Sunday, February 10, 2008

Apparent Victory

Consider 2 Samuel 19:1-3.

I noticed a passage in the Big Book today I'd not paid attention to before--or at least a sentence. It says:

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived. (Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 65-66)

The sentence that grabbed me is, "As in war, the victor only seemed to win." In the middle of political frays, I can't help but see a parallel. Sometimes coming in a close second means a lot more than coming in first, when the victory was "supposed" to be larger. It happens in personal relationships, of course. When one person tromps all over another person, they appear to have won whatever contest was being fought, but in destroying the other person, the "victor" may be so guilt-ridden it destroys them. That's what's being talked about here, isn't it? At least in part. We're determined to be vindicated. And that superior position will be ours no matter what it may do to the other person. Or, of course, to us!

What does victory mean? Well, it can be defeating another, or it can mean success in a struggle against difficulties or an obstacle. The definition of "struggle" starts talking about forceful or violent efforts. That doesn't sound real pleasant, though I like that definition of victory better than the first. The one I like best is the state of having triumphed. "Triumph" started out as a Roman general riding into the city and receiving honors. Neat bit of trivia, huh? But the last sentence of the quote from the Big Book says the honor-giving doesn't last long.

"We stayed sore." At others or at ourselves. That doesn't feel like a victory, does it? So, what does victory feel like? The passage goes on soon to one more often quoted, "For when harboring such feeling we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit." That's what victory ought to feel like. Sunlight. Of the Spirit on my spirit! The Spirit's sunshine warming me up. Neat. I may not feel like I need warming up when it gets 110 outside here in Texas, but I've been cold for months, probably a result of the metabolic changes as my body adjusts to loss of insulation. Being warm feels REALLY GOOD these days. I'd rather have God's Spirit warming my spirit than any kind of one-ups-man-ship over ANYBODY. 

If doing step four with thoroughness and honesty will give me that kind of warmth through and through, on with the honesty! Who else can I come up with that I resent? What other fears do I have? Come, walk into Rome with me, and receive the honors for a job well done, and with all of us walking in together, the triumph will be shared and radiate and be long-lived.


Have you worked step four thoroughly? Could you do it better for the sunshine of the Spirit?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Seventy and Seven

Consider Matthew 18:21-22.

We live in the now. Today is the only day we have. While the Big Book at step eleven tells us to think about the next 24 hours and to consider our plan for the day, we can't control even that far ahead, though we can prepare for the scheduled and anticipated events. We can, though, choose whether to approach the day with a negative attitude, spreading proclamations of protestation. Or we can take the high road and approach the day with affirmative actions, which lead to positive creative acceptance.

Affirmative actions. Why "actions" rather than "thinking?" Because I've done enough thinking, enough acting on my mental calculations. That doesn't work. Affirmative actions moves it down a foot, from the head to the heart. Faith itself is an action, the act of moving to the point where we're uncomfortable. I've been living at the edge of my comfort zone for a while now, and to me it seems all too often I'm on the other side of the line. But that's where I want to stay, for that's where I grow.

What does positive creative acceptance do for me today? I'll meet with a group of people this afternoon, and the last few meetings have been tense, disagreement where it seldom surfaced before. I have a marble I got at an OA meeting last month in San Antonio, and it represents a resentment. I had thought I would bring it to the meeting as a reminder. I've been sleeping with it, praying when I find it during the night for a particular person to have everything I want for myself. At this point I'm free of the resentments, but that doesn't mean we'll suddenly agree at the meeting. Despite the fact the marble fell between the headboard and the wall last night and I forgot to dig it out and bring it, I'll have it in spirit. And I've thought about that hour of the twenty-four.

I will approach the meeting with humility which comes from surrender, from allowing myself to be taught. I know some people hurt me again and again, at home, at work, in any group where I work closely with others. We've all been hurt by people we love, by institutions we trusted, by ideas embedded in us from childhood. We can identify the hurt through steps four and five, clean our side of the street by six through nine, and we can forgive and cleanse ourselves of resentment. But we still have to interact with some of these people.

God is present in the world with, in, and through people. We live in the now, and if we fail, if we move to past hurts, we find ourselves stuck in negative energy. Living in the now requires our action. Now. The past resentments are gone. I don't have to develop new ones. I do that by not striking back. I will not put myself in a position to be a problem to other people. No, that doesn't mean I let them do what they want to do if that's inconsistent with truth and progress as I understand it. But it will not be personal to me. Differing with my ideas will not be perceived as an attack on me. The other has his own work to do, as I have mine. For me, it will center on the issues.

There is no need for me to assess the motives of other people. Living, for me, will not be a matter of just getting through another day--or another meeting. It's up to me to live in the now, to stay in the positive. I will move out of ego deflation. It's up to me to be happy, to be humble, to be faithful.
Above everything, we alcoholics [compulsive overeaters] must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God's help. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 62.)
We get our of the negative, out of building new resentments no matter how short-lived they may be, by doing good positive actions, not just thinking. We surrender, gaining humility by allowing ourselves to be taught, and we practice the faith of moving to the uncomfortable place of accepting God in the person before us.

What resentments have you recently formed? What could you have done to keep from forming them? What tense situations do you face in the next twenty-four hours? Are you willing to practice humility and faith?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Purposeful Forgetting

Consider Philippians 3:12-16

The word "resent" comes from the Latin root sentire meaning "to feel" with the prefix "re" meaning again. We feel again the insult, the shame, the anger, the guilt, the humiliation when we indulge in resentment. We relive and thus re-feel events from yesterday or decades ago, and instead of dulling in time, often the emotional level increases with the replaying.

We're selective, though, in our re-feeling. As we discovered in Step 5, we don't emember the whole sequence of events. Instead we purposefully forget our part. We lay aside how our behavior may have set in motion the other party's action.

Sometimes they actually didn't act at all. They did nothing, and because we had the understanding, never expressed outside our own mind, they should do something or say something or be something, we resent. Again, and again, and again. They never ever were even bothered by the event, since they never knew what was expected of them or that their not doing it hurt us. Then years later, we plot revenge against them for the imagined injury, when the only injury ever suffered is self-inflicted. It's time, then, to remedy the pain we feel repeatedly. To do this we have to practice purposeful forgetting once more, this time forgetting the wrong.

But how can we forget a wrong? Not all of the resentments sprung from imagined injuries. Instead, the action of the other caused very real pain, pain the person inflicting it on us understand so very well and simply ignored. Surely we can never forget it!

Perhaps not. Have you ever been challenged not to think about the tip of your nose? Go ahead. Sit there. Time yourself for a minute and don't think of the tip of your nose. Of course there's no need even to try. It's impossible. You can, though, contemplate the coffee mug in front of you for a minute. And, when you finish that process, if you're asked if during that time you thought about the tip of your nose, probably you'd answer in the negative.

We don't have to dwell on wrongs done us-like we have for all the time since the occurrence. Instead, we can think of the good things about the person, the beneficial effect that may have come from the wrong itself if perhaps we became stronger through the process.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. - Philippians 8:4 (NIV)

You've been wanting to get even with the person you resented for so very long. Do it. Purposefully forget the resentment, and you'll be even, even ahead.

For the resentments on your list that still bother you, what can you think of when these resurface? How can you practice purposeful forgetting?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

About That Birthright I Stole...

Consider Genesis 32:6-8, 19-21, 33:4

A stupid act in our youth can set the entire tenor of our lives. Jacob didn't plot against his brother; he simply followed his mother's directions. And there's a bargain right now on Pacific beach property in Arizona.

Sure, it was Rebekah who hatched the plot, who cooked the goats, who showed Jacob how to feel hairy to his blind father's touch. But Isaac, a grown man, knew his actions were deceitful. His mother's invitation to let the curse rest on her couldn't really change the nature of the actions. Jacob could justify his deceit and theft, but justifications don't change anything—except the perception of the person taking part. We explain our actions and listen to what we say, and after a while we can actually believe the words coming out of our moth convey the truth. Almost, at least. That is almost believe, not almost truth.

But two times Jacob took what rightfully was Esau's. The second came with his mother's help, the securing of the dying man's blessing. The first, Jacob did with no prodding from outside. He had what his brother wanted and took advantage of his brother with his intellect, persuading his twin to sell his birthright for a single meal of stew. Jacob carried the guilt, though Rebekah had amends to make as well.

And Jacob knew it. He approached his brother fourteen years later with fear and trepidation, still trying to hide, to send others in his place, to placate his brother rather than standing tall and accepting the righteous indignation of his brother.

He made amends. They were far from perfect, but Jacob did approach Esau, offering restitution for the theft. And like so many of the people to whom we owe amends we gain not only peace of mind but the reestablishment of family. We become willing to make amends and come face to face with our fear. God takes care of the rest.


What amend most causes you to fear the process? How would you feel if you were the person who had been harmed by the action you took? You can find the courage to take this step.

1.     Remind yourself you decided to go to any length to find a spiritual experience.

2.     Ask God for strength and direction to do the right thing no matter what the consequences might be.

3.     Remember, even if you may lose your job or reputation or face jail, you are willing.

4.     You must not shrink at anything.