Step 4 – a routine step on a not-routine morning

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

The wisdom of self-reflection seems irrelevant at best on the morning after the terror that ended the 2013 Boston Marathon. Evil reigned once more, it seems, and we the powerless bystanders. Our emotions are charged and the inclination to personal moral inventories is not in queue. For all endeavors, there is a season and for those shaken by the senseless violence this is not the time to dive into a fearless search of self.

When the time is right, however, there is a quixotic truth offered in the spiritual wisdom of the 12 Steps. Specifically troubling, but profoundly wise, is the admonishment that our healing can only come when we begin to honestly face the stuff that is crammed under our beds and in the dark recesses of our closets. This invitation to soul-searching is no simple litany of confession and assurance nor even a sacrament of reconciliation, this is a pilgrimage to the deepest recesses of our being that parallels Dorothy’s odyssey to the Wizard.

A newcomer may find it odd, but the journey to self-awareness begins by listing the fears, resentments, and angers that we’ve collected over time. We have plenty of them this morning. Our listing is not to suggest that life’s calamities are in any way caused by us nor are we necessarily culpable for the bad things that have come our way. The fact is that bad things happen to people who are not deserving. Even so, spiritual guides across time and continents have discovered that if we are holding on to an injury, unintentionally allowing it to continue to shape and hurt our lives, there is a hook that is ours. Only when we look deeply into not only what happened but how we responded can we begin to unhook ourselves from the drama.

Our hooks will be varied but if we are honest with ourselves, we will find them. Often they surprise us. I was ranting about a Board meeting to a friend, and the friend invited me to “do a 4th Step” on the event. As I typed my frustration, I relived my angst as the Board’s leader moved from crisis to crisis dragging all of us on an emotional roller coaster. Empowered with muscle memory, I begin to look more closely at my response. My response was to reel, to be pulled off my game, to be deeply troubled in ways not shared by others. Why? The light began to dawn on a humbling truth: I too have a tendency to awfulize situations, to see and respond to extremes. My reaction to this leader was not so much about their actions as it was the way their actions evoking a truth about my own. While I could do nothing to change their attitudes, I could do something to begin to address my own. Curiously, as I held the nugget of truth about myself, I was less troubled by the other. Having removed the hook, their choices no longer had such a powerful effect on me.

Finding our growing edges by facing our fears and resentments is not to excuse others or to suggest that tragedies are somehow justified. Looking deeply into our own stuff is simply to suggest that we focus on the one person that we can change – ourselves. We cannot change what has happened in our past and there are many surprises yet ahead over which we will have little or no control. What we can change are the ways in which we receive and hold what others toss our way. An honest 4th Step, done all at once or in pieces or for the umpteenth time, will reveal to us the ways in which we are still holding on. And as my therapist is oft to note: You can’t let go when you’re hanging on. It would be nice to be free of the baggage without first touching it, but closest are never cleaned that way.

On this April morning when the sun is sluggish and even in the heartland we’re reeling from the Boston news, it’s important to note that grief is not a resentment. In the throes of grief, we ride the waves of emotions. Insofar as our souls are healthy, the emotions will wash over and beyond us. But many of us have craggy places that catch and hold drama, nursing hurt and making it to our own. As the news cycles turn, if we discover that we’ve continued to carry this piece, a loving friend might encourage us to do a 4th step on the Boston Marathon. Strangely, or not so, looking at the tragedy for where it touches our soul will hold an important key for our healing.

For today, let us simply breath in solidarity with those who are grieving.