But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.Isaiah 64:6, CF Romans 3:19-23
The term utilized in the passage of Isaiah refers to the particular cloth that was used to clean up from the woman’s menstrual cycle. Such imagery is not for the palatable and feeble minded individual. Yet, it holds significant truth as it relates to the human condition. Despite our own efforts, good will and desires, we still remain stained and filthy. This is particularly true when people enter into recovery. Many want to get their life back on track, stop using and stay clean, and not use anymore. And, when it comes to recovery and sobriety, there is no joy to be experienced. Only pain, emotional distress, vulnerability, raw sense of shame and guilt, grief and loss, and inability to manage one’s own life.
However, there is hope through Jesus Christ and His infinite and divine atonement. This is where the heart of our joy comes from. And, it is the heart of how we move toward experiencing lasting joy in our lives as we engage in recovery and maintain an active and sober lifestyle. But first, we must get ourselves cleaned and experience what that may look like for ourselves.
What does it mean to be clean?
How one answer’s this question is entirely up to them. Generally – the best way to respond to this is through what Neil L. Anderson shares in his book The Divine Gift of Forgiveness. He describes a childhood memory of going with his father and getting a steer that had wandered off and eventually was hit by a vehicle. Anderson described what it felt like when he came home and showered:
I went back to the house. … I remember clearly the satisfaction of removing my shirt. Peeling off each layer of clothing brought relief. I began washing – first my hands, then my arms to the elbows. It was not the ind of dirt that would disappear quickly. Then I showered, first washing the ears, then the hair, back to the hands and fingernails, and to the hair again. It was some time before I felt satisfied that the cleansing was done.
Anderson also shared:
Slipping into a clean pair of pajamas, I lay awake in bed for a while reliving the experience, but the feelings of tiredness did not approach the sensational satisfaction of being washed and clean.
Anderson transitions his thoughts toward the sacredness of spiritual cleansing that occurs through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The removal of the sin that stains our souls surpasses any formal understanding of joy one may experience. He recounts the parable of the Prodigal Son and how it relates to the nature of the healing power found in Christ’s atonement.
Seeking forgiveness and engaging in the repentance process is at the heart of early recovery. It sets the foundation and tone for how we maintain long term sobriety. We first, must peel off all the layers of our false beliefs, expectations, thoughts, emotions, and strip ourselves of who we believe ourselves to be – whether an addict or an alcoholic – in order to move forward toward personal growth, transformation, health, and wellness. Without engaging in the process of repentance and forgiveness, we will inevitably revert back to what we are: filthy rags that are easily discarded.
I, personally, am able to relate to what Anderson shared about his experience with the shower and how refreshing it is to feel washed and cleansed. Many times have I spent working in the grime, dirt, and getting filthy. Coming home, exhausted, tired, smelling raunchy, and all I wanted was to get cleaned up. The feeling of how the water splashes and washes away the dirt and grime, the stench going away, and stepping out of the shower with a sense of renewal. Even such an experience pales in the comparison of truly feeling cleansed and forgiven by the Lord and experiencing the power of the atonement.
Turn and be healed
Many times, we see Christ interact with those who are experiencing leprosy, deformities, and other ailments. His commands always included some action that was based on their faith. To the one who had a deformed arm, Christ requested he stretch forth his arm (see, Matthew 12:13). To the person unable to walk since birth, Christ asked him to take up thy bed and walk (see, John 5:8-16). There was a specific call to action.
For those in recovery, Christ is asking for you to –
- Return to Him
- Repent of your sins
- Be converted
In order to be healed. We have to take the steps. There are some Christians who may disagree with me on this. However, in recovery, we have to do the work necessary to bring our sins, our shames, our guilt, our distressing emotions to the alter and offer them up to God in order to receive forgiveness and healing. We are called to repent of those things we have done wrong. Without true and sincere repentance, we may not fully experience the joy and forgiveness that Christ offers us.
Another concept here is that we are to turn away from our old way of living life. Without turning away from the active substance use, the people that may continue to enable us and support our continued use, an individual is never truly ready to experience the joy of recovery and sobriety. Seeking after forgiveness, through sincere and heart felt repentance means we are willing to turn our lives over and around in the direction of where our Heavenly Father desires for us to go.
Birthing a new life for ourselves in early recovery is painful – yet leads to a rewarding life experience of newness, hope, and sense of fulfillmentTweet
This reminds me of the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. According to 2 Kings, Naaman was considered a mighty man, a person of valor, yet suffered leprosy. When the Prophet Elisha encountered the captain of the Syrian army, the request was for Namaan to go and wash in the river Jordan seven times in order to be healed of his leprosy. At first, Naaman refused. However, as we read, he reluctantly followed Elisha’s instructions and once he completed this – he was healed of his leprosy:
Many of us are like Naaman. We have a condition that is not culturally acceptable (do to social stigma). To be told we must do something in order to experience being cleansed and healed causes grave consternation. We want a more simplified solution. Yet, we eventually come to our own Jordan River and follow the requests on cleansing ourselves.
Eternal Promises are Provided
One simple truth that many fail to understand is that there are eternal promises attached to our own personal redemption, forgiveness, and healing. This is true in recovery as well as in spiritual rebirth. However, it is a process that takes time. This is the reason for the effectiveness of the 12-steps. They may be recommendations and suggestions. However, one does not stop at step 12 and say – I am done and now I’m clean. We go back and look at and continue to peel off those layers. Our spiritual maturation requires we continue to take a fearless and courageous moral inventory, seek out forgiveness as we walk in forgiveness toward others.
Anderson shares this insight on how these eternal promises are provided:
Repentance is the perfect spiritual remedy for sin. Each sin we leave behind through our faith in the living Christ – both those of commission and those of omission – opens spiritual doors.
We must be converted to daily repentance. Jesus provided an example of daily prayer: “when ye pray say … forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”
This daily walk in humility, as Anderson shares, is a way Our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ and the power and authority of His Holy Spirit, reveals to us our own personal weaknesses. This is the part where we engage in self-discovery to understand who we are. Even those weaknesses and areas that need to be let go and given over to God. It also requires us to walk in true honesty and transparency. After all, God sees and knows all. Nothing can be hid from Him.
Repentance and Forgiveness – the birth pains of healing in recovery
There is no doubt that when we fully come to our own personal Jordan River, it is not without pain and suffering. These are only the birth pains to feel the depth and breadth of Christ’s infinite atonement in healing. And, it is something that we are committed to engaging in.
Bringing into the world a new life is painful. Ask any mother who has given birth to a child. Yet, ask them if it was worth going through the process of enduring the pain and most likely the answer will be a resounding yes. How is that? The simple answer is the joy experienced when that newborn child is placed in the mother’s arms for the first time. The joy of knowing how precious that child’s life is.
In recovery, we are birthing a new life for ourselves and it is painful. Ask any person who has established a healthy and long term sobriety from their active lifestyle if it was worth going through the painful early stages of recovery and they may respond with a resounding yes. That does not mean they enjoyed the process. Yet, the outcome, the healing, the new life experience surpassed all the pain endured in those early days.
It all begins with being honest with ourselves and with God. It also requires that we honestly listen to the still small voice as it reveals to us those character defects we may want to work on.
So, what does it mean to be clean? It means we take our time. We endure the painstaking process of peeling away those grimy character defects. It means we take our time and focus on thoroughly washing ourselves. To be clean means we experience the fullness of joy that comes through our sincere repentance and forgiveness of sins that is only through Jesus Christ alone.