STEP 1 is the most important step in the 4 STEPS. Without STEP 1, the remaining three steps are useless. And it makes no sense to skip STEP 1 and go to the other steps because it won’t work. The 4 STEPS are cumulative, and STEP 1 is the foundation: you establish your own relationship with God. Once that foundation is in place, you have established the momentum to break the addictive cycle. A personal relationship with God will help guide and support you through the remaining steps. (I used the “/” in the title—“Re/Establish Your Relationship with God’—because although some of you may have already established your own relationship with God, you might have allowed the relationship to slip from being the number-one priority in your life.)
Because addictions feed the ego, they are by their very nature self-indulgent. Not only does the addiction hurt the addict, it also creates collateral damage in the lives of the addict’s friends and family members. The addiction takes control of the addict’s mind and he or she is unable to logically process the damage to self and/or others. Addicts begin to view themselves and their pain as the center of the world; the best way to counter this belief is to connect with and establish a personal relationship with the Source of Life/Source of Love/God.
Trust and Commitment
Two requirements for any “real” relationship are trust and commitment. Often, though, in relationships with friends, family or co-workers, we either don’t trust or we can’t commit. You can trust someone but that doesn’t mean you’re committed to doing what’s best for that person and vice versa. Or you can be committed to a person, but you may not trust him or her. For example, you might have heard someone say, “I love him, but I don’t trust him.” Parents can love their children unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean they always trust their children to do what they promise or say. Similarly, a child can love a parent unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean she can trust that parent to provide emotional support, especially when the parent is unavailable or preoccupied.
We tend to approach trust in two ways: either I trust you until you prove you can’t be trusted, or I’ll trust you when you prove you are trustworthy. The differing approaches are typically influenced by a person’s upbringing. If a child is raised in an environment in which he was able to trust those around him, he will be more inclined initially to trust a person. But if a child was raised in an environment in which promises were consistently broken and trust was an issue, she may be unable initially to trust. The same goes for our relationship with God. If a person can’t have a real relationship with God, how can you expect him or her to have a real relationship with you?
Commitment can be in place even when there is no trust. I’ve had jobs in which I was committed to showing up day after day to complete the tasks listed in my job description, but I didn’t trust my supervisor. In one particular instance, that trust was broken when a supervisor told me that I had received the promotion he recommended me for, when in fact that was not the case. My job title and pay did not change, but my workload definitely increased. I was still committed to coming to work and doing my job because I needed the income, but I wasn’t naïve enough to trust this particular supervisor again.
Commitment isn’t always convenient. In the work situation I described above, if my supervisor had been committed to his word, he would have found a way to follow through with his commitment even if his supervisor had informed him that the job structure had changed. Instead, he chose to lie by equivocating about what he had originally said.
Thankfully, God doesn’t lie. When He makes a promise He keeps it. Too often, though, we don’t follow through on the promises we make to Him. Often we make a pact with God, promising Him that if we get what we want, we’ll either forgo a behavior or change it. After the commitment has been established, God does come through as He always does, but we get so elated or relieved when the stressful situation is resolved that we conveniently forget to follow through on our part of the commitment. So what happens?
God demonstrates that He was committed to doing what He said and proves that we can trust Him, but we don’t prove to Him that we can be trusted because we don’t uphold our part of the commitment. Despite our lack of commitment, God still loves us. Some people believe that when a person fails to follow through on a commitment even once, he or she is no longer worthy of trust. And if someone consistently breaks promises there is no way they’ll ever trust him or her. Thankfully, God is not a man and His grace and mercy allows Him to continue to love us regardless of our occasional lack of commitment. When it becomes difficult to follow through with a commitment, it makes sense to focus on the reason why you made the commitment in the first place.
Yes, that three-letter word that we all want to point out to someone else but can’t bear to have it pointed out to us. Like most things in life, definitions and interpretations of what constitutes “sin” vary. Pastors, churchgoers and even non-religious people will tell you what is and is not a sin. Their definition is typically based on scripture, or on their interpretation or someone else’s interpretation of scripture.
The best definition that I’ve heard for sin is anything that separates one from God. I love that definition because it eliminates what I call the bait and switch method—our urge to debate which sin(s) are worse than others. It’s easy to focus on one particular “sin” and then condemn anyone who engages in it or struggles with it. Focusing on others’ sins is a convenient way to avoid looking at your own. Scripture says, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
I don’t quote scripture here in order to point a finger at those who use scripture to vilify others; instead, I want to show how easy it is to take scripture out of context to “prove” one ideology right and another wrong. In fact, Romans 3:23 says that no sin is worse than another and that no one has a warrant on God’s love. God is about love and forgiveness, not separation and damnation. The true foundation of Christianity is based on the belief that God sent Jesus as the sacrificial lamb to bring all of us back into relationship with Him.
Let’s avoid the tendency to focus on the sin versus the Savior. If we intentionally focus our attention on the Savior, it’s easier to see God’s love for all. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). It’s simple: nothing can separate us from God’s love.
So why do addicts feel they can’t have a personal relationship with God? Could it be because they are relying on someone else to establish that relationship for them? You get what you give. Or, as one of my finance professors used to say, “There is no free lunch.” These days we’re very aware of the disease of entitlement. If you’re financially well off, it might be easy to rationalize that you deserve privilege or that you somehow earned it, but that doesn’t transfer to the spiritual world. On the spiritual plane, everyone is equal. It doesn’t matter how much you have or don’t have; God sees, treats and loves us all the same.
If God loves us all and sin can’t separate us, why do we experience pain? It simply isn’t true that once we realize that God loves us unconditionally we can do whatever we want and there will be no repercussions. That is not the reality.
Realistically, if we all did whatever we wanted we’d be living in a world of chaos and extinction. It is a law of nature that everything has an equal and opposite reaction, and that still holds true despite God’s unconditional love. We will indeed experience repercussions for our actions, and sometimes that repercussion is pain.
We also experience pain to let us know when we fail to keep God’s will for our life. He has a purpose for us being on earth, and when we get off course, we often experience pain—this is God’s way of trying to get us back on the right path. For instance, I grew up singing in the church choir from the age of four. I went on to place in the University Interscholastic League Texas State Solo & Ensemble performance when I was in middle school. In college I had the opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall with the Grinnell Singers. I even went to Atlanta to pursue a music career and trained and traveled internationally with a singing coach who worked with several LaFace & Arista recording artists.
Singing and music was and always will be one of my passions, but despite the time, energy and money I spent trying to become a professional singer, it never happened. Why? Because God wanted me to do what I’m doing right now: using my gift of writing to let people know that God loves them just as they are and that they can form their own relationship with Him no matter what they’ve been told or believed in the past.
This might be the next logical question that arises: if God knew you weren’t going to become a professional singer, why would He allow you to put in all that work for nothing? Thankfully, I can tell you it wasn’t for nothing. That work became a testament to the lessons I learned in the process. And the work ended up strengthening my relationship with God when it felt like the floor was falling out from under me.
God never leaves you, but he does at times allow pain to correct you.
Happiness vs. Joy
Once you establish a relationship with God, or once you give your life to Christ, everything will not be perfect; to believe so would be delusional. While most people feel immense joy the moment they establish or re-establish their relationship with God, that joy is not the same as happiness.
Happiness is situational, while joy is eternal. Put another way, happiness can be taken away, but nothing can steal a person’s joy. The foundation of joy is built on a personal relationship with God. Experiencing happiness is easy, but understanding and maintaining joy requires work. And that work is simply to establish and build a personal relationship with God, so you know His will for your life.
When things go the way I want, I’m usually happy. Let’s say I purchase tickets for a concert and I’m able to get the last seats available, a situation that actually happened this week. I was extremely happy. But if the same situation had gone down in a different way and I wasn’t able to get those tickets, I wouldn’t have been happy at all. In fact, I would have been pissed because I really wanted to go to the event. Clearly, my happiness is based on the outcome of the situation going in my favor.
Joy is different, though—it is not dependent on things going my way. When I was pursuing a music career and things didn’t work out the way I had planned I wasn’t happy at all. As a matter of fact, I was so distraught that I felt lost and hopeless. I had done everything to ensure that I would become a professional singer and songwriter, but it didn’t happen.
So how did I deal with the pain? I subconsciously turned to my addiction. It’s so easy to run to whatever things we addicts believe we can control to deal with the pain. But in reality the addiction is preventing us from tapping into and experiencing joy.
Joy says, even though things aren’t going my way, I know God is using this particular situation or event to help prepare me for my purpose. Joy says, even though it feels like my world is falling apart right before my eyes, I know this too shall pass. Joy says, after I’ve given my very best and things still aren’t happening as I think they should (I’m not getting the love I need from my partner, my health isn’t improving like the doctors said it would), God will use all of it for my good and the purpose He has placed me on this earth to fulfill.
To experience that level of joy, a person not only has to have a relationship with God, but a relationship in which trust and commitment have been tested. It is in the testing of that relationship that God proves He can be trusted, because He’s committed to doing what’s best for you.
When the real estate market went through one of its downturns in 2005, I was informed by my division president that I was going to be downsized. Of course, no one wants to hear that they are about to be fired, but I felt blessed to have been informed ahead of time so I could start looking. I could see that God had already made preparations.
I updated my resume and called the people in my extensive network to inform them that I was looking for a job. I didn’t let pride or ego stifle me. It’s a given that whenever you work for someone else you can be fired; I accepted that and didn’t let ego and pride prevent me from receiving God’s next blessing.
The entire real estate market was plummeting at this time, so most of my contacts didn’t know of any opportunities. Within a few weeks, though, I got a call from a childhood friend asking if I was looking for a job. She told me about a position at the oil and gas company where she worked and she sent me the job description.
It turned out that the skill set for this particular position was very specific, and there were no qualified internal candidates. There’s a saying: what God has for you, is for you.
At this time, I was also in the process of obtaining a construction loan to build my first duplex. I was very worried about how I was going to continue with the construction, since I wasn’t sure I would have income (thankfully, I did have savings). Then I got a call saying that I had an interview at the new company. I knew at that moment that God was telling me, don’t worry, I have everything under control.
God worked it out so that I got the job, had three weeks off before I started, was approved for the construction loan, and got a $20,000 pay raise.
I’m not telling that story to brag about how good God has been to me. I mean to show that when I was at one of the lowest points in my life and had no idea where my next dollar was coming from, God already had everything set up and under control. That’s why it’s so important to have a relationship with God and know you aren’t working for some company; you’re working for Him. When we trust and commit our lives to Him, we open ourselves to experience not just happiness but joy. Because God has a purpose for our lives!
Living with a Purpose
When was the last time you asked, what is my purpose? I’ll never forget the summer after I graduated from Grinnell College. Although I had a chemistry degree, I didn’t want to be a chemist, I no longer wanted to go to medical school, and pursuing a professional singing career wasn’t proceeding the way I had hoped. That summer I took on some odd jobs to make money, but nothing that made me feel like I was living with a purpose.
It was such a lonely and bewildering period. All my college friends were in different cities and states and some were going to graduate school or starting their respective careers. Time away from all the noise and influence of others creates a space for personal reflection, and that can be quite uncomfortable if it isn’t one’s normal mode of operation. Now that I had time to reflect, I started to ask: why had I been put on this earth? What am I good at? What have others told me I’m good at? What do I enjoy doing? Besides external validation, I wanted to wake up each morning excited about the rest of my life.
No matter how much energy I put into researching, contemplating and talking with others, I never came to an answer that felt good inside. So after I had looked everywhere but to God, I decided I’d try hearing what God had to say. I wondered if perhaps doing something I’d never done before might be the answer. I’d always heard in church that if you wanted an answer from God you had to fast and pray. Praying wasn’t an issue, but fasting wasn’t on my typical to-do list. But I needed an answer.
I decided I would abstain from food but would drink water. Since I was young, in my early twenties, naïve, and impatient, that fast didn’t last. I fasted and prayed for an entire day, but I still didn’t get an answer, much less the one I was looking for. I’m sure people who practice fasting would tell me you have to do it for more than a day. I had to be honest with myself, that wasn’t my thing. And I knew that God meets each of us right where we are. When I reflect on this time, I realize that it just wasn’t my time yet to know or understand my purpose.
This goes to a crucial point:
Just because you haven’t found your purpose doesn’t mean you should stop searching or turn towards an addiction to deal with the pain. It would be over twelve years before I understood what my purpose was. Before I could get to the place of understanding my purpose, I had to endure my attempts at being a professional singer, had to earn my MBA, and I had to experience addiction.
If I had known the extent of the pain I would endure or the amount of work required, I never would have done it. And that goes to my second point: God doesn’t always reveal His purpose or plan for your life when you want Him to because you might not be able or ready to handle it at the time. This is when trust, faith, commitment and obedience come into play. I had to trust that God still loved me and would take care of me even though I had no idea why I was living through pain and loss.
And here’s yet another point: God’s plan(s) and purpose(s) for your life will often defy logic. If your purpose in life could be achieved and understood via logic alone, it would be so easy to dismiss God’s role. If logic was all that was required, you wouldn’t have to establish your own relationship with God. When you can’t logically explain things, when you realize that your own wisdom or power can’t explain how you achieved a certain goal or outcome, or when you survived when you could have just as easily died, that is when you really know for yourself that God loves you and is committed to you. You can trust God, and so it’s easy to be obedient to what He’s telling you to do because you’ve seen the benefits for yourself.
How do I know? I know because I’ve been through the pain and I’ve come out the other side. I can look back and see how God’s love kept me when I should have been dead. I have achieved things for which there is no logical explanation. And more importantly, I’m being obedient at this moment by writing about my experiences; I hope my words will serve to inspire you to establish or re-establish your own relationship with God because you deserve to live your life with purpose.
When I was in the process of writing this book, I asked a friend, a former addict who went through the 12 Steps, to read it. He was very encouraging and mentioned I might want to add some material about forgiveness. I’m so grateful that he did. As the grandson of a Baptist preacher, I take for granted the ability to forgive myself and others because it is such a part of my family culture. Even now I can hear my mom saying, “If I make a mistake, all I can do is ask for your forgiveness.” She would not only ask for another person’s forgiveness, but she too was always willing to forgive others and not to hold a grudge.
When I was a child, I was sick and had to take a liquid medicine with the worse taste in the world. I couldn’t even get it down. My mom knew I needed to take the medicine to get better, so when I refused to take it she gave me a whipping. I cried and cried, and then I told her, “You take it!” So she did and immediately said, “I’m sorry, you’re right.” Then she called the doctor and had him prescribe another medication in pill form.
That example illustrates an important reality: how we see the world as adults is based on childhood experiences (or the fact that we missed out on certain experiences). My mother was able to be vulnerable, to admit that she was wrong, and to ask for my forgiveness, and that helps me realize that we all make mistakes, even the people who love us the most. The key is being humble enough to admit the mistake and to sincerely ask for forgiveness.
If I had grown up in a household in which my parents were unable to forgive or ask for forgiveness, I would be less likely to forgive myself and others, an essential attribute. If we aren’t able to forgive ourselves, why would we be able to forgive others? After all, how can I give you what I don’t have?
Christianity is based on the belief that God sent Jesus to serve as the sacrificial lamb for the forgiveness of the sins of all humanity. So whatever mistake you have made or sin committed, God has already granted you forgiveness through Christ. Unless you can accept that you’ve been forgiven, you won’t be able to forgive yourself, much less anyone else.
There is no mistake that renders us unforgivable. For me, the reality is that my relationship with God has confirmed my capacity to be forgiven and to forgive. That doesn’t mean I should keep making the same mistake, but it does mean that I can forgive myself and make a concerted effort not to repeat my mistakes. And if I can extend that forgiveness to myself, I also have to extend it to others. When I choose not to forgive another person’s mistake, it doesn’t hurt that person; ultimately, it hurts me.