There’ve been many spiritual leaders I’ve paid attention to in my life and one of the ones I love the most is a woman by the name of Nadia Bolz-Weber. She has many spiritual teaching credentials to her name and has written several New York Times best selling books. I was watching a video of hers on YouTube tonight where she sat down for a talk at the 27th Annual Writers Symposium by the Sea and she talked about a lot of things – but the one that resonated with me the most was when she talked about her default response to life. She talked at length about the fact that even with years and years of spiritual teaching, she still defaults first to negativity.
As a recovered alcoholic, my ears perked up because I’m always looking at my emotional responses to life as it is happening to me (maybe not immediately, but certainly at some point). If you’ve ever read “Freedom From Bondage” in the personal stories section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (our Big Book, Page 544, 4th Edition), you know that the writer talked about “the mental twists that led up to my drinking began many years before I ever took a drink, for I am one of those whose history proves conclusively that my drinking was “a symptom of a deeper trouble.” They went onto say, “…my emotional illness has been present from my earliest recollection. I never did react normally to any emotional situation.”
When Bolz-Weber started talking about how things like grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness were things she aspired to as a first response in her life, that was generally not where she landed at the onset. Typically, she went straight to things like shame, revenge, condescension, superiority, and anger first. She said, “I always say that self righteousness always feels good for a minute – like peeing your pants always feels warm for a minute – but fairly quickly, it gets cold, starts to smell, and people notice it.” What a great analogy for my defects of character. They may not serve me, yet I still, sometimes, let them be my default response to life. Like her, there are things that I lean toward naturally which are the shame, revenge, condescension, superiority, and anger – even after all the work I’ve done over 34 years in the Fellowship.
Bolz-Weber went onto say, “I don’t often stay there – but I almost alway start there. I still struggle with the same things but it feels like now, I am able to move to something else quicker – but I try to not judge where I am by my starting point because my first reaction is almost always the same.” The interviewer followed that statement up with, “You can judge where you are by how long you stay there.” BAM!!! His statement made me stop, rewind, and listen again, and honestly, it was what made me want to write this post because of the identification I felt when he said it.
It’s been my experience that while I will have my humanity until the day I die, and while from time to time, my default response is still negative – thank God for the fact that today, I have a set of tools that allows me to step away from that negativity much quicker. It doesn’t come as often and when it comes, it doesn’t stay as long. I’m grateful that when I find something in me objectionable, I have the spiritual solution in Steps 6 & 7 that A.A. taught me to begin to let go of that negativity. Striving for perfection isn’t a guarantee I will ever get there however, my strivings are where the fruits of my labors will be found. The measuring stick of my spiritual progress will be found in how long I stay in the defects – how long I stay in the negativity.
May we, with God’s help, be always willing to not stay there too long – for it is in the surrender that we are made strong.