“You can teach what you know, but you will reproduce what you are”
— Christine Caine
When my daughter, Ellia, was in second grade, she was given the assignment to make an autobiographical cereal box. Totally normal. I wonder if teachers who are pressed for time come up with assignments based on what they see in their kitchen trashcans. But anytime I can use recyclables for homework purposes, I’m on board.
Ellia named her cereal Elli-O’s… because she’s clever.
She covered the box with her dislikes and likes, hobbies, favorite author and songs.
She wanted her box to be about who she is and how she lives, so, in addition to her favorite color and movie, she wrote on her box in gold Sharpie the three lies she doesn’t ever want to believe:
- I am what I do
- I am what I have
- I am what other people say about me
Yes, my kids are more mature than me.
In our family, we talk about the beliefs that can keep us from being who we really are—like identifying ourselves by mistakes or successes, the past or the future, and as a result, the three lies have floated in and out of our conversations. But there was something powerful about seeing these words written in 7 year-old handwriting.
I’ve realized I can talk a lot. And I talk about what I believe. But I don’t always talk about what I do.
When we enter into recovery, we’re often sponges. We take in new thoughts, new ways to act, and new sayings we’ve read in 12-step literature, heard from old timers or seen in framed pictures on AA room walls.
But once the newness fades, it can be a challenge to keep living the things we’ve learned.
There are times in my recovery journey where I catch myself living in a way that doesn’t reflect what I believe. It’s easy to talk the recovery talk without living the recovery life.
Sometimes, I talk about what’s right, but I don’t always talk about my actual choices.
I talk about practices I value, but they aren’t always practices I consistently live.
Sometimes, there is a significant gap between my action and my beliefs.
When I talk with others in the program or when I share in meetings, I will sometimes catch myself saying something I believe and yet am reticent to do.
I know transparency and surrender are the keys to maintaining connection with God and my sobriety, but sometimes I’d rather just say the words than practice these principles in all my affairs.
None of us are perfect in recovery. I’m not talking about unreasonable expectations or beating ourselves up when we fail. I’m talking about asking ourselves if we’re living out of our true selves or if we’re just repeating words.
In the stress and chaos of life, I’m tempted to forget the importance of being active in recovery instead of passively attending meetings. I sometimes fail to reach out for help. I sometimes give in to self-centeredness. Instead of always loving, I judge. Instead of giving, I would rather take.
I found Ellia’s rough draft of the three lies and I have it taped to my mirror.
It helps keep me grounded in what I know. Recovery is not about simply calling my sponsor or reading the literature- it’s about living out of my connection with God, others and the gift of sobriety.
The truth is, the things that bring us fullness of life require action.
Regardless of how we feel on any given day, we must keep moving forward.
My kids remind me not of what I want to say, but of who I want to be—not just what I want written about me, but what I want to be true about me.
We have to get honest. Don’t be afraid to be real. Reach out to others both in an effort to help and to receive help. Lean on a Higher Power who provides new beginnings and grace for our failures. And live what you know.
Chris Gibson, MDiv