Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is an offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Difficulties in life bring out the best in us. And the worst. This was certainly true of my experience with cancer. I prayed and practiced surrender and took in the love and support of others and of God. And I was resentful and jealous and reactive.
The resentfulness, jealousy and reactivity were not pretty. They were dark and disturbing. This darkness needed my attention. It needed to be acknowledged and healed.
Scripture offers us tools for attending to our dark side. Scripture teaches us to invite God to search us and to show us our hearts, our anxious thoughts, our offensive ways (Psalm 139:25-26). It also teaches us that confession is an important part of our healing. (James 5:16).
God is not surprised by the darkness of my responses. God knows that my self-seeking and selfishness will show itself on a regular basis. And God has provided not only forgiveness but practical help and healing. God offers to reveal my offensive ways to me and to help me tell the truth about them so that I can be healed.
The book Alcoholics Anonymous provides some practical tools for attending to our resentments and fears. These tools can be helpful to anyone whether we are struggling with an addiction or not. In Step Four of the Twelve Steps we are given guidelines for making a “fearless moral inventory,” in which we explore our resentments and fears. And in Step Ten we continue taking daily inventory of our resentments and fears and we continue to make amends when we have wronged another person.
When I found myself reacting to the diagnosis of cancer, I used the tools of inventory taking. I began by praying that God would reveal my anxious thoughts and offensive ways. And then I wrote down what or who I was resentful towards. And why. I wrote down the ways I believed I was being hurt or threatened. And then I asked the question suggested in Alcoholics Anonymous: “Where was I being selfish, self-seeking, dishonest and afraid?”.
The following is some of my inventory about my resentment towards friends who didn’t respond just the way I wanted them to respond.
Where am I being selfish?
I think it is all about me, ‘I have breast cancer, pay attention to me,’ is what I seem to want to demand of my friends.
Where am I being self seeking?
I am seeking attention and sympathy, but not too much sympathy, everyone has to get it just right. I am also seeking approval for how I am handling this.
Where am I being dishonest?
I am deceiving myself in thinking that others need to pay extra attention to me; I am deceiving myself that there is a good way, as opposed to a bad way, to be coping with a difficult diagnosis; I am deceiving myself that I need to prove myself to my friends in some way; and I am forgetting the truth that I can rest in God’s love and care no matter what I am feeling or needing.
Where am I afraid?
I am afraid that I am not handling this well and that I will lose the respect of my friends.
I also wrote inventory about my resentment toward the cancer itself.
Where was I being selfish?
I acknowledged the terrible thought that “I would rather this was happening to someone else instead of to me.”
Where was I being self-seeking?
I would rather be the helper than the one being helped, because then I could feel more in charge of things, and feel like I have something to offer, rather than feeling out of control and vulnerable.
Where was I being dishonest?
I am believing the lie that I am in charge of my health. And I am believing the lie that I should somehow be immune from this kind of human suffering. I am also believing the lie that I don’t have a lot I need to learn from this experience.
Where was I being afraid?
I am afraid the cancer might return. I am afraid of the procedures and the surgery. And I am afraid of being afraid.
After I wrote this inventory, I talked to God about what I had written and I talked to at least one other person. This was helpful. It relieved me of some of the burden of pride and pretense. I experienced some relief from the feelings that accompanied these selfish, deceitful, fearful thoughts. This is consistent with the teaching in 1 John 1:9 that when we confess our sins we are forgiven and purified. Later, in this same text (I John 2:8) it describes the “darkness passing” and the “true light shining.” This is what I experienced when I took my inventory and shared it with both God and another person. I felt the darkness passing and the light of God’s grace shining in me—correcting me, healing me, freeing me.
One of the reasons taking inventory is so important is that we tend to wander off the path. We forget who we are, who our neighbor is and who God is. We forget we are loved. We forget we are valued. We forget our neighbor is also deeply loved and valued. We forget that God loves us. We wander off looking for love and valuing in some other place. We get proud, greedy and defensive. We treat others as less than the precious children of God that they are. We forget that we can rest in God’s love and care for us. And, as a result, we make a mess of things.
In the daily adventures of life, taking inventory of our anxious thoughts and offensive ways makes it possible for God to heal us and free us. God restores us to our right mind. God reminds us who we are, who our neighbor is and who God is. We, who were confused and lost, are found again. And, we are told, that when the lost are found, there is always great rejoicing in heaven.
When you don’t know what to do…take inventory.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. Ask God to reveal your resentments, especially in relation to the difficulty you are experiencing.
2. Who or what are you resentful toward? Why?
3. Ask God to show you, in relation to your resentments, where you are being selfish, self-seeking, dishonest or afraid.
4. Share what you have been shown with God and at least one other trusted person.
5. Ask God to continue to free you from your resentments.