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Friday the 13th and the 12 Steps

Last week I celebrated Friday the 13th. Though I am not superstitious, I don't walk under ladders, try not to break mirrors and avoid black cats at all costs. That is mainly because I don't want somebody to drop something on my head, don't like picking up shards of glass and am not fond of any color felines.

In fact, 13 is one of my favorite numbers, and for the last 37 years Friday the 13th, in April, has held a special place in my heart. 56 years ago, Friday the 13th of April, was the birth of a precious lady who would 19 years later become my bride.  So you could say Friday the 13th is my "lucky" day.

It is interesting how our mindset can skew our perception of certain days or events. Halloween has never been quite the same since my dad died on that day in 1968. Christmas forever changed for my cousins when my uncle shot himself in front of their Christmas tree. Times of the year that seem festive and joyous for some may be filled with sadness and grief for others. Or vice versa.
While facilitating a grief group I was faced with the delicate problem of how to articulate the possibility that positive healing could come from the death of a loved one, without appearing to be unloving or uncaring. How could I share what God had been revealing to me since Debbie's death and not seem callous and heartless?

It took a few years, but God showed me that her death was the most important thing that had happened to me with the exception of my relationship with Him. What had seemed like the death of my hope and dreams became the beginning of the true life that God had always planned for me. Just as death leads to new life everywhere in nature, pain leads to healing. Deb's death forced me to look at life in a whole new light. From the place of ownership and taking personal responsibility for my character defects and in my own healing journey of what had been done to me. Through an interesting set of painful circumstances I was forced to look deeply into my heart and soul and come face-to-face with the real me. The good, the bad and the ugly. What I saw was disgusting, distressing and extremely overwhelming. I had lanced a boil on my heart and the puss came oozing out. For over fifty years I had been able to stuff, hide and put a positive face on my junk; but as God opened my heart to reality, it wasn't possible anymore. The old denial or posing no longer was able to fill the aching hole in my heart and my very being.

As we celebrated Easter last week I was reminded of a powerful truth. It could be argued that the single most tragic event in history was the killing of Jesus. But that painful event brought about eternal life for us. Pain can lead to incredible redemption, but only if we are willing to participate in our own healing. What was meant to destroy us can be used to draw us closer to the heart of God.

But this doesn't just happen.

We must accept our pain and work through it.

Henri Nouwen, in the book "The Inner Voice of Love" says:
"Your pain, deep as it is, is connected with a specific circumstance. You do not suffer in abstract. You suffer because someone hurts you at a specific time and in a specific place. Your feelings of rejection, abandonment, and uselessness are rooted in the most concrete events. In this way all suffering is unique. This is eminently true of the suffering of Jesus. His disciples left Him. Pilate condemned Him. Roman soldiers tortured and crucified Him.

Still, as long as you keep pointing to the specific, you will miss the full meaning of your pain. You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances and events had been different, your pain would not exist. This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you came in touch with the human condition of suffering. Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.

Paradoxically, therefore, healing means moving from YOUR PAIN to THE PAIN. When you keep focusing on the specific circumstances of your pain, you easily become angry, resentful and even vindictive. You are inclined to do something about the externals of your pain in order to relieve it; this explains why you often seek revenge. But real healing comes from realizing that your particular pain is a share in the humanity's pain. That realization allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life. That is the way of Jesus, who prayed on the cross: "Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Jesus' suffering, concrete as it was, was the suffering of all humanity. HIS PAIN. was THE PAIN.

Every time you can shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate, your suffering becomes easier to bear. It becomes a "light burden" and an "easy yoke" (Matthew. 11:30). Once you discover that you are called to live in solidarity with the hungry, the homeless, the prisoner, the refugee, the sick and the dying, your very personal pain begins to convert into the pain and you find new strength to live. Herein lies the hope of all Christians."

My pain pales in comparison to the unfathomable physical, emotional and sexual abuse, mental illness, and other tortures that mark the landscape of the hearts of some of my dearest friends. No human should have to endure such atrocities against their bodies, minds or souls.

That being said, it is up to us to participate in our own healing.

"There is real pain in your heart, a pain that truly belongs to you. You know now that you cannot avoid, ignore, or repress it. It is this pain that reveals to you how you are called to live in solidarity with the broken human race. You must distinguish carefully, however, between your pain and the pains that have attached themselves to it but are not truly yours. When you feel rejected, when you think of yourself as a failure and a misfit, you must be careful not to let these thoughts pierce your heart. You are not a failure or a misfit. Therefore, you have to disown these pains as false. They can paralyze you and prevent you from loving the way you are called to love."- Henri Nouwen

A counselor once told me this story: you are crossing the street and get hit by a drunk driver and are laying in the street. It was not your fault, but it is your responsibility, with the help of your friends, to get out of the street, into the hospital, and do the therapy, both physical and mental, it takes in order for you to be able to live and function, again.

Metaphorically speaking. I was hit by the drunk driver as a child. For over 50 years I laid in the street and was repeatedly hurt by careless uncaring vehicles, both big and small. Ten years ago I was motivated, by the pain, to drag myself into the hospital (for me it was a 12 step recovery program and getting into therapy). Some of the pain stopped and healing began. But as I started to receive some relief from the pain, I left the hospital and didn't continue the necessary work to walk in freedom.

I was crippled by unforgiveness and blaming the drunk driver.

When I had this epiphany I think I may have come to my senses. You see, in my case the drunk I was blaming was the little me. The stupid, ugly, unlovable little kid with the weird glasses. I was using little Mikey as a scapegoat so I didn't have to take responsibility for my life and grow up into the man God has planned me to be. Instead, I was being a victim, having my little pity party. Blaming the world and God for how my life had turned out. There is a time when, like denial, acknowledging we have been victimized is a healthy survival mechanism. Unfortunately, in can become toxic, paralyzing and life robbing if we choose to live there.  It felt ugly to me when my old friend, the 12 steps, pointed it out to me.

But it helped begin to heal me in a new way, too.  And for that I am so grateful. 

So it's back to the hospital for me.

Just surviving is not enough. I long to be alive and thrive. 

Maybe the day I had that epiphany will be a "luckier" day for me than Friday the 13th!!
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