scrambled eggs (my other grandmother), and going to a Red Sox game with my Grampa Tom, sitting right near the field, and the team winning something like 15 – 1.

(Note that those memories are with my grandparents. I’ll come back to that in a minute.)

I want to talk further about those earliest recollections. John Eldredge in Wild at Heart writes about how boys receive “The Wound” from their fathers. I’m not knocking dads. These incidents can be very unintentional, and they can be from any person in a position of trust.

Here’s a couple more young memories:

  • my dad bought a new handle and lock for the front door. I was “helping” him install it, and played with it, putting the key in and turning it, etc. He blew up in rage at me – something about my breaking the lock
  • once, in elementary school, I stayed after – as I remember it, it wasn’t for anything bad, but my mom (my parents were both teachers in our town), exploded in anger, and I got the only pants down, bare butt whooping I recall ever having.

These are examples of a caregiver over-reacting to a child’s child-like actions. My dad was not a handyman, so much so that installing a door lock was a stressful thing. I can relate because I’m not a handyman either. (Just recently, my wife and I changed the kitchen faucet together – and she did most the physical activity. I supervised.) And my mom, who knew many of my teachers from having worked with them, was image-conscious – as if it reflected poorly on her that her kid had stayed after school.

(Note that these memories involve parents. I’ll get back to this, too, in a minute.)

To summarize, there can be times when the unintentional, unthinking re-actions of a caregiver can have a huge and lasting impact on a child. The caregiver is simply unaware that their own issues are dictating their uncontrolled responses and being transferred onto the child.

Of course, unfortunately, there are also hurts that are inflicted quite on purpose. I put sexual abuse in this category. Any kind of family generational dysfunction is similar. There are subjects that are taboo – but kids can pick up on things that are not to be spoken of, and these things beckon to them. They are intriguing mysteries just begging to be explored.  In my family – even in the extended family, we never talked about sex or alcohol. I  believe much of my struggle could have been prevented if early on these subjects were taught and discussed.

Regardless, these wounds are collected by children like stones in a back-pack – which becomes the burden they will try to bear as they grow. They will be weighed down, and naturally seek ways to cope.

I want to talk about parents and grand-parents now. I am both, with a 13-month-old grandson, Wee B – we call him that because he has the same initials as his dad. My wife Barb and I are privileged to spend most of most weekends with him. So, I’m qualified to make a comparison. Grandparents, by far, get the best part of this deal. I experience the true joy in seeing this child growing up.  He’s a happy toddler – we rarely see him fussy or screaming. Parents, on the other hand, get all the bad parts of child-rearing. They get the sickness and the tantrums. When they’re working full-time, and sometimes sleeping very little, I think it can be somewhat understandable when they over-react to the inconvenient results of a child’s actions – like the proverbial spilled glass of milk. Parents are human, too.

OK, so here we are, at a pivotal point in our development. We have begun to see that some things don’t add up. Our parents (or caregivers) – the ones from whom we’ve experienced unconditional love – have just done something that doesn’t fit the pattern. And we wonder why. No one talks about what happened. But there has to be blame, and somehow we get it into our head that it is our fault.

Let’s speculate for a minute. Let me ask you why I might not find interest in handyman projects? Maybe it’s the negative association coming from that memory with my dad. In my understanding, I had been the cause; almost as if he were justified in getting angry with me. Maybe this thought grew (along with other impactful incidents  and I stress this: it’s not just a single memory) and I got to stretching the truth about my own value. Somehow, I got to seeing myself as inherently unlovable, undeserving of love, and more likely to mess up than succeed. My self-esteem suffered. I began to punish and self-sabotage myself. I felt comfortable with friends like me, friends who were also in low places. I became comfortable there, and my fear of the unknown was fear of success – because I didn’t realize I’d ever had any successes.

Can you see the importance of an open-minded, true appraisal of my part in “The Front Door” incident?

Matchbox Twenty has a song entitled “Back To Good.” This is essentially what recovery is.

You must turn from your sins and become like little children.
Matthew 18:3

I look at my happy grandson. He’s happy and fearless. He’s learning stairs now; up and down, up and down, with one of us behind him. He’s got more energy than I do. He has this complete trust, this sense of security, this joy and eagerness for new things,and he loves back without worry, lifting his arms to us to be picked up. This is the way we were all meant to be. This is the way God made us for relationship with him. He wants to see us the way I see my grandson.

God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgement.
2 Timothy 1:7 GW

That good judgement is what we need to apply in doing our inventory step.