(This is a long one, so be prepared)
“No man can become a saint by hating himself.”
Life can be a bitch.
Actually, it very often is.
Rarely does life decide to retract its razor-sharp claws and let us live in peace. It seems like any time one area of life starts to get better, another area comes in to kick the shit out of your face, making it look like you’ve been playing emotional hockey all your life. We all keep smiling, but life has left us with noticeable gaps in our teeth.
Life is hard.
And church often becomes a place where we feel pressured to look better than we feel. With everyone smiling, well-wishing, and quoting scripture about how good it is to be alive, those of us plagued with our painful circumstances and devilish inner-dialogue retreat to the corner in fear, or boldly rise up and lie to everyone’s face.
“I’m doing great brother, how are you?”
“It’s going great, praise God!”
“Blah blah blah.”
With the fears and expectations of church culture pressing on our backs to be better people who make better choices, where do we turn when we really want help? Where can we go to be completely honest about the darkness and difficulties of our lives? Where do we go for real freedom to be who we are, and become who we want to become?
This is a struggle I have fought with for the majority of my life. I won’t pretend to have a complete answer to these questions, but I do have a beginning place.
Three years ago I made one of the best decisions of my life. In a state of utter failure and complete desperation, through the fog of many tears, I entered into a Celebrate Recovery meeting.
Celebrate Recovery is basically a Christian (admittedly cheesy & cliche Christian) version of 12-step programs. Despite all the overly-simplified, often eye-roll-inducing cliches shared at Celebrate Recovery, there are two noticeable differences from secular recovery programs that have made all the difference in my life.
1. In addiction recovery programs members introduce themselves by saying “Hello, my name is Kurtis, and I am an addict.” They identify themselves as addicts, alcoholics, etc. In Celebrate Recovery, they never call themselves addicts. They refuse to accept that as an identity. Instead, they say “I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with…” It seems like a small distinction, but it is a profound one.
2. Celebrate Recovery does not concern itself primarily with “sobriety.” Instead of focusing so much on changing the way we live, it gets to the heart of our struggles by focusing on the root causes of our behaviors. Because of this, the groups are not focused on one struggle like alcohol, drug addiction, or eadting disorders. They simply get to the core of your life-struggles. Many people attend because of co-dependent relationships, overwhelming anxiety or fear, or even the desire for control. With this mentality, it’s easy to see how each and every one of us could benefit from the program, and even easier to feel like each and every one of us belongs when we enter.
Untelling the Lie
It becomes so easy in life to believe and accept the idea that we are just messed up people. I often look at the choices I’ve made and their ensuing consequences, and eventually, all roads lead back to the idea that there is just something inherently wrong with me. Secular addiction recovery programs embrace this inherent flaw so as to stop living in denial, but ultimately they still accept that we are messed up from the core.
Celebrate Recovery has a different approach. One of the most common phrases you will hear in Celebrate Recovery is “hurts, habits, and hangups.” Our hurts, habits, and hangups are the whole reason we go to Celebrate Recovery, and they are the source of our “brokenness” that when addressed honestly, can lead us to freedom from our addictive behaviors. CR recognizes that we don’t simply need help in our addictions. We’re not just looking for a way to manage or control our destructive behaviors (though that is definitely a part of it). Instead, what we really need is to address and give up the things in our life that have twisted and tortured us. We need to honestly and courageously face our hurts, habits, and hangups in life.
My name is Kurtis. I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with many things. Listed among them are lust, lying, hiding, anger, and self-hatred.
I started attending CR because of my compulsion and temptation to lustful thoughts and pornographic material. But over the last three years I have learned one very important truth:
My greatest struggle is not lust.
My deepest and most destructive struggle is hating who I am.
The True Story
My whole life has been plagued by the disease of loneliness. Starting in first grade, when I got glasses for the first time, I noticed this sense of loneliness and sadness. After being the most popular kid in my kindergarten class, I couldn’t understand why glasses would make my friends go from liking me, to making fun of me. To be somewhat fair, they were TERRIBLE glasses…blue aviator style with a gold bar across the top. WOW!
In fourth grade, I couldn’t figure out why my best friends liked me so much when it was just us, but as soon as other people were around I became the butt of every joke and the one on the outside looking in.
Junior year in high school, I had the realization that I had spent seven weekends in a row at home, watching television with my parents instead of hanging out with friends who “forgot” to invite me to their activities. I was so saddened and angry by this that I started punching the fence. By the end of it, there were so many holes in the fence my parents thought a drunk driver ran into it.
I was chronically lonely. Even though I had a really good family, it felt like no one close to me was willing to put forth the effort to care about what I cared about, or to meet me in my struggles. It felt like I had no one my entire life who understood or cared enough to meet me in my pains.
Now that I’m an “adult” I have given up punching fences and crying on my bed. Instead, I have picked up other methods of coping with pain. Now I self-medicate my pains with mindless entertainment, pounds of junk food, arguing about everything, trusting almost no one, quitting anything that may not meet other people’s expectations, lying, hiding, and twisting the truth from those I love the most, and have full-scale fights with imaginary people alone in my car.
There is a simple truth at work here that is anything but simple to believe. Yes, you ultimately make the choice to do, think, believe, and act upon things that destroy yourself, your dreams, and your relationships; but at the end of the day, no one really ENJOYS destroying their own life and making themselves miserable. Our actions and choices are not premeditated self-sabotage. At the end of the day we are all acting out of our own pain; pain from things that were not a choice for us in the beginning.
No seven year old chooses to be made fun of.
No fourth grader chooses to have mean friends.
No human chooses to feel unwanted, unloved, unknown, and unimportant.
But it happens, and after years and years of learned behavior, it starts to have dangerous consequences.
Kill the Roots
In our second year of marriage, my wife and I had a DOOZY of a fight. Sitting on our bedroom floor, overwhelmed by frustration and anger, my wife asked me a question that may forever ring in my ears.
“Are we just delaying the inevitable? Should we just give up and go our separate ways?”
That was a sucker punch to my spirit that took all the wind out of me.
I couldn’t argue anymore.
I had no argument.
I no longer cared or even remembered what started the fight. All that mattered was the woman in front of me, the love I had for her, and her for me.
In perhaps one of my greatest moments of clarity, the Holy Spirit gave me a thought. I grabbed two pieces of paper and two markers. Handing her one of each I asked her to write down three things she needed to see from me in order for our relationship to work, and I told her I would do the same.
And in one of HER greatest moments of clarity, the first thing she put on my paper was:
“Address your hurt.”
She could have put anything. She could have said, “Stop being tempted by lust.” She could have said “stop all your destructive behaviors” or even “be a more righteous person.”
But she didn’t.
Instead of changing my actions or modifying my behavior she simply said: “Address your hurt.”
She had the clarity of vision, the wisdom, and the love to recognize that quitting, lying, and temptation were not my real issues. At the source of my sinful actions was a deeply-pained, knotted up heart that had been twisted by years of loneliness and emotional turmoil.
And she was right.
Three years in Celebrate Recovery and God has never addressed my sinful behaviors. Instead, He has consistently reminded me of past experiences that hurt me, revealed the true depth of those pains, and slowly, patiently moved me toward a place of healing and forgiveness.
My recovery has been about forgiving everyone that hurt me, whether by action or inaction, purposefully and unintentionally.
The more I forgive others, the more forgiveness I experience from Jesus.
And the more I feel Jesus forgive me, the more I have been able to forgive myself.
The crap in your life may be the result of your choices. We all have to live with the “consequences” of our sins and mistakes. But these destructive behaviors ultimately come from places of deeply-rooted pain.
If you are wrestling to “be a better person,”
if you feel stuck by the temptations or difficulties of life and feel like you just can’t overcome;
if you feel at the core of your being that it is your fault, please hear me say two things:
1. You are deeply and irrevocably loved just as you are
God is not looking to change you nearly as much as He is looking to love you and help you heal.
2. You can heal.
But before you can change your actions and circumstance, you must honestly and courageously allow God to address your hurt.
Where to Start
1. Find a Celebrate Recovery group
If you have no idea where to begin, Celebrate Recovery is a beautiful program that helps you do just this. It is free, and the community of people just like me helps me feel less like a crazy person. CR doesn’t always feel beneficial, but If I had not walked into that first gathering I fear I would have never begun, and I certainly would not be where I am now. You can click here to find a group near you.
2. Start Seeing a Therapist or Licensed Counselor
Nearly 1/3 of Americans go to counseling, but an even greater percentage find a reason not to. Therapy, if you can afford it, is an incredible place to learn the truth about why you are the way you are, to find healing in your life, and to move forward into better decision making in the future. There are some incredible programs and counselors that will charge you what you can afford, but they may be more difficult to get time with. The point is not to find the silver bullet on day one, but to start somewhere, and to make the necessary sacrifices to choose health and life over convenience and more pain.
3. Find a Willing Ear
Sometimes we just need someone that will listen. Talking openly and honestly with a trusted confidant often leads to life-changing realizations. Vulnerability is one of the most powerful tools we have in growing as emotional beings. So find a friend or family member you know loves you and begin a mutually-honest conversation today. If you can’t think of anyone, then let me offer myself to you. I am neither a licensed counselor nor an expert in psychology, but I can tell you I have stepped into freedom in many of my areas of pain and brokenness. If you simply need an ear to listen and a warm body to sit in the mess of life with you, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
We all make horrible choices that cause us and others pain,
but pain only begets more pain.
Break the cycle. Find a place and a people with whom you can share yours and begin moving toward freedom and forgiveness.