If you only measured people’s spiritual health by their social media accounts, you’d think growth was always easy and seamless. Think of all the times you see photos of open Bibles, pious quotes, and snappy theological one-liners in your Instagram feed.
But we all know that’s not the whole story. Spiritual growth isn’t smooth. Sometimes we grow by leaps and bounds. Other times we struggle. We fall back into old patterns.
In the language of recovery, we call it a relapse. The alcoholic goes back to the bottle. The overeater gains the weight back. The gambler goes back to the casino. The workaholic fills up his schedule again. We tend to repeat the patterns of our past and slip back into old hurts, hang-ups, and habits.
In fact, the longer you’re a part of Celebrate Recovery®, the more you begin to see relapse patterns in your own life and in the lives of others.
First, you get complacent and comfortable with short-term gains and think you don’t really need to stay involved in recovery. Then you get confused and wonder whether your original hurts, hang-ups, and habits, were really all that bad. So you compromise and head back into the risky situations that caused your problems earlier. Once you do that, catastrophe comes. You give in to the temptation that once mastered you. Of course, the catastrophe doesn’t just come when you give in. It starts much earlier when you set the pattern in motion.
All of this is natural. It’s human nature to let past problems revisit us. That’s why you need some safeguards in your life to help you maintain your recovery.
Jesus himself tells us of the importance of safeguards you can build into your life when he says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38 NIV).
Jesus knew that human nature was weak and that for us to continue growing spiritually, we must be prepared.
So we must regularly examine our lives and make sure we’re on track. All of us need to do this. No one is exempt from the possibility of going back to old ways.
We need to look at four particular areas of our lives on a regular basis.
- Examine your body. Ask yourself, “What is my body telling me?” Your body is a barometer of what’s happening inside of you. For example, if you have tense muscles, you probably have some stress. If you’re tired, hungry, or stressed out, those can be clues that your life has gotten out of whack and you may be headed for problems.
- Examine your emotions. Make sure you’re allowing your real feelings to surface instead of pushing them down. If you try to put a cap on your emotions, the pressure will build up and you’re bound to explode. You need to do what I call a heart check by asking yourself the following questions:
H: Am I hurting?
E: Am I exhausted?
A: Am I angry?
R: Do I resent anybody?
T: Am I tense?
- Examine your relationships. Ask yourself if you’re at peace with the people in your life. You may be nursing a hurt from years ago that will eventually torpedo your recovery.
- Examine your spiritual life. Are you relying on God on a moment-by-moment basis? Remember, the quickest route to a fall is to begin thinking you can handle things on your own.
Go through this process on a regular basis. It’s like cleaning a house. You can clean a house in one of three ways.
Some people are super neat. They clean constantly and live with a dust-buster strapped to their waist. Others clean their houses at the end of the day.
Still others clean their houses once a year whether it needs it or not.
Maybe the best approach is to combine all three.
It’s similar with your self-examination. At any time of the day, when you begin to feel the pressures build up, go through the four areas above and see if anything stands out. Then, at the end of the day, build into your life a time to confess your failures and celebrate your successes. And then look more deeply at your life on an annual basis to make sure everything is in order.
The better you and those you serve get at following this pattern, the better you’ll be on your guard against potential relapses.