Building Faith

“Religion is for those who are afraid to go to hell and spirituality is for those of us who have already been there.” – Heard in the halls of AA

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun” – Bill Joel “Only the Good Die Young”

We love talking with people about their Higher Powers. We respect what any person believes, but we find a lot of views self-limiting and some even a bit humorous. We’ve talked with a lot of folks whose beliefs hold them prisoner to a lifetime of striving for the unattainable. We have suffered our share of bleeding deacons (the martyrs amuse us). We have met with many who are angry with their HP. We ask them if they’ve talked it over with He/She/It. They’ll shudder and say that they aren’t sure they can or should do that. We laugh and tell them, “sure…as long as you don’t tell your HP how you feel, then S/he doesn’t know…” This is the absurdity of fear based faith.

Shame and fear based people impose human ideas onto God and decide that S/he sees things the way we do. The most painful examples of this are the hundreds of women we have known who simply cannot forgive themselves for having had an abortion. These good women argue that they broke the most important of the ten commandments, “thou shalt not kill.” We have pointed out to them that the commandments also direct that Christians are not to curse by saying Jesus Christ. We challenge them to find in scripture where breaking one commandment is worse than breaking another. They can’t of course because the Bible does not advise that. It’s a human idea that one sin is worse than another – it’s something we made up not God.

There’s a lot of things that people think are in the Bible that aren’t. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, “God helps those who help themselves”, and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. We’re all about folks helping themselves but we also know that effective self help incorporates the support of others. Cleanliness is nice but we’re not sure that being slobs puts us outside of grace. We believe that HP may only give us what we can handle – but life gives us things that we can’t. Because folks want their suffering to have meaning, they sometimes decide that when shit happens it’s a test from their HP. We’re not sure about tests. We believe that shit just happens and that it doesn’t mean anything unless a person decides that it does. Perhaps it all depends on how one sees their HP. To countless millions of people, God is an angry and judgmental being. We sometimes wonder why anyone would want to believe like that.

We heard of a very wise sponsor recently who met with an agnostic sponsee. The sponsee wanted very much to have a HP, but like so many of us, what the man had learned of religion simply did not work for him. The sponsor asked him to describe what he would like his HP to be like. The sponsee considered this at length and wrote out in detail what God would be to him ideally. The sponsor smiled and explained, “well then that’s what God is to you.” The simple wisdom of this is brilliant. If God is infinite than all explanations of God would be true because every possible description fits into infinity.

Because we have an odd sense of humor, it occurred to us that we could market the idea of creating one’s personal HP based on the “Build a Bear” concept. Dress It up however you like. Give It a name. Put a big smile on It. Call It your own – it’s yours and no one can take it from you.

This is why we prefer spirituality over religion – no one can tell us we’re doing it wrong. There are no rules and no collection plate. Our HP doesn’t need us to sit on uncomfortable wooden pews nor does S/he require a collection for a new parking lot.

What most of us seem to miss is that we can apply the Keep It Simple System (K.I.S.S.) to a God of Our Understanding. We define spirituality as simply a relationship between self and whatever one believes in. This scares many of us because we struggle in all types of relationships and because we tend to have negative expectations with authority figures (and what is God if not the ultimate authority figure?). If we’re not careful in building our HPs, then we tend to conceive of them as being like our parents. If your HP isn’t meeting your needs – rebuild Him/Her. Remember that we need not be bound by what we were taught or by what we fear, We are free to embrace a Higher Power that helps us to heal, learn, and grow.

The importance of a Higher Power cannot be overstated. Almost every person we know with long term recovery has experienced significant spiritual growth. The simple truth is that our way doesn’t work and HP’s does. We believe that it is our HP’s grace and our sweat that makes things happen. We do not conceive of a HP that simply takes away our troubles for S/he knows we would run right out and get into them again. Rather, we are given countless opportunities to let go and to learn the lessons. We believe that HP works through other people and that we must surround ourselves with a sufficient quantity of good folks at least until burning bushes or divine telegrams start showing up at our doors.

William James said, “Faith is a bet you can’t lose.” We see that as meaning that if believing in something brings serenity to your life then it’s worth it. Faith will always be a risk, but the rewards of an afterlife are not our concern. We are concerned with this life and will deal with the next when and if it comes. Human beings have been questioning the existence of a God for millennia. It seems to us that one of the many limitations of being human is that we lack the capacity to grasp even the smallest essence of what our HP is. Better to focus our attention on understanding ourselves, working the steps, and provide service to those in need.

The key must always be that one conceives of a HP that believes in us. Any other option simply increases the distance between us and a HP and leaves us lacking faith in ourselves.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.