Follower: a 5th step

In my life I’ve experienced some holy moments. Someone called them “thin places” where the atmosphere between here and God seems so thin that you’re almost there. I’ve experienced “thin places” in the delivery room with all 3 of my children, on a hiking trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota, in the hospital room of dying believers, during a Roman Catholic funeral mass and every time I sit in a room to share someone’s 5th step.

We make a list. We take an inventory. And then for our next step we meet with a trustworthy individual and we share our list.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

There’s never been a moment more holy in all my life than when I’ve listened to someone make themselves vulnerable, speaking openly and honestly (often for the first time in their life) about what they’ve done and what has been done to them, their thoughts and feelings, fears and failures, the defects of character they recognize within themselves. I’ve had the privilege of going through this experience now more than I can count. Every time I am awed and inspired.

I’ve heard almost every confession you can imagine. It’s not a counselling session, it’s not about seeking forgiveness for things or beating ourselves up by reopening old wounds. A 5th step empties our secrets. It is amazing how our secrets, whatever they are, no matter how mundane or trivial they might seem, can choke the life out of us, can be excuses to return to poisonous and self-destructive means to make ourselves feel better. People leave the room looking and acting lighter than when they came in.

When we share our secrets and the person with whom we share them still accepts us, doesn’t run screaming from the room, sticks with us and genuinely seems to still care about us and talk to us as a human being of value after, comes as both a shock and a relief.

Most believers have been taught by the church system to put on their ‘holy’ mask, keep it on tight and never let someone in your “secrets” cupboard. It’s as if the Bible told us, “that the past is the past and needs to stay there”. But it doesn’t. Neither does it guide us to a professional confessor. It tells us to tell our secrets to each other, let each other in to our “secrets” cupboard – so that we can be healed. Deep down, like all true addicts, we fear that that path, letting someone on the inside, will only lead to rejection and pain. But that’s a lie to keep us sick and isolated in our secrets.

We tend to say we share our secrets with God. I doubt, though, if we really achieve that on a felt level. How can I say I have really trusted God with my secrets if I can’t tell one trustworthy son or daughter of God with my stuff? Taking this step moves me from adherent to follower – I don’t want theoretical freedom, I need practical experience. Some things require a God with some skin on. To borrow some New Testament language, how can I say I’ve told God if I can’t even tell my brother (or sister)?

One thing has been true of every 5th step I’ve been part of as a secret teller or secret listener – the exact amount of freedom you experience is directly proportional to the honesty and thoroughness that you put into it. The truth really can set you free.

Is there anyone in your life to whom you have ever told all of your secrets? Would you ever be willing to sit down with another human being who is just like you and share what’s on your list? What holds us back from coming clean with each other about our stuff?


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in 12 steps, Christianity, Church, Confession, denial, God, Life, Lists, love, questions, recovery, sick, theology, truth. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Follower: a 5th step

  1. Judy says:

    Before I did my 5th step, these are the past experiences I had in the church that kept me from sharing my secrets (I love that you put the qualifier “trustworthy” before “son or daughter of God”):
    Rejection. Condemnation. Judgment. Being treated and/or labeled as bad, defective, crazy, lazy, or stupid.
    Having “hands laid upon me suddenly” for healing – without my consent.
    Being given advice rather than people listening and caring – therefore being fodder for THEIR addiction to fixing, controlling, and forcing.

    I never even knew what the steps were until three years ago and even then, I certainly didn’t think at the time that they applied to me – but when I finally did my 5th step last year, it was with someone I trusted with my life. The garbage I dumped on this person was incredible – but there was no judgment, no condemnation, no effort to fix what was wrong. This person just listened and accepted me. That’s it, that’s all. I felt like the woman caught in adultery: vulnerable, watching those evil forces that were behind everything that I’d done, everything others had done to me – my accusers – one by one (as one Christian comedian put it) “drop their rocks and split.”

    “Where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?”
    “No one, Lord.”
    “Neither do I. Go, and sin no more.”

    I have often referred to myself as Lazarus, for the simple reason that I spent my whole Christian life bound up in grave-clothes that nobody in the church knew how to unwrap me from. I lived all that time thinking that I was “alive in Christ.” Any movement toward the light was seen as spiritual growth, never mind that I could barely move, barely breathe from the stench. Hop, hop. There, I made some progress. How pathetic…

    But by the time I was done my fifth step, (I find it so powerful that Jesus told OTHERS to unwrap Lazarus and let him go …) I could feel the grave-clothes of the past start to be unwrapped. I could actually see clearly what had been hidden from my eyes for such a long time by the spiritual mummy-wrappings around my mind and heart – my spiritual head and eyes. And I knew that He would not abandon me.

    I was so very ready to take the next step – and the next.

    • brianmpei says:

      I think timing is pretty critical for all of the steps. It amazes me the number of times I’ve discovered something on my tenth or eleventh trip around the same mountain that was there on all the other trips ’round but the time just wasn’t right. As long as I think hiding still works it’s best for me to keep as hidden as possible.

  2. TJ says:

    Each time I’ve done these steps I’ve made my list…I’ve shared my list.
    Each time I’m surprised by the stuff there is to put on the list.
    Each time more trash gets put out.
    Each time I’m changed….again…more….
    I look forward to each time, knowing it’s going to hurt…and going to heal.
    Funny thing is happening…I’ve become more aware of the ‘nature’ of my wrongs…when I’m being my ‘me me meeee’ self…and there are mini-lists each day…that get shared each day…and apologies each day…
    House cleaning…not the way you house clean for yourself…the way you do it if friends or family are coming over, or when you’re moving out….yeah…much easier to have people over when you do it that way…nuttin’ to hide…

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