We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. – Step 4
But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. – James 3:14 (NLT)
“Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” – Jesus (Matthew 6:22-23 NLT)
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus (Mathew 7:3-5 NLT)
This step has everything to do with how we see – ourselves, others, our experiences. If our seeing is off, our perceptions and interpretations will be off as well. Seeing ourselves with great clarity is critical if we are interested in growing more and more into our True Selves. As Jesus noted, if our eyes aren’t seeing correctly, it can severely limit our capacity to experience life in all of its fullness.
We’re pretty good at seeing other people’s junk, but as Jesus’ statement indicates, we may struggle seeing our own, larger problems.
In his book, Breathing Under Water, Richard Rohr acknowledges that for some of us who may have grown up in a legalistic environment where our sin was regularly pointed out to us, this step may seem like an awful return trip to a hell we’re glad to have escaped. So, he notes, “Shadow boxing, a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory,’ is for the sake of truth and humility and generosity of spirit, not vengeance on the self or some kind of total victory over the self. Seeing and naming our actual faults is probably not so much a gift to us – although it is – as it is to those around us” (36). This process is not easy – it is difficult and induces a lot of fear, actually, because we are naturally afraid of what we might find. When Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), he was referring to the truth of our sin, our natural capacity to mess things up. Rohr notes that before we enjoy the freedom, the truth makes us miserable! Why else would we avoid it?! Rohr reminds us of the goal of this step: “The goal is not the perfect avoidance of all sin, which is not possible anyway, but the struggle itself, and the encounter and wisdom that comes from it… People only come to deeper consciousness by intentional struggles with contradictions, conflicts, inconsistencies, inner confusions, and what the biblical tradition calls ‘sin’ or moral failure” (35).
In case you were wondering who needs to take Step 4, it includes you because we all have our shadowy side. Rohr: “Your shadow self is not your evil self. It is just that part of you that you do not want to see, your unacceptable self by reason of nature, nurture, and choice. That bit of chosen blindness, or what A.A. calls denial, is what allows us to do evil and cruel things – without recognizing them as evil or cruel. So ongoing shadow boxing is absolutely necessary because we all have a well-denied shadow self. We have that which we cannot see, will not see, dare not see. It would destroy our public and personal self-image” (37).
I thought it would be fun to play along with this idea of seeing, and take a look at three scenes from Jesus’ ministry where he helped restore vision to those who were blind. The first story comes from (Mark 8:22-26 NLT):
When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”
The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”
Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t go back into the village on your way home.”
I like this story for two reasons. First, it appears that this blind man wasn’t born blind, otherwise how would he know what trees looked like? That’s helpful because perhaps he had an accident or something that had incapitated him. To be healed meant to not just have his eyesight restored, but also his past. The second reason I like this healing story is because the healing took two steps. Nobody can be sure why the first spit-treatment didn’t work, but the point was that it took more than one attempt. That’s how it is with Step 4. We don’t see everything clearly all at once. Things come into focus over time and with effort. This is a lifelong process, actually, of getting to see more and more clearly for the rest of our lives if we choose. What a gift!
The second story I wanted to look at took place on the other end of ancient Israel (Mark 10:46-52 NLT):
Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.
What I like about this story is the commitment shown on behalf of Bart. He knew what he wanted and was willing to risk embarrassment to get it. There were forces within him and certainly outside of him trying to dissuade him, but he stayed the course. In our pursuit of seeing, there will be no shortage of distractions to knock us off track. Seeing is worth the effort – persist! As you persist, realize that God is with you to help you in the struggle. Like Jacob struggled with God, so we struggle – but God is on our side in the struggle, not our adversary. Our fear is our adversary, and God helps us to win that battle.
The final healing-of-blindness story is one I’ve referred to many times over my years as a pastor. It is a story of more than just physical seeing (John 9 NLT):
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”
But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”
They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?”
He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”
“Where is he now?” they asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.
Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”
The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”
The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”
His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”
So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”
“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”
“But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”
“Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”
“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”
“You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
“You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!”
“Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.
Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”
Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”
“If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.
Yes, this story is a miracle story, this time featuring a man born blind – a sign of God’s judgment in the mind of the story’s original audience. But much more than that, it is a story about a man’s growing understanding of Who is at work in the process. First, Jesus appeared simply to be a healer. But as he pondered as he was prodded, he then understood Jesus as one who surely had more going on – he must be a prophet! By the end of the story he has truly had his eyes opened while the religious leaders remained blind: Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the one clearly anointed by God. His proclamation got him kicked out of the “church” and cut off from Social Security. But he didn’t care. He could clearly see. This is the work of God, as Rohr notes: “The God of the Bible is best known for transmuting and transforming our very evils into our own more perfect good. God uses our sins in our own favor! God brings us – through failure – from unconsciousness to ever-deeper consciousness and conscience. How could that not be good news for just about everybody?” (39). Over time you will realize that God has been with you in the struggle to help you see everything more clearly for your benefit and for those you impact. God is always about making you whole and holy.
Stuff to process…
1. “Moral scrutiny is not to discover how good or bad I am and regain some moral high ground, but it is to begin some honest “shadow boxing” which is at the heart of all spiritual awakening. Yes, the ‘truth will set you free’ as Jesus says (John 8:32), but first it tends to make you miserable” (35). What part of you are you afraid to see? What are you afraid will happen if you are honest with yourself?
2. “The goal is not the perfect avoidance of all sin, which is not possible anyway, but the struggle itself, and the encounter and wisdom that comes from it… People only come to deeper consciousness by intentional struggles with contradictions, conflicts, inconsistencies, inner confusions, and what the biblical tradition calls ‘sin’ or moral failure” (35). When have you struggled to face the truth? What happened?
3. “Shadow boxing, a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory,’ is for the sake of truth and humility and generosity of spirit, not vengeance on the self or some kind of total victory over the self. Seeing and naming our actual faults is probably not so much a gift to us – although it is – as it is to those around us” (36). Recall a time when someone criticized your behavior. Step back from your defensive reaction and look for the truth that may lie at the heart of that criticism. How does that help you begin and honest moral inventory?
4. “Your shadow self is not your evil self. It is just that part of you that you do not want to see, your unacceptable self by reason of nature, nurture, and choice. That bit of chosen blindness, or what A.A. calls denial, is what allows us to do evil and cruel things – without recognizing them as evil or cruel. So ongoing shadow boxing is absolutely necessary because we all have a well-denied shadow self. We have that which we cannot see, will not see, dare not see. It would destroy our public and personal self-image” (37). Recall a time when your unwillingness to acknowledge an inner failure led you to hurt someone else. How might you have handled the situation differently?
5. “The game is over once we see clearly because evil succeeds only by disguising itself as good, necessary, or helpful. No one consciously does evil. The very fact that anyone can do stupid, cruel, or destructive things shows they are at that moment unconscious and unaware. Think about that: Evil proceeds from a lack of consciousness” (38). Think about a time when you admitted failure. How did that experience bring personal change?
6. “The God of the Bible is best known for transmuting and transforming our very evils into our own more perfect good. God uses our sins in our own favor! God brings us – through failure – from unconsciousness to ever-deeper consciousness and conscience. How could that not be good news for just about everybody?” (39). How have you experienced God using your sins in our own favor? Have you ever witnessed it in someone else?
7. Most of the time we learn from experience when it comes to our personal morality. When we blow it and it catches up to us, then we have to pay attention. We can be proactive, however. There are a number of things we can do that will help us envision a higher standard which may help us see where we have accepted a way that is not as healthy. Reading resources that provide that vision helps pull us up before we fall (the Bible, helpful personal growth resources, etc.). How have you been proactive in becoming more whole instead of waiting to find out the hard 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.