Unpacking the Process of Sanctification & Recovery

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One of the most challenging directives in Scripture is when Jesus says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). A simple review of the 10 Commandments convinces me that I break many of them daily. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, this awareness would lead to discouragement and depression. Fortunately, this process of becoming “perfect” is just that—a process.

Sanctification is what we call the process of being made holy. Just like the Twelve Steps of recovery, there are many steps that the Spirit must help us navigate to becoming holy. The first step that God takes in transforming us is to show us that we are His beloved. His message of love awakens within us a hunger to be loved, which often leads us to trying and failing to satisfy that hunger with other things. Yet, the Spirit convicts us when we fail that these other things are not ultimately meant to satisfy us fully.

Spiritual conviction intensifies the pain of the emptiness that separation from our Lord causes. When we are convicted, we have two choices. We can either continue to try to “fix” ourselves on our own or we can come to believe that we are powerless and our lives are unmanageable. Once we have concluded on our own that we are incapable of saving ourselves, we have achieved Step 1 in recovery, which is a form of repentance—a turning away from reliance on our own will. Once we do that, we are ready for Step 2: “Came to believe in a power greater than myself who could restore me to sanity.”  This is exactly what John the Baptist and Jesus proclaim in Scripture: repent (Step 1) and believe (Step 2).

These two steps set the foundation of responding to God’s sanctifying grace. The good news is that God moves first, even when we can’t see or understand it. We may still be trapped in our sinful thoughts and behaviors but everything is suddenly different once we truly repent and surrender. We now have the capacity to surrender our will and life over to an all good, all knowing, all powerful, all loving, and all merciful God (Step 3).

My experience of God has often been colored by my own expectation of conditional love: “I will love you if…” Yet, the Holy Spirit again and again invites us to trust more deeply that God’s ways are not our ways. God’s love is not our love, which is often conditional. The more we experience this love despite our sinfulness, the less hold the bondage of sin has on us because we come to realize we are beloved by God no matter what. We come to grow in trust.

The more we trust, the more we can see and understand. When we see our missteps, we no longer fear the consequence of sin, death, and hell. Instead, we are saddened by the awareness that Jesus is with us in every sin, and out of love is enduring our rejection. In other words, our repentance begins to stem from love and not fear. Because we have received His love, we want only to communicate love in return.

I have written about the need to repent, believe, trust, and follow—four steps that outline the process of sanctification that God invites us into as we grow in holiness and our recovery. If you are not seeing Him or feeling His transforming work in your life, I invite you to spend more time in Eucharistic adoration, frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation, attend a parish mission, read daily Scripture, and connect with others who share your faith (something you can surely do by attending CIR meetings). By doing such things (in addition to working your recovery), you will come to know God’s merciful love in your life and remain on the path of sanctification.

Jim Gorski is a father of four children who has been married to the same woman for over three decades. He completed his master’s degree in social work in 1984 and has directed church music groups for several years. He remains a grateful child of the most high God and strives to trust in God’s loving mercy and His ability to provide for Jim’s every need.