Step Six of Religious Recovery begins the section on forgiveness by first taking inventory of our own past mistakes of religiously abusing others. Before judging another it’s important to examine our own lives to see if we have injured another in the name of religion. We tend to rationalize and justify our behavior, but if we can see abuse for what it is — in most cases simply misguided zeal — we can be more forgiving with ourselves and with others.
December 13: As we discover other individuals who have been abused by religion, it helps to connect and share our stories. Some people may not relate to all the same details, but there will be enough who do connect, and those connections will allow for healing. As Step Five mentions, success is best achieved through the practice of anonymity. Sharing works best in a safe environment.
Besides the differing world religions, there is also a movement back towards earth-born spiritual experiences such as those of the Native Americans. Step Four recognizes that The Divine can be seen in many ways, and by opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to any form in which The Divine chooses to speak to us, we can reach greater levels of Love and understanding.
By recognizing that we are spiritual beings who may or may not be religious, we find it easier to turn our lives over to this Higher Power which is expressed in Step Three as “The Divine.” Many people confuse religion with being spiritual. Religion is manmade whereas spirituality refers to that which was divinely given to us in our hearts.
A friend once told me she couldn’t memorize things the way I can. I was surprised to hear her statement, because I’ve never considered myself skilled at memorization. I’ve tried to memorize speeches in the past, but I usually fail miserably. If there is any secret to my ability to memorize, it is simple repetition.
I started memorizing Bible Scriptures years ago. I’d write them out and repeat them over and over until they stuck with me. Nowadays I memorize bits and pieces from other spiritual material I find meaningful. Some of my favorites are from the book, A Course in Miracles. Other things cross my path and I’ve discovered that memorizing them allows me the ability to recall them in times of need. Occasionally I memorize writings that come from traditions outside of my birth religion.
I don’t consider myself a natural when it comes to memorization, so I practice more because it doesn’t come easy. Sometimes in order to unlearn something it helps if I replace it with something more compatible with my chosen path. By the simple act of repetition, I slowly move forward. We memorize things in life without knowing it. Our route to work and our daily routine for getting dressed become so ingrained we can do them without thinking. Complex procedures like driving a car or work procedures are memorized by the majority of people. Nearly anything you want to retain can be memorized by simple repetition. We just want to be certain that what it is we’re memorizing is worth our time.
Step Two reminds us that “...The Divine has no religion, is greater than religion, and can heal us from our hurts.” The Divine is not Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim or any other religion. The Divine simply exists, and like any good Parent/Creator, this Higher Power wants Love to rule the Earth and for all children to get along.
Step One of Religious Recovery states: “We recognize we have been hurt, disappointed, or abused by religion or the religious.” The more people I speak with about religious abuse, the more I understand how prevalent it is. It’s a common condition among many people, but few seem to see a need for recovery. But once we recognize the need, we can come to grips with the problem and begin the healing process.
The road Home may take many detours and twists, but the important thing to remember is to keep walking forward. Sure, it’s okay to sit and rest a spell — even healthy — but don’t turn back. Regrets don’t help us move forward or enjoy the specialness of each moment. Forgiveness isn’t a backwards move but a step in the right direction.
We are not nothing. If we were created in the image of some Higher Power, then who are we to say we are nothing or that our lives don’t matter? We do matter — immensely — and so does everything in creation. Do not own a religious or personal belief that says your life doesn’t matter.
Some beliefs take a lot of time to change. When people learned the world was round and not flat, many people persisted in the old belief. After all, they could only see flatness in their world. What will it take to let go of beliefs that do not align with Love? Sometimes it only takes one rock to change the course of a river.
We can understand and appreciate community worship, but we must not forget we must also cultivate a relationship or an understanding of The Divine as individuals. We can look for The Divine in churches, mosques, temples and other places of worship, but we must also find that Presence within our hearts.
When we falsely judge another person, we disrupt our peace of mind. In fact, judgment opposes love. When we judge another, we find it difficult to love them. Let’s leave judgment in the hands of The Divine and live our lives from a Higher perspective.
When my children returned from school, one question I would ask was “What did you learn today.” Years have passed since my kids were school age, and I don’t remember any of the answers they gave. However, it seems like I recall many times their answers would be “nothing.” I’d press for more information, but they knew, and I knew, I was only trying to make conversation and to show some interest in their lives.
The question comes back to me now, and even though no one is waiting at home to ask me what I learned in the school of life, I find it’s not a bad idea to ask the question of myself. “What did I learn today?” Quite often our first response is “nothing.” If we dig a little deeper, we might discover we did learn something, or at least we should have. Lessons come to us regularly, but we don’t always learn from our mistakes. So, the lessons keep coming.
Learning takes time, but it helps if we review what we’ve learned in the past. Sometimes, before we can learn something new, we have to unlearn something that was either wrong, or simply didn’t work for us in our particular situation.
Step Six encourages us to take inventory of ourselves. It is difficult to try to change someone else, and that is not something Religious Recovery is trying to do. Our goal is self-healing. In keeping with that goal, we encourage people to take inventory of ways they may have hurt another. The place to start is within each one of us. As each individual changes, others are affected by our positive action. Change does not always occur through effort or force, but often by influence.
It is not unusual to get into a negative frame of mind, but if we determine to count our blessings and show gratitude instead of griping and complaining, we will be amazed at the improved quality of our lives.
What if we could redraw our past so we only have positive reminders of what was before? Two tools that help us do just that are forgiveness and blessing. By forgiving our past and by blessing the past we can pan for the nuggets of gold we may have forgotten or overlooked.
Love is difficult to define. We try to describe it by comparing it to other ideas and concepts. Some of these include the ideas to accept, tolerate, embrace, and forgive. Each of these gives us a piece of the whole, but none are complete images of love. Love entails a multitude of expressions, each lovely in their own right, but made even more beautiful when they work together.
Socrates stated that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Certainly this holds true when it comes to religion and spirituality. If we don’t examine our beliefs, if we don’t question what we have been told — as Stone Three suggests — then how do we know we are living up to our highest and best? What if there is more knowledge, more spirituality, and a deeper meaning that is only ours if we examine and discard what doesn’t work in order to accept the highest and best?
Sometimes people tell us they don’t need Religious Recovery because they’ve already healed from religious abuse, yet at times their actions seem to suggest otherwise. We don’t try to correct or change their mind. For one thing, we may have misinterpreted their actions, and it is we who are mistaken. As Step Thirteen says, “ . . . when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Gratitude is one way for us to change our thoughts so we can live happier lives. Being grateful for the things we interpret as positive is easy, but choosing to be grateful for the challenges of life is where the real difference is made. When we are able to give thanks in all things, we enter the realm of contentment.
One of the best ways to release emotions we deem harmful is to own them, and even to admit them to others. Take for example the emotion of envy. In its mild form envy can be helpful, even productive. I might see a good athlete and be envious of his talent. As long as we don’t allow our thoughts to turn in the wrong direction, envy can spur us on to work harder to achieve similar results. If the emotion is not owned and released, envy can manifest itself in ugly ways and lead to cruel words or actions.
If I am jealous of another author’s success, I have learned to own that feeling, and to even admit to them I am jealous — not because of their success — but because I haven’t been as fortunate. This allows me to own the feeling, and then I am able to sincerely admit I am happy for them in spite of my petty jealousies. When we do not own our feelings, they can turn ugly. When you bury your feelings they take root and grow. Owning them is like plucking them before they have a chance to germinate.
Owning our positive feelings provides positive results. By owning our joy, happiness, and love, we plant them more firmly in the soil of the soul where they germinate and grow, producing rich fruit that nurtures us and those around us.
All life shares the air, so why do some believe The Divine — no matter what name we assign — is the sole property of their religion? Isn’t it more logical to believe the “Great Spirit” that supports one religion might also be the same “Spirit” that supports all? If so, then wouldn’t we benefit from each religion’s perspective of “Higher Power”?
We have the ability to choose our thoughts. That is part of what is meant by the idea of having free will. We can selectively choose positive, energizing, joyful thoughts, and we can also decide to discard all negative, energy-consuming thoughts. We can choose our thoughts about other people and determine to love them and not to judge them.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Change your thoughts: change your life.” And when we change our lives we also change the lives of those around us. As we heal and grow, our relationships and situations are also affected. The difference that even one person can make in the world is immeasurable.
If we set our sights on a destination without regard to the path we’re walking, we can find ourselves veering off the path and losing our way. Of course we keep our ultimate goal in mind, but we must also notice the journey and the things we can learn and enjoy along the way. We might even discover the journey was not a means to an end, but was in fact an integral part of the end we sought.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.