Spirituality is best defined as a relationship between oneself and something more powerful than self that one believes in, finds meaning in, and experiences connection through. I love talking to people about what they believe – right after we get past their fear that I’m going to preach to them or pour them a glass of Kool Aid.
For most of us in Recovery, we find that having Faith in something more powerful than ourselves is vital to growth, healing, and ultimately, transformation. This can be a terrifying and frustrating process. As my friend Ardis says, “It’s very hard to believe in something more powerful than yourself when you don’t believe in yourself.”
Many of us searched for a Higher Power or God in books. I looked in the Bible, in touchy feely self help books, in comparative religion, and in philosophy. Four of the most beautiful and powerful words I hold dear are from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “We came to believe…” That book and the people who live their lives by it taught me what it is to have real Faith and to Believe both in myself and in a God of my understanding.
My lesson began with an old saying to open my narrow mind and wounded spirit, “Religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell and Spirituality is for those of us who have already been there.” I don’t believe in hell as an afterlife. I believe that hell is a place one is brought to by extreme suffering, whether from abuse, traumatic experiences, or disease – especially the disease of addiction. I believe that Winston Churchill was right when he said:
“When you’re going through hell, keep going!” I would simply amend that to say don’t go it alone because no one ever got out by themselves. We need guides and we need support.
I know that hell was a place I was sent alone. Today I understand that I can’t go there if I am in the company of good people. So I surround myself with people who can both challenge and nurture me. It was tough finding them at first. Truth is, I didn’t find them at all. My Higher Power had been putting them in my path all along. All I had to do was stop pushing them away.
I was raised in religion. I am in fact the son of a preacher man. I listened to my father describe the love of “Our Father.” I tried so very hard to experience this. Many years later I realized the problem. I could not associate love, beauty, approval and acceptance with anything masculine because I had never experienced those things from men, much less God. For most of us, however we conceptualize God has everything to do with the love we experienced from our parents. So God to me was a very feminine but largely detached and uninvolved God and I had to strive to be good enough for Her. Earning love sucks.
I tried religion again and again as an adult. I have always thought that what religion was supposed to be was a community of people sharing their spirituality. My Universalist Unitarian friends approach this. They are perhaps the most accepting and tolerant of all organized religions. My fundamentalist friends tell me the UUs aren’t a “real church.” I share with them that my goal is to be ever more patient and tolerant. Whatever works for you is cool with me. I needed something deeply personal and I needed something that got my needs met.
Spirituality has no rules. No one can tell me I’m doing it wrong. It’s me and my Higher Power and a whole bunch of coincidences/miracles.
It’s easy for me to have faith because I work with people in Recovery. I have a front row seat to watch God work in the lives of those who surrender their broken selves. I have seen that God works through other people. I’ve yet to experience a burning bush and so I need to be open and receptive to the people God places in my path. I get a lot of practice in Vulnerability and I’m pretty good at it until things get too tough or too good.
When we are afraid we seek control and when we are ashamed we sabotage all we see ourselves as unworthy of. These powerful emotions turn us into superstitious fools. Folks tell me all the time that they need to, “Knock on wood”, “Not tempt fate” and “Count their lucky stars.” I laugh because I’ve said those things. I’ve looked for omens instead of serenity. I’ve waited for the “other shoe to drop” and I’ve tried to make things go my way while hell bent in believing that they wouldn’t. It’s nice to be at a place where I can laugh about that. Laughter is Spiritual.
Superstition enables the illusion of control. Spirituality is the acknowledgement that I am in control of damn near nothing. I am powerless over an infinite number of people, places, and things. I once found this terrifying and today I find it liberating. I don’t need to be in control and I build faith by trusting that God will take care of what I cannot.
For as much as a person’s beliefs may mean to them, they will often fail to consider prayer as a means of coping or faith as a means of healing. We’re so afraid of getting it wrong. All major religions see God as infinite. If this is true then all explanations of God are accurate and any path that connects us consciously to Her/Him/It and provides us Serenity or Love or Joy would be divine. William James said, “Faith is a bet you can’t lose.”
Amy Grant sings it beautifully in her song, “Better than a Hallelujah”