I don’t have a lot of clear memories from that time of my life. Mostly brief images, faces, passings moments that are more like a mental photo album. But, there is one day I remember in particular from that year.
School had ended and a group of us were goofing off in Ms. Bukala’s classroom. Standing there with my hands in my pockets, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary for Billy, one of my best friends at the time — at least how an eight year old would describe a best friend — to approach me. Billy put his arm around me and asked me how I was doing. As I started to answer him, he swung his leg across mine, causing me to fall face first on to the hard linoleum floor.
With my nose bleeding on my white uniform shirt, people laughing around me, and my ego more than a little bruised, Billy said that he thought I would put my hands out to break my fall, as though the entire incident were my fault.
Why would one of my “good friends” do that? Why would he intentionally do something that, for a third grader, was so embarrassing and hurtful?
I hadn’t thought of this incident from my childhood in decades. It wasn’t until I had started a process of recovering from past hurts that it came to mind. Part of this process involved listing ways I had been hurt by others and this event from my childhood gave me some insight into one of my major recovery issues. For most people it was nothing more than kids goofing off. But I came to realize that this moment from my childhood had a significant impact on how I saw others and how I saw myself.
For a good part of my life I have struggled with trusting people – friends, coworkers, employers. There was always a part of me that wondered when someone was going to sweep my legs out from under me. I never fully understood this tendency within me. I’m not even sure I knew how much it damaged the relationships around me.
Until I began working through the junk in my life, my struggle to trust people and always “looking over my shoulder,” as my friend Mark put it, undermined my ability to be completely vulnerable, to give myself fully, to truly embrace friendship. I spent years allowing this to hinder my relationships with the people around me.
I discovered how I was allowing my worst ways to infect and do damage in my day to day life. I began to see how I allowed the emotions that rose out of those struggles to control me.
What about you? Each of us have those things, those “worst ways” that adversely impact our relationships. They do damage to the people around us and ultimately to our ability to experience and enjoy our best life possible, the life God intends for us.
The pastor of my church has often said that everyone is in need of recovery at some level. In the years since I first heard him speak those words, I’ve yet to find an exception to that statement. I’ve yet to meet someone that hasn’t, in some way, been affected by the negative experiences of their past. I’ve yet to meet someone who, without some kind of help, has been able to fully identify and engage with their “worst ways” and come to a place of understanding how the events of their past impact their life today.
All of us need help getting there. I need it. You need it. We all need it.
When I began recovery I had been serving as a pastor for almost thirty years. I had spent a good deal of those years helping others discover the life God intends for them to live. In seminary I studied all sixty-six books of the Bible in great detail until my mind was numb. As a youth pastor, I logged hundreds of miles going to camps, conferences, and youth retreats. For a season I had crafted thousands of words to speak with students and other groups about what the Bible has to say about how we should live. But, somewhere along the way, as I worked to care for others’ souls, I neglected my own.
I finally reached a point where I knew that I needed to do something. I knew that I could not continue living the way I was.
I remember the very first night of step study. We gathered together and read Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew:
“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.” Matthew 5.3
The word translated “poor” refers to someone who is destitute, afflicted, completely lacking, and powerless. It’s interesting that the first principle of recovery states:
“I admit that I am POWERLESS to control my tendency to do the wrong things and that my life is unmanageable.”
Four years ago I realized I was powerless and my life, my emotions, and how I responded to things was unmanageable. The road has been long and difficult. But, as I have chipped away at the wall around me and around my heart, I understand the need to allow God to show me things that were very difficult to face. I had to take a good look in the mirror and begin to recognize that I had indeed caused others pain and then work to make amends with those around me.
I began to see how my difficulty in trusting others led me to view those around me through a cracked lens.
I began to understand why I was so angry.
It’s been a long, hard journey for me and I’m not close to being done, but I can’t imagine what life would be like had I not taken that first step.
Why is it so critical that we engage with recovery in the first place?
Currently, I’m facing the biggest challenge of my life to date. The details are not nearly as important as how I will respond to it. This is the biggest test of what I’ve learned as I have done the work of dealing with my past.
My friend John challenged me recently, telling me that how I respond to this season of my life will define eternity for me. That is really the critical and most significant reason to deal with our past.
Yes, we need to identify the junk in our lives that puts us into bad cycles of behavior.
Yes, we need to do that so we can stop doing damage to the relationships around us.
But, more than anything else, we need to overcome the junk in our lives because how we live this life will define our future. We do it not just for ourselves and not just for those around us. We do it because it leads us to the life God intends for us now and for eternity.