Step 5: Admit to ourself, God, to others we trust, and then to our spouse the nature of our flaws, wrongdoings, and shortcomings.

 “Praying” by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to bethe blue iris,
it could beweeds in a vacant lot,
or a fewsmall stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Far too often we imagine the process of apologies and forgiveness to be some grand production with a symphonic interlude of music playing in the background as we confess our wrongs. I think this Hollywood fueled idea prevents us from actually walking the simple road of repentance. 

Repentance is not a sorry. It is not an apology. It does not include promises or even the request for forgiveness. It is an admission of wrong doing that comes from the nature of your character. It first requires an acceptance and ownership of the choices made. A quick and easy litmus test to see if there is still room for acceptance: If there is any sense of “I didn’t mean to” or “it wasn’t my intention” then there is more work to be done on accepting what has been done and what has be left undone. 

To repent is to turn around. The word literally means to stop where you are going, and do a 180*. It’s admitting that the direction you are currently heading is either harmful, wrong, not helpful, or problematic. If you’re not willing to turn around and go in the opposite direction, then you might not be ready for this step. 

The process of doing step 4 and the inventory is the first part of step 5. It’s admitting (telling the truth) to yourself and to God what is happening inside of you and inside of your marriage. It’s allowing the truth to be out in the light. The light heals. We cannot heal what we cannot see, and we cannot see what we do not allow to be seen. 

Think about the last time you let your dirty clothes pile up in the laundry basket (or on the floor). They probably smelled of body odor, rotting food, or perhaps even moldy. If you take those clothes outside and lay them on a table in the sun for a day, the smells will be gone. Now that doesn’t mean that the clothes are cleaned and ready to wear again, but the smells are taken care of by the light. This is where the work begins. Don’t put the clothes back in a pile or try to wear them again. You actually have to do the work of washing, drying, ironing, and hanging the clothes so that they can be ready to be worn again. 

Step 4 is confronting the truth that there are some parts of you and your relationship that have a foul odor or have been worn ragged with a lack of care and attention. Bring them out into the light so you can see what needs to be done. Confront the truth first with yourself, and with God. Step 5 is the beginning of cleaning up those parts and places in you and your relationship that have been soiled, stained, and not cared for. 

Some of these stains you have are the result of your choices and behaviors. Some of these odors come from where and how you grew up. Some of these ragged threads in your marriage are what you get when two imperfect people are attempting to make a life together. Regardless of where or how these problems have come about, you now know the truth and it is up to you to attend with care to these truths. 

The power of universality is not something that is taught, it’s caught. When you sit in a room with other people who are struggling with life, and you can look at them in the eyes and say “Yep, I’m in the same boat,” you experience the power of universality. Your problems are not special. Everyone experiences problems in this life, and admitting your problems and flaws will allow you to find others who are doing the same thing. Hopefully this will be your spouse as this entire 12-step process is geared towards helping two imperfect people to share space together in an imperfect world. 

If it’s not your spouse right now, then make it your mission to find at least one other person with whom you can appropriately share these odors with. Some relationships are in so much pain that this step cannot be taken together as you might wish. That’s ok. Do what the poem above suggests: Patch a few words together. Keep it simple. Admit to the flaws that you’re willing to with your spouse. Admit all of them with a trusted guide, friend, or fellow traveler. 

Regardless of where you find yourself with your spouse on trusting one another, the fewer words in this step, the better. This step is about the process of admitting so that you can begin to correct these things. If we get caught up in too many words, we can inadvertently imply a promise (“I promise to change all of these things”). 

Taking the Step: 
This step is not an apology. This step is meant to be more generic in nature that allows you and your spouse to name things that are true without assigning blame or judgements to actions that have come from them. You will have an opportunity to do a more exhaustive list of specifics as they relate to this step later on in step 8. 

Revisit the list of character traits from Step 4.What are the words that you chose from that list that you would like to admit their existence in you? What are the words that come to mind that are “in the opposite direction” from the words above? 

This step might sound something like: 

  • “I am angry and have let this feeling dictate how I respond to you and others.”
  • “I procrastinate on tasks that I need to do, things you ask me to do, and things that would benefit our marriage.”
  • “I admit to being jealous, sometimes with envy, at what others have in their relationships.”
  • “It’s painful to say but I know that I am a master at avoiding things, and people. Including you, and me.”
  • “Our marriage lacks warmth in part because of my apathy, self pity, and laziness.”

Keep your statements broad in their scope, but specific in their flaws. This is about owning the nature of your wrong doings, not the specific wrong doings themselves. The process of repenting is first coming to a stop and recognizing that you’re going in the wrong direction. Courageous people do hard things in the face of great fear or adversity. 

Journal Reflection Questions: 

  • What comes up for you with the word “repentance”. If this word is preventing you from completing this step, is there anything you can do about it?
  • How do you feel about yourself and where you are in this process?
  • Who is someone you can ask for help to walk with you as you take this step?
  • Is there something between you and this step? 
  • What have you discovered about yourself thus far in the process?

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