Thoughts on Courage in Recovery

Mark Verkler

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.” –G.K. Chesterton

 “Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” –Mark Twain

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” –Sir Winston Churchill

It takes courage to face the real me. Those dark parts of my heart. The places I’ve tried to ignore or deny or cover up. I find it much easier to focus on the darkness of other hearts, or the passing pleasure of sin, or escape’anything but look at the darkness of my flesh. In Psalm 32 from the translation entitled The Message, we read of the freedom that comes from facing the darkness inside and letting it out into the light:

Psalm 32: 1Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be–you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean. 2Count yourself lucky–God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him. 3When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. 4The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up. 5Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone–my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared.

We try to do it our way; we try to ‘fix ourselves’–anything to avoid the dreadful exposure of our darkness to another.

In C.S. Lewis’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader,’ the young man Eustace describes how he changed from a dragon back to a boy, but only after unsuccessfully trying to peel the dragon skin off of himself three times before. After these failed attempts, Aslan, the story’s Christ figure, removed the dragon skin for him. In Lewis’ story, Eustace retells the event like this: The very first tear he [Aslan] made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off’.Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off’just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt’and there it was lying on the grass; only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been.

Jesus said to find life we would have to lose it for his sake (Matthew 16:25). It may seem a perilous thing for us to say, “search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). How can we have the courage to let God in? To let others in? To look at ourselves?

First John chapter one teaches that this begins with the honest admission of sin. If we say we have no sin or have not sinned, we are lying to ourselves and to God, the apostle tells us. But he also tells us that if we have the courage to confess our sins, the cleansing comes. A simple definition of confession is to agree with God. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and we must agree with God about it. Sin is there; sin is evil; and sin deserves punishment. When we honestly confess the blackness of our sin before God, we can then thank God for the cleansing blood of Jesus that was shed on our account.

Do you have the courage to consecrate yourself to him, or will you hold back? Do you have the courage to face the depth, the breadth, and the blackness of you sin, or the pain that it has caused you, others, and even God himself? Have you become so accustomed to denial, excuses, and self-justifications as to be content to stay in that neighborhood? Do you have the courage to move into the unknown–the unknown territory of confession, surrender and consecration?

We find exhortations in Scripture to take courage! The Lord wants us to face the unknown, knowing that he is ahead of us and with us. “Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because GOD, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). “Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. GOD, your God, is with you every step you take” (Joshua 1:9). Friends, we can know, with anything God is asking us to confront–in ourselves or otherwise–he will be with us. So, in the words of John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.’

The Blessing of Brokenness

One of the consequences of the fall is that shame makes us hide. It is the natural outcome of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When we sexually act out, instead of turning to the Father and asking for help we run 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Moving out of the light to conceal our secret into the darkness to hide our shame and sin. We put on our fig leaves and hide our nakedness.

We prefer the wilderness instead of remaining in the garden in His Presence. We know we have sinned and have done wrong and our first impulse is to hide. That is what shame makes us feel. We judge and condemn ourselves.

Then there is the self-talk: you did it again, how could you? Was it worth it, the bad feeling in the pit of our stomach? How dare you ask for forgiveness again? We can get depressed. We beat ourselves up. Often many of us will essentially voluntarily isolate ourselves feeling unworthy and deserving of banishment. Our sex drive seems impossible to overcome. As rebellious reprobates, we deserve judgment and punishment for our failings and shortcomings. So we feel we have no other choice but to do what Adam and Eve did, we’re naked so we hide and cover ourselves. We stay exiled, self-imposed. Because of our shame we feel we have no other place to turn.

Psalm 52:17 says: ‘the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.’ NIV

On the other hand what if we are posing that we are all just fine? Yet I do not think that that front will allow us to benefit in our desire to stay sober.

There is a story that I think explains brokenness very well. There was a young priest who was about to lift the communion cup up and bless the cup. The cup was made of choice crystal and very perfect. Just when he lifted up the cup it slipped out of his hand and broke in a million pieces all over the floor. He looked up at the senior priest thinking that he would be ridiculed and instead the senior priest said, ‘I never knew there were so many beautiful pieces to reflect the light until the cup was broken. How marvelous and beautiful are all the pieces when the light shines on them!’ It is the light that shines though our brokenness that is so beautiful. For that light is the Lord. What we fear is to be broken or be seen as broken but as the story illustrates it is in our brokenness and non-posing state that the true light of Christ can shine in and make our brokenness beautiful. The addict has to see her/his brokenness if they are to over- come one of the major obstacles in recovery.

George MacDonald says: “Gather my broken fragments to a whole. Let mine be a merry, all-receiving heart,
but make it a whole, with light in every part.”

John Eldredge in Wild at Heart comments, “But you can’t do this at a distance; you can’t ask Christ to come into your wound while you remain far from it. You have to go there with him.”  We are in pain and are broken. Its ok to be broken, it is in our brokenness that we can bring it to the Lord and have His touch and light heal and bring hope to our broken heart.

I have resisted for years to allow myself to experience the pain of brokenness but this last year I experienced many things that suggested I was not in control of my life and that the world I lived in was broken including me. As long as I tried to hold on and make it work I would get depressed, tired, a bit moody and self absorbed–I did not want people to see me in pain.

Finally in May of 2002 my cup was smashed on the ground, I never thought that with so many pieces all over the place that order or hope would come. But yet to my surprise God used this brokenness to show me how much He really loved me (and he’ll do the same for you.) After a very painful divorce and relocation God used His church to show me love when I had nothing to give. It came down to me and my God. I have had friends support me and give me space to heal and grow. Then I received encouragement from pastors/ministers, allowing my life to be touched by others. Then my own practice began to pick up, and finally after time, God even allowed me to meet the most beautiful woman I have ever met. It has been a joy to be in relationship with Amy and not be afraid of the past, able to give love to her from a place of strength and not need. I have love that I can share with her and others because my brokenness allowed for God to fill me with Him. She and others have seen me for who I am. My brokenness has allowed me to be made whole–to begin healing, not by me, but the Lord. The very thing that I thought would destroy and break me God has used to bless me. This is truly the best time I have been experiencing in my life. Even though there was a period of six months of deep pain, God has taken me and allowed me to experience brokenness, to lose everything that I thought would give me peace. And He replaced that with Him. Now He is even giving me the desires of my heart. He will for you too.

May we not see our brokenness as a road block to healing and wholeness but as a door to enter, to begin that wonderful journey where we experience the love that God has for all of us. May we allow him to heal our hearts. Heal and reflect His love.

For more help, see Every Man’s Battle or call 1800-NEW-LIFE (639-5433) for more information