On Turning Over Our Lives
When a regular Joe like me teaches a recovery lesson I think it’s most likely to be useful—or at least interesting—to start from exactly where I am myself. I’m not so much presuming to instruct as just comparing notes.
A series of articles on recovery. I’m on a team of leaders who do the teaching at the Celebrate Recovery ministry at Church of the City. I’ve edited some of my teachings into blog articles in the hope that it might help someone else as much as it’s helped me to study for and write these lessons.
So if I can be honest for a minute, I have to say that preparing this lesson has shown me how much of my will and life I have not turned over to God’s care and control. In fact, it’s become painfully obvious how many parts of my life I still hold in my selfish, scared hands.
I’m realizing that I love the idea of giving God control of my life, because it makes sense to me that He could run things so much better than I can. But somewhere in the dark corners of my heart where I don’t spend enough time looking, I am afraid to give up control. So I make the gesture, and I say the words, and I mean them. “Okay, God, I’m setting this down at Your feet. This struggle, this temptation, these feelings, this fear. I give up. Here you go, God. Please take it from me.”
But then I turn around and am surprised to find I’m still holding on to the thing. So my prayer these past couple weeks has been, “God, teach me how to let go and truly surrender. Teach me how to trust You.”
So, in that spirit, let’s stake a look at Principle 3, which says:
PRINCIPLE 3: Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.
“Happy are the meek.” —Matthew 5:5
STEP 3: We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” —Romans 12:1
Let’s recap the steps it took to get us to today’s lesson:
Notice the first two steps are more like realizations, but the 3rd step is a decision we need to make. In step 1 we admit our lives have become unmanageable in some way or in some areas and we don’t have the power to fix it on our own. In Step 2 we’re recognizing there is a power higher than us that can fix the problem. Step 3 is the first time in the 12 steps where we need to make a decision to actually do something. And that’s what this lesson is about.
In typical CR lesson form, we’ve got an acrostic for this lesson. The word we’re using is T.U.R.N., and we’ll use it to walk through the practical steps we need to take in order to turn our lives and our will over to God’s care and control.
One quick thing before we dive into the acrostic. This is for anyone who’s fairly new to recovery, or new to what we do in CR. Celebrate Recovery is obviously a Christian program. But we follow the exact same 12 steps as secular recovery programs, which are built on the Alcoholics Anonymous model. This model has been incredibly successful at helping millions of people overcome addiction and compulsive behaviors. But here’s a little secret. AA is not a secular recovery program. The 12 steps of AA actually grew out of the personal spiritual experience of it’s founder Bill Wilson, and his involvement with a Christian organization called the Oxford Group.
That said, you don’t need to believe in the Christian God before you start working these recovery steps. If you’re not sure about God or Jesus or any of that faith stuff, feel free to adopt a generic concept of a higher power for now, god with a lower case “g”. The important thing to understand at this point, is that you are where you are today—hurting or frustrated or in need of help—because you’ve been acting as the ultimate authority in your life, keeping everything under your own care and control. We’ve all done that, that’s why we’re in recovery working the steps! This lesson is about choosing to give up control of our lives, and turning that over to a higher power; something bigger than ourselves.
My higher power is Jesus, so I’m not trying to de-spiritualize this lesson. We know addiction and compulsive behavior is a spiritual malady. The AA Big Book says, “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” So at its core this is a spiritual issue.
It’s just that this lesson is the first point in the 12 steps when we have to come to terms with the spiritual side of our issues. And I don’t want anyone who is not a believer to feel like what I’m talking about doesn’t apply to you. Because it does!
So let’s look at that acrostic. T is for Trust
I remember when my youngest daughter was born and our extended family came up to the hospital to meet her. I was nervous to have people hold her and I remember my uncle, a short, stocky construction worker with no kids of his own asking if he could hold my precious baby girl. You can’t really say no to family but I was hovering nervously as he held her, ready to jump at the first sign of danger. On the other hand, when Deb’s mom, a sweet and graceful woman who raised five kids wanted to hold her, no problem! What the difference? It’s trust.
It’s the same way with God. Some people might view God as a mean cosmic policeman telling us what we can’t do, waiting and watching for us to fail so He can judge us. Others might view Him as a withdrawn, impersonal force that doesn’t care about our individual little lives. Others may think He’s just as imaginary as the tooth fairy. And if we view God in these ways, it’s no surprise we’d be reluctant to trust Him with our lives and our wills.
Which brings us to the second letter of our acrostic. U is for Understand
In order to trust God as our higher power, we need to understand who He really is, not who we might think He is. The God of Christianity is best described as a loving Father. Scripture tells us He loves us and he calls us His children:
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!” —1 John 3:1
“I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” —2 Corinthians 6:18
And like a good Father, God doesn’t demand that we clean up our lives or get our act together before He will accept us. Just the opposite in fact. God loved us first, when we were still far from him. I love how Eugene Peterson interprets this passage from Ephesians in the Message Bible:
You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
God loves us imperfect, flawed humans just as we are. And He loves us so much that He won’t leave us where we are. We can trust Him with our lives and our wills.
Which brings us to the next letter in our acrostic: R is for Repent
Repentance, which literally means to turn, is the activity of reviewing our actions and feeling contrition or regret for the things we’ve done wrong. It also involves a commitment to personal change; a resolve to live a more responsible life. So it’s not just admitting we screwed up, it’s sincerely regretting that we did it, and then having a desire to make a change, to turn things around. And it’s not something to take lightly.
I was reading a list by A.W. Tozer called “10 Steps To Experiencing a Radical Spiritual Renaissance”, and the 4th item in the list jumped out at me.
Do a thorough job of repenting. Do not hurry to get it over with. Hasty repentance means shallow spiritual experience and lack of certainty in the whole life. Let godly sorrow do her healing work. Until we allow the consciousness of sin to wound us, we will never develop a fear of evil. It is our wretched habit of tolerating sin that keeps us in our half-dead condition.
That’s a powerful spiritual truth, and it applies directly to recovery as well. In recovery we could say: It’s our wretched habit of tolerating pain and denial that keeps us in a half-recovered condition. The excuse I liked to use before I started working the steps had do with admitting our lives had become unmanageable. I would ask myself “Is my life really unmanageable? I mean…I’m managing aren’t I?” Yeah, managing to deny the obvious issues I have.
One of the people who taught me a lot about repentance is my oldest daughter. When she was 5 or 6 years old she would sometimes choose to willfully disobey us and I had to give her a spanking. It didn’t happen often, but when it did it was a huge deal to me. She never got a spanking in anger, and she never got one she could have avoided. But when that rebellious streak came out and she started testing boundaries, I would have to sit her down, look into her big blue eyes and calmly explain to her that I loved her and that actions have consequences. I reminded her she was warned not to do whatever she did, and she had done it anyway. And what always amazed me is that after the spanking, rather than being mad at me, she would crawl into my lap, put her head on my chest and say “I’m sorry daddy”. I would wrap my arms around her and tell her I forgive her and that I love her. And that’s the picture I think we should have in mind when we mess up and tell God we’re sorry. Rather than anger or judgment, we can expect His forgiveness and love.
So we talked about trusting, and understanding, and repenting…so now what? N is for the Next Right Thing.
This is one of those incredibly simple concepts in recovery that almost sounds trite, but is actually really profound in practice. When you don’t know what to do, just do the next right thing. When you’re tired of the struggle, don’t worry about the fighting the big battles, just do the next right thing.
The next right thing for you might mean coming clean about what you’ve been struggling with. Or it might mean joining a step study. Or making a decision to turn your will over to God’s care and control. I’ve been discovering that if I pause and think about what I’m thinking about, figuring out the next right thing isn’t that hard. But it starts in your mind, with thinking about what you’re thinking about. That’s why I love this verse:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” —Romans 12:2
I actually have one more letter for our acrostic because there’s one more part to this step that I think is important. If you’re under 25 years old, or if, like me, you have kids who are teenagers, you’ll realize how inappropriate I am about to make this acrostic, considering this is a recovery teaching. I’m adding one more letter to change the word TURN into TURNT. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about or haven’t heard this word, don’t worry will still make sense.)
This last letter T is for Today. The last thing I wanted to add is that we shouldn’t wait to start making a change, do it today. It can be scary, I know. Or, like me, you can try to convince yourself it’s not that urgent, but it is. Life is precious. Why waste one more day in the struggle than you have to? Do that next right thing today.
I’ll close with this verse:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” —Proverbs 3:5-6