Monday, June 27, 2011

Fiery Serpents or Closed For Inventory

My first Sunday home from my mission was ward conference, and my dad was a high councilor at the time. He happened to speak that Sunday in sacrament meeting about the importance of personal inventory. His perspective was interesting. He had recently come home from a long term (about the time of my mission) assignment in Nigeria for his work. While they lived there, my parents had sacrament meeting with just the two of them, plus one other fellow about every other week.

That time was a chance for my folks to think about their relationship with the church, absent church buildings and friends and missionaries and all the trappings of our normal church experience. It gave them a chance to do their own personal inventory.

Participants in 12-step programs are encouraged to do a fearless moral inventory. It’s a critical part to their recovery from addiction or co-dependence. In the 12-step process, the inventory follows the humbling steps of admitting one’s powerlessness, and admitting God’s power in our lives and submitting to His will.

That the inventory is fearless does not mean it is without fear. Everyone I’ve talked to who has undertaken a “Step 4” in a recovery program has done so with some fear. But fearless means in spite of fear, not without fear.

A friend compared that inventory with the fiery serpents. The children of Israel were beset with fiery serpents. Moses put one on his staff and told the children of Israel that they needed to look at the serpent and be saved from their poison.

When we do our inventory, we look at our fiery serpents. We examine what it is in our life that does us harm. We examine our own weakness and our own sin (those aren’t the same, by the way – subject of another post to come). Rarely can we do this once and be done. We (and Ogres) are like onions. We will get so deep in our self-examination in one round and come back another day for more.

The inventory is that first “R” of repentance we learned in Primary: Recognition. It’s that chance for us to stand up against the sign at the roller coaster to see if we measure up: are we tall enough to ride?

What the inventory isn’t is a chance for self-loathing and self-blame. It’s not about how bad we are, but rather about where we are. When Matilda – that voice in my car that gives me turn by turn directions – plots my route, first she has to find out where I am. The personal inventory helps me figure out where I am.

And where I am is a great place to start.

Read my next installment, After Inventory, What? here.

Update: I'm of course not the first to talk about inventories. As Stephen mentions in his comment below, he posted on the same subject at Wheat & Tares in April. I should have referenced his post in my OP, as it was in part the inspiration for mine.


  1. I did a post a while back on inventories and 12-steps, never thought of the fiery serpent analogy.

    Thanks, I liked that.

  2. Stephen, thanks for jarring me into citing your post. It got me thinking on this subject again, and then some experiences of the last week pushed me to write this post. I've added a reference to your post in the OP.