This Thursday, March 8, our church celebrates five years of Celebrate Recovery, and we hope you will join us for the festivities. For me, it will be especially meaningful. My precious husband John will give his testimony for the first time. I have no doubt that he will be his usual, eloquent self despite a stroke last year. He will be cool and collected, as he always is when he opens up the old wounds and publicly pulls back the covers on the regret, betrayal, and personal hardship that caused him to attempt to take his life.
It's what we do at Celebrate Recovery… put it all out there.
John's struggle is not a substance addiction although he'll tell you he did his share of self-medicating via bourbon. While there have been bouts of overwhelming grief, that's not his major issue either. His primary struggle is the same thing I battle, and, in all probability, you do, too. It's the sin that God detests; the one celebrated in almost every aspect of our culture. It's the worship of our self: pride.
We want to believe that pride and arrogance are the cloaks of the rich and famous, but unfortunately, it's in everyone's DNA. Pride weasels its way into our attitudes, choices, and judgments of others often without us realizing it. And without some sort of divine intervention, such as John and I have had, we are left to our own self-absorbed devices that lead us down roads of deception and destruction.
C.S. Lewis calls pride "the complete anti-God state of mind." It's also a subtle and dangerous state of mind; our self-promotion impacts our relationship with our Creator and our ability to love others and see them as He does. Listen to what Thomas Tarrants of the C.S. Lewis Institue says.
"As people lose or suppress the knowledge of God, spiritual darkness grows, and a psychological inversion occurs: in their thinking, God becomes smaller, and they become larger. The center of gravity in their mental lives shifts from God to themselves. They become the center of their world, and God is conveniently moved to the periphery, either through denial of his existence or distortion of his character. Self-importance and godless self-confidence grow stronger. The cycle that follows is familiar: people exalt themselves against God and over others. Pride increases, arrogant and/or abusive behavior ensues, and people suffer. The desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as God's creature lies at the heart of pride."
My issues with pride do not honor God and my enemy's ability to convince me otherwise or to color it as "confidence" only contributes to the problem. So, at Celebrate Recovery we are encouraged to put names on our struggles and shine the light of Christ into all our dirty little corners in a safe environment. One of the tenets of Celebrate Recovery is confidentiality. People who are courageous enough to come on Thursday nights must have the assurance that whatever they share will not be shared elsewhere by anyone. So, I have John's permission to give an excerpt of his testimony here and, hopefully, you'll hear the rest of this powerful God-story this Thursday.
"When I walked into Celebrate Recovery that first night and saw the first principle "Realize that I am not God" on the screen, it was terribly troubling to me. I thought...I know I'm not God! But in the weeks that followed, I kept coming to CR and mentally chewing on that very first principle. The lightbulb came on about week four when I finally understood what it meant. I am not God, but for much of my life, I had acted like it. I was ashamed. I'd spent my life asking God to help me in my earthly pursuits without ever asking what He wanted! I felt I could expertly handle any challenge in the courtroom and every time I would win a jury verdict or get a settlement it would feed my ego. There were a lot of "ego feedings" over four decades, but I don't remember ever intentionally thanking God for any of those victories. I gained a reputation for figuring things out, for seeing things other attorneys couldn't, but I never thanked God for the insight or intellect He had given me. I took all of His credit. I would tell Him what I needed but never asked what He wanted. My pride in my career, my honors, and my accomplishments was nothing short of idolatry. This realization was crushing.
I always thought I was a pretty good guy. In forty years of practicing law, I was fiercely committed to the truth, getting justice for my clients and helping them put their lives back together. I had a number of precedent-setting cases, and I never missed an opportunity to exalt myself internally. Then came the years of destruction: 2011 and 2012. I went through a painful divorce after forty-four years of marriage, battled a multitude of financial losses, and suffered family tragedy and personal wounding...one after another after another. I felt like I had failed at everything. The anguish and despair were so great, and the hope of ever pulling out of the situation was non-existent that I attempted to take my life.
I sincerely thank the Lord every day that He loved me enough to allow this painful process to unfold. He finally got my attention. Up until five years ago, you couldn't have convinced me I was dishonoring God by being good at what I did. Until Celebrate Recovery, I never took the time to find out what God expected of me. CR helped me understand and admit that I had my priorities all wrong. God had no problem with my success, but He did have a problem with me taking the credit for it. I worshipped success when I should have been worshipping the One responsible for it.
As I worked through the eight principles, I began applying them to my life. I had no problem in earnestly believing that God exists. But for the first time, I had to consciously commit all my life and will to Christ's care and control. I began to examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to others that I trusted. I had to forgive the people who had hurt and betrayed me, and I asked them to forgive me…trusting that forgiveness would open God's floodgates of healing. It did. Perhaps the hardest discipline has been learning to forgive myself, and I'm still working on that. With each surrender, God placed a hunger in my heart to surrender more. I started to relish time in His Word and in prayer, and I saw Him working all around me. I began to yield myself to His purposes and to look for opportunities to share the Good News about Him and the miraculous changes He has made in me. He has literally transformed the way I live and think, and I trust Him every day to show me His will for my life and how I can please Him (Romans 12:1-2).
I can never thank him enough for restoring my relationships with my children and grandchildren and allowing me to influence them as a man who sincerely loves God. I may be in the "fourth quarter," I may have fewer sands in the top of the hourglass than the bottom, but He has plans for me! He has given me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). In April, I will celebrate five years in recovery."
You'll be blessed by John's full testimony when we mark our fifth anniversary of Celebrate Recovery this Thursday, March 8. We hope that you'll join us! Just come as you are.
Carolyn Long is on the leadership team of Central’s Celebrate Recovery (CR) which meets Thursdays at 5 p.m. for dinner followed by praise and worship at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Student Ministries Building on Lafayette Street. CR’s five-year anniversary celebration will be Thursday, March 8. All are invited to attend.