by Carmen Renee Berry
“You’ve taken this recovery thing much too far,” her angry words cut through me like a knife. “You used to be such a good Christian! Now you sound like some pop-psychologist. I’m afraid for you,” my friend’s eyes filled with frustrated tears. “You’re being fooled by psychology and losing your Christian foundation.”
I sat stunned as my friend walked away. “Was she right?” I asked myself. “Have I unknowingly betrayed my faith in Christ through my recovery journey?”
I’ve spoken to many Christians in recovery who have been told they are not “enough” – not Christian enough, not prayerful enough, not biblical enough, not discerning enough or not devoted enough. The message can come in different forms: “The Bible says to put the past behind you. Why don’t you take this to God in prayer and get on with your life?”, “Why do you go to these support groups where you just talk about yourself? If you had enough faith, God would heal you of this problem”, “How can you question what you’ve been taught? There are some things that are just true. Accept them.”
Regardless of how we are criticized, it hurts. We do, however, have a choice in how we respond to this kind of criticism.
We Can Retreat
“You’re right, I’m stupid and easily fooled.” Shame can shut me up faster than any other emotion and I often feel shame when someone tells me I’m deficient or confused. Buried deep inside is a voice that tells me I’m inadequate, so when someone confirms that inner belief, I can become overwhelmed and embarrassed. Giving in to shame propels us into self-doubt. Instead of building on past successes and insights, we look at the times we failed, the times we were confused or deceived. Shame disorients us and turns us against ourselves. Secondly, we withdraw from those who share the journey. Rather than talk about our perceptions and feelings for clarity and support, we are silenced. Fearing further criticism, we hide. Lastly, shame alienates us from God. We lose faith in a God who guides us. Instead, we feel ashamed of our spirituality, finding it faulty and unreliable.
We Can Argue
“Oh yeah? Well, let me tell you a thing or two. . .” I’ve launched into debates over the viability of my theological perspective and recovery approach, armed with Bible verses and quotes from my favorite recovery authors. Flinging criticism and shame back at my opponent, we argue point by point until someone is declared the winner. When the dust settles, rarely has anyone changed their minds. Rather, the division between us is deepened through the emotional and spiritual wounds we have inflicted on each other. Debate, fueled by a competitive need to be right, results in more confusion and shame, rather than clarity and reconciliation.
We Can Trust
“God has promised to lead me through the Holy Spirit into truth, and I am trusting this promise for my survival.”
My past is littered with periods of confusion and tarnished by poor judgment. It would be ridiculous for me to assert than I am now so wise that I can never be fooled again. My confidence is not, however, in my own ability to discern the truth. My confidence is in God’s ability to be faithful. Jesus promised, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26).
As my recovery journey continues, year after year, I find this promise to be reliable. Old misconceptions are exposed, new insights are discovered, past wounds are healed. I believe God leads me to a deeper understanding of truth through a variety of avenues including Scripture, prayer, dreams, body work, the 12 Steps and scientific research. This growing understanding is an experiential process, involving much more than mere intellectual assent to a list of theological propositions.
Furthermore, understanding does not occur in a vacuum, but within the context of relationship. The Spirit works in the community of faith. This is one reason why recovery groups are so vital to our growth. As we come together and tell our stories, giving account of God’s work in our lives, I believe truth is revealed. God lovingly moves us to a more authentic experience of love. Do I think I have all the answers? No. Can you find inconsistencies in my theology or my life-style? Yes. Am I willing to let people shame me because I’m in the process of healing? No.
I am choosing to trust that God is the author and finisher of my faith. Trusting in the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit reminds us to humble ourselves rather than shame ourselves. By cooperating with this process and trusting God to lead us, we can discard our perfectionism and find peace. As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27).
Rest in confidence. God is faithful.