by Dale Ryan
I recently returned from ten days in Cairo, Egypt, where Juanita and I spoke at the annual conference of the recovery ministry at Kasr el Doubara church, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East. We also spent several days consulting and planning with the leadership team of this ministry. About 180 people attended the conference, and many others had been turned away, including anyone who was coming to “observe.” If they weren’t coming to work on their own issues, the space was reserved for someone else. (Hmmm. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.)
The visit was a wonderful experience. While just about everything was different culturally from what we’re accustomed to in the U.S., it was easy to find common ground. One thing that struck me powerfully was hearing people say about their recovery process, “It is difficult here because no one in my family will talk about this kind of thing.” The family rules against talking about painful truths are just as strong in Egypt as they are here.
In the midst of that commonality, however, there is a major difference. In the U.S. when we talk about family resistance to telling the truth we usually mean resistance in our immediate family. We are thinking about our parents, our siblings, and maybe our grandparents. But whereas our culture is young–a couple of generations is a long time for us–Egypt’s culture has very deep roots. On several occasions I had a sense that the people I was talking to were breaking family rules that had been in place for perhaps dozens of generations. They may be the first in their family in a thousand years to find the courage to tell the truth about the brokenness they live with as a result of abuse, addiction, and trauma. Stunned by that realization, I was reminded of how much courage and persistence it takes for anyone to learn to tell the truth. Sometimes it does feel like swimming upstream in the Nile. The weight of generations of dysfunction can be powerful for all of us.
But learning to tell the truth is not an optional part of the recovery process. We must learn to tell the truth or we will be washed downstream, falling deeper and deeper into the dysfunction. So although “taking inventory,” as described in Step 4 of the Twelve Steps, is not easy, it is a lifeline. It is a connection to solid ground. Learning to tell the truth gives us a place of stability, a kind of solid spiritual ground into which God can help us sink our roots.
One of the best things about Twelve Step programs is that they provide us with a structured way to learn to tell the truth. Taking inventory is, of course, an implementation of the ancient spiritual discipline of confession that has a long history in the Christian tradition. The New Testament presents confession as a nonnegotiable element of normal Christian experience. John says it like this: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). When we take inventory and do confession we are promised forgiveness and cleansing.
Unfortunately, confession is a discipline that has been rarely practiced–or it has been practiced in ways that do not lead to spiritual growth. It is certainly possible to practice confession in ways that do little more than increase our shame and fear. I have no doubt that some STEPS readers have experienced this kind of shame-based confession. Many churches have responded to this kind of abuse by not doing confession at all. But that is an unacceptable debasement of biblical guidance. We need to take regular inventory of ourselves and practice honest confession.
One of the things that the Christian recovery movement is recovering is the spiritual discipline of confession. It is part of our heritage. It is something God has graciously given to us. May God grant you the persistence you need in “searching” yourself and the courage to be “fearless” as you continue the process of taking inventory. May the light of God shine more brightly in your heart and mind each day.