I attend church as much for the social interaction as for any religious inspiration I might experience. But what distinction, if any, actually exists between the sacred and the secular? Isn’t everything in life connected? Doesn’t that phrase “balance of nature” refer to the complex network of interconnections that shapes everything in life? That every action has its reaction?

Aren’t we the ones who create elaborate but faulty divisions between secular and sacred to rationalize away our lust for power and greed, our selfishness and ego? Isn’t expressing gratitude the same as praising God, or cursing one’s enemies the same as cursing God?

Isn’t it because there is no separation between the sacred and the secular that the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, the apostles, Paul, etc. feel compelled to remind us it’s not our pious words that have meaning but our acts of kindness and caring?

I don’t know about you, but I need to surround myself with those who nudge me into becoming more caring, thoughtful, sensitive, kinder. I don’t need encouragement to be selfish or greedy; that comes naturally.

So yes, I regularly attend church and my 12 step meetings because I need frequent reminders that the world does not revolve around me and my wants.

I need frequent reminders that loving, sharing, and being patient with family, friends, neighbors, and even enemies makes for a safer, happier world for all.

There’s a part of me that wishes this God business were simpler; that it were enough to simply say, “Lord, Lord.” But the God of my understanding is a God of difficult truths and this God asks me to put my money where my mouth is.

This God asks me to get over myself, to confront my own character defects. But, if you are like me, you are better at avoiding the unpleasant and complicated than confronting it. It’s so much easier to deny the ongoing oppression, dishonesty, abuse, discrimination, division, hatred, and fear that seems all too rampant these days than it is to accept it. After all, once accepted we need to do something in response

We claim we value freedom, but in reality, that is only until another’s freedom impinges on what we want, asks us to get over ourselves, or make room for others to live, breath, and enjoy the fruits of their labors. It’s so easy to adopt a double standard...one for me and mine, and a more restrictive one for those I don’t like. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus reminds us that everything is ultimately shaped by karma. What goes around, comes around. We will be judged by the same measure by which we judge. Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.

I have found the AA adage “fake it till you make it” extremely helpful, as The Program tells us change takes real effort. We are taught to work the steps and practice gratitude, that change comes by doing, not talking. What a relief to know that I don’t have to feel kind or thoughtful to act kind and thoughtful. It’s by intentionally going through the motions of being grateful, of biting my tongue instead of criticizing, or sharing and caring that I practice my way into new and better ways of responding and being.

God of difficult truths, keep on exposing us to situations in which we are challenged to accept the things we cannot change, gain the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper.

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