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. – Step 12
"Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start." – Jesus, Luke 22:31-32 (The Message)
I am well named. Technically, I was named after my grandfather, Pieter Smit. I do carry some of his resemblance both in appearance and in passion. But I think I’m more like the disciple Peter. Unfortunately. I think this is true because my journey has been one of ongoing sifting, learning the hard way – from failure, from putting my foot in my mouth, from hitting the wall time and time again, for getting in my own way. This list goes on. I wonder, is your name Peter, too?
Jesus changed Simon’s name early on to Peter. Isn’t it interesting that in this scene, Jesus refers to his given name? It’s a nod, I think, an allusion to the fact that what Peter is going to be going through will be akin to starting all over again, choosing to follow Jesus all over again. What an incredible principle Luke gave us here. The journey begins anew. Jesus even brings Satan into the equation, essentially saying that the disciples will be experiencing some serious temptation – which they did. Don’t get stuck on the Satan figure here – when we get overly caught up in this personification we can lose sight of the bigger picture of evil in our world. We can be blindly giving in to some horrible ways of life and belief while we’re looking for the dude with the horns, tail, and pitchfork. Evil lurks in systems all over the world in plain sight – how are you doing in the face of those temptations? Power, Fame, Success, Prestige, Wealth – all of these temptations loom for us.
The bright side here is that Jesus said he prayed for his disciples that their faith wouldn’t fail them. This tells us that we can have confidence in this faith thing not to give way.
Jesus finishes this little episode by instructing Peter to look to his companions and encourage them, giving them a fresh start.
In brief, Peter could expect a new cycle of learning to be a Jesus follower which would be challenging in a sifting kind of way yet would not be the end of him. Once the struggle passes, he is told to help his brothers in their similar struggle.
Start over, and help others in their journey as you cross paths.
This is a tough pill to swallow, I think. We’re also not wired to think this way. Our culture is upward-oriented thinking. To go backwards is a sign of failure. Nobody wants to be demoted. Sometimes people would rather move to a lousy new location and maintain their status than to weather the storm on their pride that a demotion might bring. What do you think about this? How do you feel about the notion of perpetually working the Twelve Steps throughout your life? I bet some people are thinking “hamster wheel” – lots of effort to get to the exact same place you’re running from. Who wants that?
Perhaps our perspective needs to change on this? Parts of our lives may reel against anything but moving upward, but our natural lives actually have this built in whether we like it or not. Aging is a thing, apparently. Our bodies really do change with time. When they change, we are forced to think in new ways – a form of starting over. Relationships change. The way we relate to our kids changes. The way we relate to our spouse changes from the first few years to the later years. It’s not necessarily better or worse, just different. New. Starting over. This is just the normal reality of life. Perhaps the sooner we get our brains around that, the more we can enjoy the ride, and the more helpful we will be with those we run into who need what we have.
As it turns out, part of our success working this spiritual transformation process is dependent on helping others wherever we can. Do you know who learns the most in any given classroom? Not the star pupil. Not the least interested. The teacher. The teacher is the one who has to learn the material well enough to pass it on, and the teacher is the one who experiences the greatest depth of learning as they share it with someone else. Our personal and spiritual health is dependent on our giving away what we know.
Have you ever met a spiritually constipated Christian? They are no fun to be around, let me tell you. I met one of these miserable persons a number of years ago. He really wanted my help. He felt dead spiritually. He couldn’t understand why. He was constantly reading the Bible, listening to Christian radio for music and 24/7 preaching. He only watched wholesome TV shows. And yet he felt so distant from God. After thinking about it awhile, I let him know what I thought. He was constipated (spiritually). Lots coming in. Nothing going out. The thing he needed most was to practice all the stuff he knew was good, as the need arose right in front of his face. But he couldn’t imagine such a thing – all the people around him were stupid jerks and fools, he said. Hmmm. Another sure sign of constipation. You know I’m a doctor, right? Nevermind what type, just roll with me here… If you suffer from a stagnant faith, if you feel like you’re surrounded by a bunch of no-good heathens, and if you are able to identify a hundred things wrong with everyone around you from a hundred yards away, I’ve got troubling news for you. You are likely spiritually constipated. Your faith isn’t doing much for you, and it certainly isn’t doing much for anybody else.
A vital spiritual life requires our doing what we know to do. Jesus noted this in one of his parables that he used to close his greatest sermon:
"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit [and wildfires and cancer diagnoses and mass shootings and divorce and pink slips and market crashes and drunk driving and…]—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." – Jesus, Matthew 7:24-27 (The Message)
Jesus’ brother, James (or his disciples), thought the same when he wrote:
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. – James 1:22-25
The Apostle Paul lived this reality of starting over and over and over and helping others in their journey. He saw the real beauty in it:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. – Paul, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
If you want to be successful in the program, start over, and over, and over. By the time you are done you will be a different person with new challenges to mature through. The fantastic news is that as you move through the steps, you will meet people who need what you know. The more you give love away, the more you have. You can’t lose. As a CrossWalker recently shared a way to think about this that is more attractive to our Western sensibilities. Starting the 12 steps over isn’t regression, she said. Completing the Twelve Steps is the first rung on a ladder. The next Twelve Steps workout is the next run up. I like that a lot – definitely works with my Enneagram #3 way of thinking. Going through the steps again and again is an intentional act to become more mature, more self-aware, and more God-aware as well. That’s all good.
Especially since we’re in Thanksgiving week, I encourage you to take time to reflect on how God (or your faith) has helped you in specific ways recently and also in your past. Simply slowing down to think about these things will do some amazing things in your life. First, you will realize that God has indeed been at work in your life, which is amazing. This will build you into a more grateful and gracious person. It will also keep the incredible power of God to change lives at the front of your mind, so that when the Spirit’s wind blows you and another into the same air space, you just might have opportunity to be just what they need at just the right time. When that happens, it’s magic. It’s God. It’s vitality. Constipation alleviated. The frown gets turned upside down.
May you dare to recognize where you’ve grown and give thanks to God for being with you. May you hear the invitation to start over for even deeper life and love. May you be open to serve knowing your experience may be just what someone needs. May you give thanks again when you get to make a difference along the way.
*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram. Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”. There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test). In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps. You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats. CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand. In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with, as well as the story behind the creation of the songs at the Sleeping At Last podcast (search for “Sleeping at Last” on your podcast app). Also, search for the “EnneApp” for your phone – a great on-the-go option for your mobile devices. Also, look through 12Step.org for tons of helpful resources from the recovery community.