Editor’s Note: The Journey of Recovery was birthed out of God’s call to Kris Jensen to create a program applying Journey principles to the process of addiction recovery. Kris first reached out to David Zailer, who had already been leading people in recovery for 18 years. Several years later, Gary Jones and Brian Steenhoek also felt called to the process and a band of brothers was formed. The four have been meeting twice a month for over a year to support, encourage and educate each other in their own personal journeys of recovery. They are in essence, living the pilot program. This post shares their stories of how God has impacted their lives through J O R.
Four years ago the Journey of Recovery was not even a blip on my radar screen, but was Kris Jensen’s idea. When he first presented it to me, I tried to dismiss it by arguing how hard it is to help people honestly face the reality of their addictions. But Kris is a tenacious son-of-a-gun. So we kept talking about it over lunch every few weeks. Two years later at one of the Journey retreats, Gary and Brian joined the discussion with great interest. When I saw their unity and passion, I knew God was at work and believed we had the caring core foundation to begin.
At first it was a challenge for me to process my personal history of addiction with others who didn’t share my executive level of self-destructiveness. It was emotionally convenient to simply apply my professional skills to avoid the more personal part of the work. But doing the journey together led me deeper, and I began to see myself from the perspective of a broader community. Our conversations have been full of vulnerable risk. Inner stigma hidden inside of me was gently revealed.
The response from my fellow sojourners made me feel less alone and ashamed. Because of our partnership in the process, I have a greater awareness of God’s presence and care, and more self-respect.
I love the wisdom treasures that we trip over when we do the recovery journey together. From Kris, Gary, and Brian, the ragtag bunch we call Journey of Recovery, I’ve learned to see my history of self-destructiveness — all of it! — as purposeful in God’s wacky way of transformation. This strengthens me for more growth and service ahead. It is a gift that we’ve learned together and that we gladly pass along to you.
Initially I wondered what the Journey of Recovery had to offer me, and questioned what I had to contribute because I had no obvious addictions. Yes, I work with those struggling greatly with addiction but did not see myself as one of them. But as I read one of our key books, Addiction and Grace by Gerald May, MD, I learned that we all have addictions and attachments — and about the interplay between the two. May’s definition of attachment is “The process that enslaves desire and creates the state of addiction.”
The list of ‘non-substance’ addictions is long and I learned that one of my addictions is an excessive need for security. Raised the second oldest of seven children in an unstable family, I recall thinking as I left home at age 18, that I better make it on my own since I have no safety net. I wonder how many of my life decisions have been based on my need for security and how that has affected the course of my life, and my relationships with God and other people.
Prior to the Journey of Recovery, and my admission to having addictions, I had zero knowledge about the Twelve Step Program, or that it could be relevant to my life. This has been a journey into uncharted waters, taking me to places I have never been. A sometimes-scary adventure.
One day while driving in my car and musing about my apparent lack of success with the ‘addicted and broken’ to whom I minister, I had an epiphany. Through many years of work with one individual and lamenting my apparent lack of ‘fruitfulness’ I suddenly realized that I was a markedly different person than when I met him.
My focus on what I had done for him was misplaced …. instead, he had changed me. When sharing this with the J O R caring core, David Zailer pointed me to Step 12 of the Twelve Step Program,
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry the message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
In the last chapter of David’s book Our Journey Home, that we use as a textbook, he quotes one of Alcoholic Anonymous’ premises — an apparent paradox — “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.” Really?
I am gaining a better understanding of that each week I journey together with my brothers in our caring core.
My interest in the Journey of Recovery (J O R) has been a result of my own difficult journey of recovery. My conduct forced me to be on the outside of church ministry and in a crisis of identity, purpose, and relationship. My marriage and career were disrupted with no assurance of a way forward. Outside the kindness and love of God, my wife, family, and friends, I would have quickly been just another ‘moral failure’ in the church. Thankfully, there were patient guides willing to journey with my wife and me in a process of discovery, healing, and restoration who helped us through some of our darkest days into a place of renewed confidence and sense of purpose.
Of the many lessons learned along this on-going path of recovery, a sobering one is that many church leaders struggle with issues of attachment and addiction, but few have places of redemptive, safe conversation, or even less, a community to pursue wholeness, health, and healing. Many find themselves left on the outside looking in, separated from their church without any opportunity for restoration or support in a difficult and vulnerable time in their lives.
My hope is that the Journey of Recovery could give space for wounded and broken leaders to heal, confess, and hear from Jesus while learning new patterns of life and a renewed sense of identity and purpose. I believe J O R can provide an opportunity to be in a community of hope during a season of hopelessness and despair; a place to receive and hear Jesus’ invitation to ‘come to me–again, learn or relearn a way of living, and experience the freedom of my grace.’
Our J O R caring core has been a place of Spirit filled and Spirit led community, where honest conversation and confession have created a safe place to enter on-going places of learning, growth and healing. We have laughed and cried together from the follies of our own brokenness and the experience of deep care and love we share with one another. These are a ‘band of brothers’ whom I trust and feel confident to share my joy, pain, and deepest sadness.
As we have lived in community, I have a new and deeper understanding of attachment and grace, I have experienced the 12 steps as a set of spiritual practices intended for my health and healing, and I have participated in God’s continuing transformation of character and growth in emotional and spiritual health.
Our group has helped me uncover places where God is at work to make me more like Jesus. There is no doubt I have become more vulnerable with others and more confident with who I am in Christ and in his grace. It has given me more of a sense of freedom and not fear, less control and more empowerment to let God be God and me be the person God created me to be.
Four years ago I sensed a calling from God to help those who struggle with addictions and attachments using spiritual disciplines from the Journey. I’ve had to personally deal with past struggles of partying and using drugs during my high school years. However, helping others in their struggles was not something I had planned on doing in this particular way.
When I first sensed the nudge, I also felt an initial resistance. Then I looked up on the side of a hill and there was a huge cross staring right at me. I knew this was a sign from God. Even though there was resistance, I had a deep peace about it. I sensed I needed to attend the regular Journey and then see how I could be involved with setting up a recovery expression of the Journey.
At the time, David Zailer was also attending the Journey. We had first met a year earlier when I reached out to him to get advice to help a friend. Here was this guy who was an expert in helping others recover from addictions, and he was attending the Journey! Another sign. After I completed the Journey, Brian and Gary were interested in joining David and me in this idea of Journey of Recovery (J O R). A core of people had come together. Another sign God was up to something.
Working the 12 steps as a spiritual discipline has given me the courage to face my problems more directly. But it’s not just working the 12 steps alone.
It’s working them in community with others who are facing their struggles, and who are willing to share and be vulnerable.
It’s being in a grace-filled group, where there is humble confession, that leads to true power and freedom.
It’s in fellowship with the broken where I realize I am not alone.
Moving from isolation to connection. Attachments and addictions grow when we are isolated. Just look at how people have struggled in isolation through the Covid pandemic.
Let’s face this fact. Everyone has addictions/attachments to something whether it’s a chemical, power, money, self-image, control, co-dependence, even religion or idealism. Some are more apparent than others, but they all bring us down in similar ways. And yet, it was through the brokenness of the cross which God, through Jesus, reached the world.
We should assume our greatest contributions to others may be found in the process of facing our own pain. Through J O R, I have experienced love and acceptance from others despite my problems. This has led me to face my attachments of power, self-image, and control which has allowed me to surrender, though not perfectly, these areas of my life to God.
In addition, through the ongoing work we continue to do in J O R, I realize I am loved by God despite my problems. However, God does not leave me as I am and yet also at the same time God will not force me to change. It is this grace that enables me to want to change. Legalism and being told I need to change bring up resistance in my soul. But when I have experienced the grace found through J O R, I connect to God’s overwhelming love.
When I am connected to God’s love in this way, I become more willing to change.