Early on in my recovery God encouraged me to give my testimony for the very first time to a group of people being trained to facilitate small group discussions in a recovery ministry. The idea of doing so petrified me. God had his work cut out for him as I was very resistant and full of fears. In the end, I received so many green lights from Him that I knew I better give my testimony or I would not be walking in His will.
First let me set the stage for you. I had shared my secret (my addiction with masturbating and pornography) with only a few close friends, an accountability partner and my therapist. Over spring break in March 2004, I traveled to Omaha to work at my main office at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for the week. I would always spend the nights in Omaha with my cousin, who happened to be a Christian counselor. She had been encouraging me to get involved in a recovery support group as part of my recovery journey. I must admit, I was dragging my heals, giving excuses, and not ready to humble myself and “tell others” why I was attending such a group. I thought my reputation of being a “perfect” Christian woman was more important that honesty. And I carried a lot of shame.
Well during that spring break week, my cousin invited me to go with her to a Celebrate Recovery group she was involved in. I didn’t want to go, yet I knew I could not find a valid excuse since I was staying at her home and had nothing else to do that Thursday evening. So I went. I was hooked, even though I went “kicking and screaming.” The lesson was on Step 3 – TURN my life and my will over to God. Surrender! Needless to say, it was what I knew I needed to do but didn’t want to.
The very next Sunday, my accountability partner back home invited me to attend her small group Bible study that met in the home of a counselor friend of my cousin’s. He announced that evening that he was leaving his job as an employee assistance counselor and starting a new job at a local church as a counselor with plans of starting a recovery ministry. I was intrigued, especially after having just attended my first Celebrate Recovery meeting just 3 days prior.
After the Bible study time was over and food and fellowship time began, I approached the counselor and asked him more about this recovery ministry he was starting up. I asked what it was called. He replied, “It is a Celebrate Recovery group.” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hug him or run away at that moment. I told him I had just attended my first Celebrate Recovery meeting 3 days ago in Omaha. He then invited me, a stranger as we had never met before that evening, to come to the training sessions. Even though he did not know my story or why I was interested, he allowed me to join in the training, and I said, “Okay,” with some hesitation and nervousness.
So the next evening, I attended the training session and that evening’s lesson was on Step 4 (the one right after the lesson I heard in Omaha). I quickly realized it was no coincidence that I was there as God was leading me along a very specific path of learning that I was not alone in my addictions. Others in this group understood what I had been experiencing and others had similar stories as I did.
Each week, someone would be asked to share their testimony. I sat back and listened each week. I learned how God was working in each of their lives and why they were a part of this training group. I also began to realize that I would also be asked to share my own testimony before the 12 weeks of training was completed.
I panicked! You see, I was afraid of men (part of my addiction story), I was Lutheran (and we just don’t do that sort of thing – give testimonies), I was ashamed of myself and my addictions, and I was still under the control of my secrets. I was certain I would be judged and rejected by everyone in the room. So, thinking it through, and deciding I wanted to overcome my addictions and their power over me, I decided to visit in private with the leader.
The training group met on Monday evenings, so I arranged one of those evenings to meet with the leader the next day (Tuesday) in his office over lunch. I was a nervous wreck going into his office, yet I knew he was a safe person and a counselor, so he would not judge me or tell anyone else about my secrets. I spent the next hour spilling out my story of addiction, isolation and shame. He listened attentively and at the end of the hour said, “This must be the hardest thing you have ever done!” I agreed immediately saying, “I have never told a man my story and you are the first one I’ve shared my secret with. Yes, this is very hard!”
He next responded by saying he had failed to line up another person to share their testimony for the next Monday’s training and asked if I would be willing to do so. I looked at him with a “deer in the headlights” look – stunned, motionless and shocked. I swallowed hard and looked to the floor, wanting to get away. Fear paralyzed me. He sensed my feelings and said, “I tell you what – you pray about it this week and I will also pray for you. If you sense God telling you not to give your testimony next week, you are off the hook.” I agreed to do so, feeling there may be a way out of this, but I also knew he would pray for God to encourage me.
He concluded our meeting by praying for my protection from the enemy, Satan. He knew I was vulnerable and wanted to made sure God and I would work through this together without the enemy’s attack.
The next morning, I picked up my Portals of Prayer devotion and read the following Bible verse.
“But he [Jesus] said to me [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV
Immediately I sensed God was telling me that Jesus was going to be strong for me as I give my testimony, even as I was feeling afraid and weak. I thought – Lord, is this a green light from you? My anxiety went up a bit. At work that day, Satan and my fears won out as I gave into my addictions. Shame increased immensely as I feared the possible rejection having told a man my secrets. At 5 PM my office phone rang and it was my accountability partner checking in on me. She asked how I was doing since I had been on her mind that day. I responded a bit too quickly with, “I’m doing just fine!,” as I quickly shut down my computer for the day and grabbed my purse and put on my coat. I had just lied to my accountability partner and the Holy Spirit’s conviction began to work in me.
The next day, Thursday, I read another devotional book, “Rooted in God’s Love” by Dale and Juanita Ryan, that spoke about how having lived so long by the “don’t talk rule” that now it is challenging to speak openly and honestly. It’s common for the words we use to be impetuous, meaning wild. As we allow our feelings to be expressed, raw and uncensored words can come with those feelings. I sensed a second green light from God letting me know that it is okay to get out in the open my feelings along with the wild words that may show up in my testimony.
By Friday, the Holy Spirit’s conviction got the best of me for having lied. So I called my accountability partner and said that I needed to get together with her soon to visit about something on my mind. She responded by saying her husband would be out of town all weekend, so we could get together Saturday evening for supper and visit all we want. I knew God had arranged this so I could confess to her that I had lied. This was my third green light!
Saturday morning I picked up the devotional book, “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, that our recovery leader had given to each of us in training. He quoted often from this devotional as we were being trained, yet I had not opened it up until that Saturday morning (nearly 2 months after it was given to me). I grabbed it as I muttered to myself, “Well Lord, what do you have to say today through Oswald’s book?”
Little did I know that I was about to drop to my knees in total surrender. I opened up to May 15, the current date, and read the title. “The Habit of Rising To the Occasion.” Well that sounds suspicious. The Bible verse was Ephesians 1:18.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18 NIV
I quickly got a sense that it did not matter what I thought or felt about giving my testimony. What did matter was bringing glory to God. As I read further, suddenly the following leaped off the page at me:
“Rise to the occasion — do what the trial demands of you. It does not matter how much it hurts as long as it gives God the opportunity to manifest the life of Christ in your body.”
In other words, no matter how scared I am, I must give my testimony in order to show others what God has done in my life, giving Him all the credit and praise. So there was green light #4. I’ve learned over the years that when I hear the same message from different sources at least three times, I know it is God speaking to me. I went to my knees in prayer with total humility and surrender to God, willing to do the hard thing he was asking me to do.
That evening I went to my accountability partner’s home. We ate pizza for supper and then went downstairs to her wrap-around couch covered in pillows and blankets to talk. It was a safe, cozy and comforting setting. I confessed to her that I had lied to her. She responded by telling me she loved me and she gave me a hug of reassurance. I truly felt loved and knew I was forgiven. God continued to keep the green lights coming.
Sunday morning I headed to church in anticipation of hearing our new senior pastor preach his first sermon to the congregation. The church sanctuary was packed. As he was wrapping up his message, he concluded by saying, “Folks, Kearney, Nebraska is our mission field and we all need to get out there and tell our stories!” The ultimate green light, the most direct of them all, was just spoken and my heart was putty, being transformed from fear to obedience! I drove home and spent the afternoon writing out my testimony.
Monday was the start of a week of vacation. I planned on running some errands that day along with an appointment with my financial advisor. I was grateful for the busy-ness of the day so not to get all worked up and anxious about the training meeting at 5 PM that evening. About 3 PM I drove to the church figuring I would review my notes and pray in preparation for my testimony. My anxiety increased as I tried to reassure myself that God’s grace was with me and that I was doing this for His glory.
The leader soon joined me and I shared with him about all the green lights I had received from God during the week. He reassured me I would be okay. Soon, people were arriving and my hands were trembling. We gathered around the tables; there were 11 men in the room and nearly the say number of women. We began each meeting with worship and sang Amazing Grace. Then our leader prayed. He next gave me the nod to go ahead and share my testimony.
I had my 3″ x 5″ cards in front of me on the table as I sat on my hands. They were shaking big time. I keep my eyes focused on my cards, rarely looking up, feeling shame, fearful and shy; uncertain how my story would be received. I found I had an inner strength that defied my own fears and I spoke boldly, knowing my testimony could not be denied by anyone. This was my life story and God was in the middle of it.
As I concluded my testimony (a good 20-25 minutes long) I received from everyone in the room, both men and women, words of encouragement and hugs. The relief was huge! The secrets were out! And I was accepted and loved by everyone in the room. My secrets were no more and the power of the secrets began to leave, freeing me from their chains of bondage and darkness. My story was out in the light and truth abounded. I mattered in this world and my story gave me and others hope that our addictions could be overcome.
My prayer for you as you have read this blog post, is that you, too, may find freedom from your secrets and the addictions/compulsions that have bound you up in isolation and pain. I found freedom in telling my story and the enemy had to flee. You will be set free when you tell your story! Jesus is for real, as is his mercy, grace and forgiveness.
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:10-11 NIV
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 NIV