Declaring Spiritual Bankruptcy – Becoming Happy, Joyous and Free

Image of people in silhouette at sunset jumping for joy with caption "Happy, Joyous, and Free."

When a person, family, or business becomes so overwhelmed with debt that they cannot see how they will ever be able to pay it all, our society provides a way to get a fresh start.  It isn’t easy, and it has long term repercussions. It is called “declaring bankruptcy.” When someone declares bankruptcy, they must list all their debts, and with certain limitations, the judge can “wipe them out” with a signature. The point of doing this is to free ourselves from the past and to start over.

It is emotionally difficult to go through bankruptcy.  It feels like a public admission of failure. Certainly, some debt is thrust upon us due to no fault of our own, as in the case of unanticipated medical bills. But sometimes people may be embarrassed to admit certain things they have done that put them into debt. For example, they might have gambling debts, or perhaps they borrowed money to get into a business that turned out to be a scam. Nevertheless, it would be silly to declare bankruptcy without fully disclosing all of our debts to the judge. Why would anyone want to go through the difficult process of bankruptcy only to be left with debt in the end?

When we work Step 4 of the 12-Step program, we create a moral inventory. It is a complete list of all the resentments, judgments, anger, frustration, disappointment and guilt we can remember from our entire lives. We look for examples of pride, self-pity, self-deception, and self-will and include those incidents, too.

The point of doing this is to free ourselves from the past.  Once we have written down everything we can think of that might be holding us back, we can move on to Step 5 and give our inventories away to God and to another person. God can help us to let go of all these “spiritual debts” and start anew.

It would make no more sense to hide any of our spiritual and emotional debts when we do our 4th step inventories than it would to hide financial debts when applying for bankruptcy. We do this work to become happy, joyous and free. We make a “searching and fearless written moral inventory of ourselves” so that we can be sure that when we confess and give our shortcomings to the Lord in Steps 5, 6, and 7 we don’t leave anything out. We put it all on the table so that we can be completely cleansed and healed from our mistakes, our shortcomings and our weaknesses.

  • Have you worked steps 1, 2, and 3 to prepare yourself to begin a fourth step inventory?
  • Are you willing to set aside pride and shame and be searching and fearless as you work on your inventory?
  • What will you do today to become free from the mistakes of the past and become happy, joyous and free?

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