Spirituality is the aspect of recovery that I think most often gets overlooked. Some of us are very comfortable embracing spirituality, but for others, it feels weird or uncomfortable.
So let me say up front that when we talk about the spiritual side of recovery, we’re not talking about religion or rules. We’re talking about a relationship, between us and God. That’s it. This relationship is a vital part of finding serenity and healing, so let’s take a minute to look at the spiritual side of recovery and then we’ll talk about building what we call a “spiritual inventory”.
Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.
“Happy are the pure in heart.” —Matthew 5:8
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.”—Lamentations 3:40
Those of you who have been in Celebrate Recovery (CR) for a while know that our 12-steps are exactly modeled on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is a proven process has helped literally millions of people all over the world recover from addictions and compulsive behaviors. The difference with CR is that we specifically acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Higher Power that can restore us. However, no one is required to be a Christian to attend CR. If you don’t believe in Jesus, or you’re not sure what you think about Him, that’s okay. No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, you’re welcome here, and you’ll find help and acceptance.
One of the teachings we’ve carried forward from AA is that those of us who struggle with compulsive behaviors or addictions suffer from “an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind“.
What happens is when we’re successfully abstaining from our substance or activity of choice, and we’re feeling strong, out of the blue a thought will occur to us to take that drink, or drug, or to act out in the way we do. And if we sit there and entertain that thought long enough, it turns into action. This process is actually nothing new. Over 2000 years ago Jesus’ brother James wrote about it:
“But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” —James 1:14-15
And that’s exactly what happens to us. We dwell on that thought too long, and our desire eventually gives birth to action. And once we take action and put that substance in our system – whether its alcohol, drugs, sugar, or whatever—it sets off a physical craving for more of that substance or activity and we’re caught in a cycle.
I really like the analogy that the physical part of our disease is an “allergy of the body”. Because its exactly like allergies; For example, some people can rub their face in a cat’s fur and it doesn’t bother them a bit. (Although I’m not sure who would ever want to do that!) But for me, I’m allergic to cats and if I did that I’d be in a world of hurt. Same thing with alcohol; some people can have a couple beers, no problem. But alcoholics have an “allergy” to alcohol, so for them, a couple beers turns into a world of hurt. Same thing with food—especially this time of year. Some people can have one Christmas cookie and they’re good. But for food addicts—because of their body’s “allergy” to sugar or processed foods—one Christmas cookie leads to a dozen.
So we can see how the mental obsession—dwelling on a thought too long—triggers the physical obsession. So what triggers the mental obsession? Why do those thoughts occur to us in the first place? Why is it that some people fall off the wagon and return to their addiction, even when they don’t want to—even after they’ve been clean for years?
Well, we know its not physical cravings. It’s been medically proven that after a few days of not drinking, alcohol is completely processed out of the body. Same thing with drugs, and even sugar. After a period of abstinence, the substance is physically worked out of the body.
I’ve actually experienced that process personally. Last year I was diagnosed with diabetes, which I’ve written more about here. Fortunately, it was caught early enough that I had a chance to try and manage it with lifestyle changes. The day after I got the news, I started on my brand new low-sugar, low-carb lifestyle of eating, which I referred to at the time as the “no more happiness” diet. (Its actually turned out to be awesome!) I suffered a good amount of physical cravings the first two weeks. Then one day at work I was walking past a bunch donuts some evil salesman had left in the break room when I realized that I no longer physically craved sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to eat a donut! But I realized I wanted the emotional payoff more than I physically craved the sugar and lard.
So physical cravings are not the primary reason we slip. What about the mental obsession? Well, if you’ve been in Celebrate Recovery or any 12-step program for a while you know that, for most people who are actively working the steps, over time the mental obsession dissipates. I remember my wife Deb coming home from her first Overeater’s Anonymous meeting. She was so excited and she said. “They told me that I will actually lose my obsession with food.” Then she added, “I don’t believe them!” But sure enough, she followed the program and within a month or two her mental obsession had dissipated.
So the primary reason isn’t mental, either. What is it? The fact is, we have a spiritual problem, and the only cure is God.
This is something that AA recognizes well. The AA Big Book promises,
“When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” —AA Big Book
In other words, the mental and physical factors of addictive and compulsive behaviors are put into remission AFTER the “spiritual malady” is overcome.
So lets talk about taking our spiritual inventory. An inventory is just a list—in our case a list of people and events that have contributed to our issue. A really effective tool for building that list is to ask ourselves questions. If we’re serious about our recovery, if we really want to experience freedom from these behaviors that keep us in bondage, we have to be rigorously honest with our answers. No, it’s not easy. But like it says in the serenity prayer; we accept hardship as a pathway to peace.
To prepare us to take an honest inventory of ourselves, let’s take a look at two verses.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” —Psalm 139:24-24
Here’s what so interesting to me about this verse. We aren’t asking for God’s help so He can know whether we’ve done anything wrong, or because He needs a clearer picture of what we’re about. God already knows it all; every secret we have, every lie we’ve told, every dirty thought we’ve entertained. He knows it all and He loves us anyway. So the reason we pray these words for our own benefit; because there is no healing or forgiveness without confession. If that scares you a little bit—having to confess everything—I want you to know the Bible doesn’t say, “If we confess our sins, God will judge us unworthy and smite us in anger.” Not at all. It says,
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
That’s amazing. So, as Christians, we get to say, “Alright God, I’m coming clean. Here’s all my junk, my sin, my lust, my stupid choices, my mistakes, my character flaws, my shame, my fear. This is my inventory and I admit it all. Do with me what You will.”
God looks at it all and says to us, “I forgive you.” And not just that. This verse says He also purifies us; our sins are not just forgiven, they’re removed. They’re gone and we’re made clean in God’s eyes. God makes us righteous when we confess. For those who aren’t quite sure what to think about Jesus just yet, let me share some good news with you. Jesus Himself says:
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
There’s a phrase that jumps out at me in this verse: All of you. Jesus uses it twice. That’s amazing because it literally means there is no one too lost, no one too messed up, no one too drunk, or dirty or dishonest that Jesus won’t accept them. Everyone is invited to rest in Him. That’s awesome news!
So let’s take a look at the questions we can ask ourselves to help us build our spiritual inventory list. We’re going to look specifically at four areas of our lives.
1. Our Minds
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to help us build our inventory list in this area.
1. How am I guarding my mind?
Did you know two thoughts can’t occupy the same space in our mind at the same time? What if we started choosing our thoughts in the same way we choose our clothes for the day?
2. What am I feeding my mind?
Here we’re talking about movies, music, websites… Are we on a mental diet of junk food or health food? This isn’t about a legalistic set of religious rules we are required to follow. (And I’m certainly not the guy that’s going to tell you rock music is evil and you need to delete your Foo Fighter’s playlist.) I’m just talking about being mature; understanding that our ears and our eyes are gateways into our minds. And we get to control what we let in.
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things.”
3. Am I regularly seeking out the truth in God’s Word?
Spending time with God and reading His word is a big part of keeping our minds healthy and grounded in truth. If we make that a daily discipline we will never regret it.
“A wise person is hungry for truth, while a fool feeds on trash.” —Proverbs 15:14
2. Our Bodies
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in the area of our bodies:
1. How have I mistreated my body?
Have you abused alcohol, drugs, food, sex? Our bodies are the place from which we, as humans, do life. So mistreating our bodies is sort of like setting our own house on fire. Except unlike burning our house down, we can’t go find a new body to live in if we destroy the one God gave us.
2. What activities or habits have caused harm to my physical health?
Many of us say that we have the right to do whatever we want to our own bodies. We somehow think this is freedom, but we’re really becoming a slave to our own desires. And—as many of us here in this room know—it’s not long until those desires are running our lives.
“For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.” —Romans 8:5-6
3. Our Families
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in the area of our families:
1. Have I mistreated anyone in my family?
Have you physically or emotionally mistreated a family member? Do your words build up or tear down those around you? As much as it depends on us, we need to live at peace with our families. If that just isn’t possible, or if you don’t feel safe there, let Celebrate Recovery be your family. Not just emotionally, but invite us over for Christmas, cook us a nice meal. But seriously, that’s the kind of deep relationships you can build here in CR; as deep as family.
2. Do I hold resentment against anyone in my family?
Sometimes it’s easier to admit our resentments against a stranger or co-worker than someone in our own family. So denial can be a pretty thick fog to break through in this area. It takes rigorous honesty, and it might require a lot of digging and peeling away of layers to start uncovering things. But it starts with being honest with ourselves.
3. To whom do I owe amends?
Right now, on this inventory step, all we’re doing is identifying our part in any damaged relationships. We’re creating a list. We won’t actually act on this step until we get to Principle 6. For right now, just ask yourself who might be on your amends list.
4. What is the family secret I have been denying?
What is the “elephant” in the middle of your family’s living room that everyone knows but no one talks about? That’s the family secret. Remember, you can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there.
4. Our Church Life
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in the area of our church:
1. Have I mistreated my church family?
Have you spread gossip about anyone? Have you talked behind someone’s back? Have you shunned someone?
2. Have I neglected my church responsibilities?
Are you volunteering, plugging in, learning, growing in your faith? Are you helping others in your church?
3. Have U discouraged my family’s support of our church?
If you aren’t ready to get involved in your church, that’s your decision. But don’t stop the rest of your family from experiencing the joy and support of a church family.
So there’s the list. Like I said, these are some tough questions, and we have to get honest when we answer them if we want to get better. But the temporary hardship of doing our inventory (and doing it right) is the pathway to peace in our lives. And I’ll close by sharing one additional piece of good news:
“No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool.” —Isaiah 1:18