“Where is the “re-do” button on my life?” I have wondered that more than once. My computer has a restore point that, when the all else fails to fix the mess, I can take my computer back to where it was a day ago, a week ago, even longer. How many times have I wanted a link to click on that will take me back several decades.
The problem is I want to take the lessons I have learned up to this point with me. I don’t want to go back to where I was without the hard-won truths I now possess. I’m not even sure that Steve Jobs could have figured out an app for that one.
There is hope, though: God restores our souls and the re-set button God uses has a fancy term called the “discipline of confession.” It really is a fresh start. By saying the truth of who you are and what you have done, without any excuses or rationalizations, we open the door to God to hit the “restore” link in our souls. The 12-steps in A.A. and its affiliates say it this way:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or food or sex or lying or drugs or fake religiosity hypocrisy or [fill in the blank]—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves [I am using the word God in this essay but call him/her/it what you want; see next point] could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. [The Church calls this the “discipline of confession:” no excuses, no rationalizations, just straight-up talk about how wrong we were in all kinds of ways.]
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
As we open up our lives, we partner with God-as-we-understand-him/her/it, allowing God to hit the “restore” link in our life. Next, we show ourselves and others that the mess really is being dealt with and not swept under the rug. [The Church calls this “penance.”] The next steps shows us how to begin to make that happen:
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
The need to hit “restore” happens more than once:
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
We then seek to move forward, creating less destruction and havoc with ourselves and others:
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
We return to the practice of these steps regularly:
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The Church calls the yearly springtime process of doing this intentionally as a group “Lent.” It is a time of invitation to people, whether they can admit to others in a group their deep brokenness or not, to stop running and hit the “restore” button in their lives. Unfortunately, the Church does not always facilitate or explain this process well to its people. At times, the Church needs the folks in the 12-Step groups to show it how to do this more effectively.
That doesn’t mean that the idea of Lent with its invitation to fasting, almsgiving [hospitality and care for others] and confession are wrong or useless. People can and do mis-use a 12-Step program by lying to themselves and their sponsors, having remorse only over being caught and cornered into a program. That doesn’t make A.A. any less effective.
And so it is with the way God works through the Church to restore souls. Just because people who consider themselves Christians can be mean, small-minded, bigoted, hateful, unloving, lacking in generosity and hospitality, and/or unrepentant for really bad things, does not render God’s good gift useless or ineffective.
We all need to get back on the wagon, no matter which wagon we were riding on when we fell off. The Church calls that “daily repentance.” It is what Lent is all about. Think of it as a six-week long A.A. meeting with restoration [or Resurrection] at the end.
Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog at www.valeriehess.com and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation” (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.