It’s that decisive moment when your internal temperature raises a few degrees. Maybe it’s that moment when you feel like you’ve lost all freedom and your reaction is completely out of your control. It’s the moment when reaching for your “drug” of choice becomes inevitable—maybe alcohol, drugs, lust, food, or whatever your go-to short-term reprieve is that gets you out of discomfort. It’s the moment when you say something or do something you later regret.
Literature at the center of twelve-step recovery offers the solution to these situations that are likely to arise throughout our days. It is sound advice that anyone can benefit from:
“As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.” We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves.”[i]
Sometimes buzz phrases around recovery and Christian thought can be rather vague and difficult to put into practice. Let Go and Let God. Surrender to win. Live and Let Live. These sound nice, and can offer great comfort, but really, what does this stuff actually mean and what does it look like in real life?!?
I think the answer is found in the quote above. Putting some time—even if only for a few seconds—between the first thought your reaction is a practical way of inviting God into our lives, surrendering in the moment, and living life on life’s terms. Let’s take a look at the most extreme example of this in history, a scene just prior to Christ’s arrest and ultimate crucifixion:
Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed.
Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.”
He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him;
He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-36)
The humanity of Jesus is on full display at this moment, gripped by the fear of what is to come and the magnitude of the moment. However difficult this moment was to get through for our Lord, He found the capacity to prayerfully request the help of the Father and to humbly declare “Thy will, not mine, be done.”
Sure, the situations that we find ourselves in may not result in our own death, even though it may feel like it at times. Still, the example of our savior provides the comfort that it is okay to dislike some circumstances we’re put in. Acceptance of God’s will doesn’t have to mean you’re thrilled about every obstacle put in your place. Managing expectations of how to get through some of these battles in a spiritual way, coupled with the humility of knowing that you can’t do it alone, sets the table for progress in the midst of calamity.
The longer you can put space between the stimulus and response, the more genuine your actions will ultimately be. Speaking for myself, when I react immediately to something out of fear, anger, or irrational concern I am typically not offering the side of myself that is reflective of the way I actually feel about a situation. Setting that expectation for others, especially those closest to me, helps refine the communication process that can otherwise turn a situation ugly. Simply asking for time to process a situation before giving feedback helps me offer the response that is most genuine and stripped of the initial emotion that can come with it.
For an alcoholic or addict who has conditioned himself with the pattern of “using” after the smallest of stimuli (hearing a certain song, seeing a particular photo, receiving bad news, receiving good news, etc…), this can seem like a near impossible task in the moment. It can feel like slavery. It’s at that moment where you know that there is only one way this story is going to end, and as much as it won’t change the outcome, you know you’ll regret it when it’s all over. Without the help of a High Power we, at certain times, have no effective mental defense against the first drink/drug/”use”/whatever your addictive vice may be. How great it is that we do not have to go to battle alone!
You have the right to process a situation before giving feedback. You are not responsible for the first thought, however you are responsible for how long you entertain it. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are triggered by a number of different things throughout the day. Giving yourself the ability to pause, process a situation, and prayerfully forge a new thought pattern is necessary to building a better way of living and inviting God into your life.
Having this understanding and knowing that there is another way of doing things is a good step in guarding yourself from misery. It can offer hope for those who may think that they are slaves to the shackles of their thoughts. Putting a few of these tools in your spiritual toolkit can help save a multitude of sufferings down the road, especially if it can help relieve the bondage of self that can turn ugly and cause a relapse. ‘Tis a daunting task to commit a lifetime to, but a feasible one to surrender to today.
Photo Credit: Dennis Skley
[i] From Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered, the so-called “AA Big Book,” 87-88. (AA World Services, Inc., New York, NY, 2001).