By Sylvia Peterson

Husband and I shared our addiction testimony at Celebrate Recovery two weeks ago. Remembering such a dark time in our lives was agonizing. Even now, it requires courage to talk about it. Sometimes redemption is hard-fought. Very few people experience life without so much as a brush up with crushing, demoralizing sin. Most never talk publicly about it.

I had one really big concern. Since Celebrate Recovery meets at our church, would our egregious mistakes become known to the people with whom we worship each week? My hope was that our anonymity would be honored and the script would remain private to our 12-step group.

Then my worst fear you realized.

We shared the confidential written script with a couple whose family is in an addiction crisis of their own. They found it so inspirational, that they passed it to one of the “very nicest church ladies.” After that, I wasn’t sure where it went. As much as I’d like to believe that our church is a safe place for sinners, I wasn’t sure that is always the case.

After a few days of wringing my hands and weeping, the Holy Spirit has illuminated two things for me.

First, I am reminded of a story about two women who were close friends. When one of them was having marital problems, she needed a place to “bare her soul,” so she went to her friend and talked for several hours. After she left, the listening friend realized that her young daughter had been eavesdropping at the door.

Rather than scold her, the wise mother explained confidentiality in a way I’ve never forgotten.

“If a friend came to our house and left her purse behind, what would be the right thing for us to do with it?”

Her child knew the correct answer. “We’d keep it until she came back.”

“Yes,” agreed her mother. “We wouldn’t take it to someone else’s house. We wouldn’t use the purse for ourselves. We wouldn’t go through it and snoop. Her purse would be safe here.

Sometimes the secret things we share are like a purse. Whatever words our friend brings here, we keep safe because they don’t belong to us. “

The words Husband and I spoke at Celebrate Recovery are one of the sacred purses of our marriage. The friends who passed them on meant us no harm. They didn’t know testimonials are like purses.

The second thing that I have realized is that I still feel shame when I remember the things I did. All addiction is rooted in selfishness. There is no other medical disease that always results in sinful behaviors.

This isn’t true only of drugs and alcohol. Pornography is no different than adultery. Codependency causes us to take the place of God in the life of someone else. Appearance addiction creates an idol out of beauty. Overeating makes an idol out of food. Cigarettes are pollutants that make it hard for us to give and receive love. Gambling misappropriates God’s financial gifts to us.

No one gets through life unscathed. We are all hurt by our sins and the sins of others. Recovery has shown me the importance of personal forgiveness. It’s how we eventually heal; it’s how we learn to live authentically without the filter of our wounds.

My goodness will never be good enough for God. Fortunately, my sin will never be too much for Jesus. Outside of that model, the opinions of others don’t really matter. It’s not important for my church to hold me in high regard. It’s vital for them to see my life pointing to Jesus.

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Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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