As I write this, the thought that comes to mind is: “How do you put something so vast, infinite, and truly marvelous as God’s mercy and love into words?”
For those of you reading this who may not know me or my story, I am a revert to the Catholic faith. I attended Catholic school as a kid and learned a great deal about my faith but never really understood how I was called to grow as an adopted child of God. My understanding of God was that of a magician: “God, please help Penn State to pull off this victory” (this is a prayer that I actually recall saying as a child). Needless to say, I would become disappointed when God did not show up to do my will.
I have dealt with many difficult things in my life, which I can probably write an entire book about. When experiencing deep wounds and an inability to cope in the past, I often developed very unhealthy and selfish patterns in large part due to my spiritual malady and the God-sized hole in my heart. God desired more than anything to give me his love and mercy but I did not give him the space nor the time to receive them.
Through the Twelve Steps I learned how to cultivate a relationship with a God of my understanding. Steps four through seven taught me how to really look at myself: my wounds, my scars, and how the evil one had used them to entice me to make poor decisions in the name of self-defense. This led me to often feel empty and broken and turn to things that could take those feelings away.
At first this came in the form of success in sports or anything else. I got so deep into needing this affirmation that I would often tell people lies about how good I was at something to try and get affirmation. Eventually, I would be discovered as a phony. And then I discovered drugs and alcohol, which offered me an escape to numb all of my pain.
The Twelve Steps taught me how to be honest with myself, which is necessary in order to be honest with others. Getting direction from a sponsor taught me how to listen prayerfully and accept direction. This type of humility taught me to see those things in myself that were so ingrained in my persona that I was blind to them.
This happens in a major way in the fourth and fifth steps. The fourth step often starts out with your “resentment list.” Knowing whom I’m angry with is easy. It’s easy to blame others rather than yourself for your problems. Being open-minded and honest led me to see myself as God sees me for the first time during the fifth step. The process is immensely painful but provides spiritual healing on the highest level.
Pain, Suffering, and Healing
As I went through steps four through seven, I learned a lot about myself, others, and human nature in general. I was able to get to a point of forgiveness for those who had done the unimaginable to me throughout my life because I was able to see them as broken, much like I was. I had recurring nightmares that stopped as a result of the healing that I encountered and I was set free of the control that I had given other people and evil over my life. The truth about myself and others had truly set me free.
It was a painful process but facing that pain rather than running from it is what forced me to find healing. It was eye-opening and grace filled. I had finally come to know what “Sunlight of the Spirit” meant in the Big Book.
My understanding of steps six and seven and spiritual healing in general has always been that an all-powerful God would completely remove my brokenness and create in me a new identity without pain. I truly misunderstood this concept for some time. Yes, I have become more aware of my own defects, but I am still wounded. And these wounds never go away.
This past week I was reminded of this in a major way. I started to feel a great deal of pain in my life recently and was having trouble fully comprehending what it meant. A friend invited me to pray with him because I could not make sense of it all. I got truly honest with myself for the first time in awhile. Through the prayers of this man, the Holy Spirit tore down walls of fear and resentment that I had constructed over the last few years (in recovery!) and showed me my soul as it existed.
I came to realize that many of my fears that I became aware of in my fourth step (and thought had been removed) were still present and were leading me into resentment and causing problems in my current relationships. I was also able to see the brokenness of others whom I felt harmed by and was able to move into a place of compassion. I then became vulnerable with these people, which led to the same healing process in them. Praise God!
Jesus My Redeemer: Risen in Glory
In the Gospel, Christ appears to His disciples when they had locked themselves up out of “fear of the Jews” (See John 20). Resurrected in all His glory, Jesus shows them His wounds and they receive the Holy Spirit. Their fear is promptly wiped away and they end up proclaiming God’s glory to Thomas.
But for Thomas that was not enough. He had to experience the wounds of Christ for himself. So what does Jesus do? He re-appears to the disciples (with Thomas present) and invites Thomas not just to look at His wounds; Jesus invites Thomas into His wounds! Thomas is immediately moved to a profession of faith by saying, “My Lord and my God!”
I always viewed this Gospel from the viewpoint of doubt. I would ask, “Where am I doubting God in my life?” What I came to realize is that Jesus is very much leading by example in this Gospel. In the last week, I realized that healing is not the removal of my wounds. Healing is becoming glorified in those wounds in a way that they no longer have power over me. Christ overcame death, but His wounds remain and they continue to call others to conversion.
In order to be more Christ-like I need to be more honest with myself, realize that these wounds are there (and likely always will be), not allow them to have power over me, and then use them to call others to greater conversion. As recovering addicts, we get to experience this in a major way when we work the Twelve Steps continuously in our lives.
Jonathan has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol since 2010. The Catholic faith has always been part of his recovery. He found freedom from his addiction in modeling Christ through service to others through 12-step groups, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, youth ministry, and really any other outlet he could find. He is a strong believer in the power of Christian fellowship in recovery.