A couple posts ago I mentioned a friend who had trouble staying faithful to her husband. She just COULDN’T stop the cheating in spite of a variety of factors that should have, at a minimum, scared her straight. On a more profound level, it seemed to both of us that this high-risk behavior wasn’t “her”. I’m not sure who the “her” is that serial infidelity would be a fit for but this seemed like a strange secret compulsion for a woman committed to faithful living. It didn’t fit her own professed core values and that made the situation a puzzler. To no one’s surprise but her own, she eventually got caught and as her life collapsed around her she began to have a different perspective on her relationship with God. Without a place to run or hide, exposed with her life laid bare for all to see, she was trying to make sense of the situation. However, her instincts about how to go about repairing the damage of her life were not great. This is true for many of us. Here is one (limited) way to think about spiritual work:
1. The walk begins. The first step is to give attention and energy to figuring out what it means to be faithful. It is in this stage that we explore the concept of sin. For example, my friend grew up in the 70’s when sexual promiscuity was not only a thing but a cool lifestyle choice. So, exploring how her sexuality might be informed by her faith would make a lot of sense. Just as true, we might explore how our faith informs our driving habits as well – just to be clear – it’s a whole life re-evaluation. We are looking for where our behavior is “off” and out-of-sync. (What steps correlate to this if you are a 12-stepper?)
2. The journey continues. This is when we continue to deepen our knowledge and love of God as we understand him. At this stage our belief has moved us beyond the tutorial into the wide open spaciousness of curiosity and open-heartedness with regular check-ups regarding our behavior – just to make sure we aren’t kidding ourselves. (Steps call this____?)
3. The journey bears fruit. Finally, as we do the appropriate actions associated with the first two stages of faithful exploration, it becomes a by-product of the work that we are spiritually awakened and we desire to love and serve others. In theory. (This step is:_______?)
As often happens, my friend saw little need for reviewing the first two stages and wanted to jump on the bandwagon of stage three. She was eager to use her experience to help others who were also struggling with the compulsions she herself was oh so familiar with. The problem, at least as I saw it, was that she was putting the cart before the horse. At this point, all she had to share was her “story” with a little s. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she spent her days endlessly repeating the sordid details of her affairs. This wasn’t carrying the message of hope so much as it was endlessly taking people around to the back of her metaphorical home and showing them the dirty laundry she hung up on the line without bothering to wash the clothes first. Making a mess is so very normal, we all do it in various ways, but if we want to change we have to be willing to not move too quickly away from the stench. We have work to do before things start smelling sweeter.