Two Paths Diverge, Part 2

You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I’ve had some trouble trying to understand the second phrase in this verse from the Psalms. “In your presence is fullness of joy” brings two mind two difficult questions for me. When am I in God’s presence? What is Joy?

At first glance, these questions might seem easily answered. After all, isn’t God omnipresent and isn’t joy that deep gladness we have knowing we are in God’s loving hands? For me, there is more of a mystery here than comes to light in these somewhat simple answers.

If I’m constantly in God’s presence, then how and why do I sin? Even if God is everywhere, I must acknowledge God’s ubiquity in order for it to have an impact on my life. I suppose it is a little like the perspective of a small child. I remember a time when our children were quite young, around 4 and 1. The oldest had just received a Christmas present that included a bunch of marbles. I was using a camera to capture the moment, but since I was behind the large video camera, he ignored the fact that I was in the room. His mom was behind the wall in the kitchen. He dumped the entire container of marbles out on the floor and they went everywhere. His mom heard the commotion and said, “Oh honey, why did you do that?” His reply was, “I didn’t, David [his little brother who was sitting there watching] did it.” The whole thing was caught on video.

I don’t believe he would have blamed his brother if his mom had been there present with him. We tend to behave differently when we are in the presence of others. Just take the anonymity of the internet as another contemporary example. There is a ton of evidence to the fact that people think no one is “watching” when they post text, pictures, or videos online. What we do when we think no one is watching reveals a clearer picture of our true character. It that is true, then it must also be true for our actions before an ever present God. So, we must be mindful of his presence to experience fullness of joy. But what is joy?

For me, this is even a harder question. Some writers think that joy and happiness are the same. Others say happiness has to do with circumstances and joy is unrelated to what is going on around us. Joy is somehow deeper, more related to our frame of reference than to our current situation.

When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we have the opportunity to experience a deep peace and gladness knowing that we are traversing the path of life that God constantly reveals, bit by bit, as we are able to receive it. So I can be sad and still experience joy. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. Full joy is God’s grace in my life to live through each moment, good or bad, as though God is right there with me. Moreover, I cannot begin to understand joy without grace because I don’t have it in me to see moments as God sees them. According to His Word, all opportunities, even trials, are a means for me to become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In His presence is fullness of joy. When we acknowledge God’s moment by moment presence with us on the path of life, we can experience full joy. This is another example of His grace and mercy at work within us. When I look at the opportunity in this moment to experience God’s loving presence, I see two equal roads.

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

So, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Grace and peace,

Henry

Living with Myself

Can I live with myself today, just as I am? This is a learning process. I do not accept all of who I am. God does, but I find myself too complicated, too self absorbed and too confused to fully accept I am who I am.

I find it interesting that when Moses asked what he should call God when others ask, God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” God fully knows himself and he’s not afraid to name and accept all that he is. If I am made in his image, then I wonder if I can accept I am who I am?

A new day of recovery brings with it the mystery of a pilgrim making progress on God’s path, the path of life that God makes known to me every day. When the rhythm of my life syncs with the pulse of the path of life, then I am who I am. My ups and downs become copacetic to me when I keep in step with the Spirit. I do not hike too slow or too fast. The periods of rest are refreshing, not annoying, because I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere. I pause to take in the view. Each breath is a deep, cleansing breath. After a long breath that raises my chest and expands my rib cage, I can say to myself, “I am same sex attracted” without shame. And somehow in that pause along the trail, I can live in peace with who I am in the context of a heterosexual marriage. These are miracles because my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.

So today is another hike down the path of life, the path of recovery. I hope to have the curiosity to discover more about who I am in God’s image and the courage to act accordingly.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Recovering Henry

 

The Valley of the Shadow

I want this blog to be my honest story about recovery and not simply hopeful bullshit. Yesterday and today have been really hard. I’m looking for pleasure in the wrong places. My eyes are hungry, starved for a hint of naked flesh. I want to release the pressure on my own, without God. My heart yearns to return to my addiction, to a mindless euphoric state. I’m distracted, off track. I’m supposed to be writing a disclosure statement, but all I do is play Texas Hold’em online, feel guilty and then stare at a blank screen trying to write down the specifics of my addictive behavior.

This morning I wrote down ten things for which I am grateful. While I was doing it the soupy fog lifted outside exposing the sun and blue sky. Sunshine was number nine on my gratitude list. Slowly, very slowly, writing the list and now blogging in the moment about the struggle is creating a gap in my soul just big enough to allow the warmth and light of a single ray of sun to massage my heart. My attitude is less bad but far from good. I cling – no my bloody fingers dig into the earthy edge of the precipice of recovery – to hope that God really can help. I don’t want to believe it. I’d rather let go and Fuck Everything And Run. But today, in this moment by God’s disruptive grace, I will haul myself up over the ledge of recovery once again.

Grace and peace to others on the journey of recovery,

Henry

Sobriety

Today is my hundredth day of sobriety. These past three months have been the hardest of my life. Leaning into my own pain is one thing, but watching the lines of pain crease the faces of my wife and sons is heart breaking.

I have come to know the steadfast love of the Lord differently. The cry of my heart is:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit . . . I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity . . . and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

My journey on this rugged path began when I was finally honest with myself about my condition. I want to live a life of honesty. I realize that Jesus is the Truth and that truth is something I must practice each day.

“Jesus is the light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

Until one hundred days ago, I lived in the shadows. Like the older brother in Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, I was lurking in the shadow. I believed I was obedient and working hard for the Father, but I was hiding part of my life from myself, from others and from God. I tried over and over to break out of the darkness, but I was always lured back. I know now I was powerless to control my addiction. On September 23, I stepped fully into the light, first with myself and then with others. On that sunny fall day perched on the steps of an old Capital Hill home amidst trees draped in golden leaves, I pledged to be honest to myself. I understood that God knows me completely, loves me completely, and by His disruptive grace, forgives me completely. I hope and pray I will also be able to love and forgive myself.

I am a pilgrim on the path of recovery. This will be my journey for the rest of my life. I am surprised by the unique challenges and joys of each new day. I live under God’s “severe mercy” and am thankful that I am able to share my experience with you.

Grace and peace for today,

Resentment

I read today that resentment is fueling my addiction. I am “addicted to resentment as a spiritual attitude.” I remember a time when the opportunity to direct a choir at church was taken from me. It was an honest blunder on the part of the pastor in that he thought I wasn’t really interested in the work, that I was only doing it out of a sense of responsibility. There was another person ready and willing to take over the position.

I was livid when I found out. I paced the streets around our home snorting obscenities to myself. I became more agitated with each step. I resented the pastor and the person who would be taking on the role of choir director. My mind was racing and my heart was pounding out the rhythm of rage. Why was I so worked up?

Resentment was my drug. I was trapped by a response elevating my own ego to a place of power and control over others. I marched into the pastor’s office on a Sunday morning before the service and expressed my anger in a way that shocked and hurt him. Eventually, I was given the position but several bodies lay along the path of my seething aggression.

I see now that my addiction to an attitude of resentment is masked by my addiction to sex. When I am sexually sober, then resentment wells up inside me. I resent people who have opportunities that I don’t have, I resent God for not healing my addiction, and I resent myself for not being able to control myself. I must confess and repent from resentment to break the pattern of self-obsession. When I am self-absorbed, I deny God in my life and turn to self-pleasure. I think I deserve the feeling but it is fleeting, over in seconds, and I’m left with deep shame and overwhelming guilt. The twin companions with which I have been trapped for most of my life.

Breaking the cycle of addiction means breaking the pattern of resentment toward others. Only then can I continue down the path to recovery.

Andante

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time . . . Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ

Recovery is hard, slow work. I’m only a fledging in the journey so I must be a student, willing to learn from the experiences of others. Recognizing I am powerless to control temptation, my sobriety comes moment by moment only by grace, a gift from God.

My impatience and desire for stability serve to press me to retake control and direct the recovery process. This act of ego and self will only leads to stronger temptation. Instead, I must lean into the instability of being on the way to something unknown, something completely new. I must believe that God is leading me and accept the anxiety of feeling myself in suspense and incomplete. Through the uncertainty, I must submit to the slow, steady tempo of recovery.

Can I trust in the slow work of God? I pray I can.