Religion taught me to put God in a box. Recovery teaches me to put my problems in a God Box. Everything I knew about religion I learned in Church, but everything I know about God, I learned in recovery.
God In A Box
My relationship for God goes way back to Bible school and lacy socks, felt boards and red kool-aid, but back then, I was terrified of God. I thought he was as big as the jolly Green giant, but He wasn't green or jolly.
As I grew up, my relationship with God mirrored all of my other codependent relationships. I was very afraid of Him. I felt I had to be perfect to avoid His wrath. In my mind, He had all of the Wizard of Oz's powers, but He was just as stingy. If I wanted help from God, I was sure He wouldn't grant it. I felt like I had to do all of the work for Him. Then I prayed for Him to have mercy on me and bless my well-crafted solution.
My Mistrust Grew
In my college years, my dear friend Jason was diagnosed with cancer. I knew God could and should cure Jason. Every day and night, I prayed and I asked all of my friends to pray. I had enough faith to move mountains, and yet Jason died. This affirmed my view of a cold, uncaring God, and it was only the first of many major disappointments.
With my codependency came extreme anxiety. I never slept. I spent years of sleepless nights praying over and over for my loved ones' safety and sobriety. Praying never brought me the peace it was supposed to, nor did it bring sobriety for my loved ones. My faith weakened and my resentments grew. By the time I finally sought recovery, I was merely living until I died, and I didn't believe God loved me.
Slowly God Outgrows The Box
In recovery, I learned I was codependent in all of my relationships, especially with God. I tried to control and manipulate God the same way I tried to control and manipulate everyone else. I had no serenity because I refused to accept life on life's terms. Letting go of my problems was out of the question. I trusted no one.
A few days after my first meeting, my sponsor asked me to trust God with a decision. I waited for a week and finally settled on something small and insignificant.
Believe it or not, He came through for me. From there, I have slowly, slowly, slowly been learning to trust God more and more. The more I learn about my codependency and poor mental health, the more I learn about how wrong I was about God.
Once I learned to let other people pray their own prayers, I had more peace. This is an example of my codependency; I was enmeshed with everyone: siblings, spouse, parents, child, friends, cousins, neighbors, cashiers, and bank tellers. Not only did I let go of praying for them, but I also learned to let them run their own lives. What a novel idea. Then, I slowly learned to let my Higher Power run mine.
A God Box And The Serenity Prayer
Early on, I fell in love with the Serenity Prayer. Over and over I wrote out my worries:
God, grant me the serenity to accept: ____________. Please God, give me the courage to change: _______________. Above all, please give me the wisdom to know what to do.
I still regularly use this tool, and most days I sleep well at night free from obsessive thoughts.
Some days, however, I have a particularly difficult time accepting reality. More often, I don't want to have the courage to set hard boundaries. On those days, I write my problems on post-it notes and place them in my God box. My God box is a small decorative tin. Yours can be anything. I keep mine by my bed. One of my favorite "old timers" keeps his in the freezer. Then he can tell the newcomers he keeps his mom on ice. (A little recovery humor.)
When I start obsessing over the problem, I remind myself that the problem is in the God box. God, I'm sure, doesn't give it a priority. It's simply a trick to keep my mind from racing so fast. It helps me let go when I'm being stubborn.
Sure, I could put all of my problems in the God box right away and enjoy much more serenity, but I'm slow to let go. I think I'll be in recovery forever.
Pam is the author of two books: Co-dependent In The Kitchen, and Find Your True Colors In 12 Steps. She's also a contributing editor for Reach Out Recovery. She's a recovery advocate who likes long walks on the beach and chocolate.