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Center for Action and Contemplation

Admitting Our Powerlessness

Sunday, March 26, 2023

We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. —Step One of the Twelve Steps 

Father Richard has long admired what he considers the “spiritual genius” of Bill Wilson (1895–1971), one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. In his book on the spirituality of the Twelve Steps, Richard describes why the first step is essential—for alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike: 

Until and unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict, or relationship that we cannot “manage,” we will never find the True Manager. So, God or Life makes sure that several things will come our way that we cannot manage on our own. Self-made people, and all heroic spiritualities, will try to manufacture an even stronger self by willpower and determination—to put them back in charge and seemingly in control. Usually, most people admire this, not realizing the unbending, sometimes proud, and eventually rigid personality that will be the long-term result.  

It is the imperial ego that has to go, and only powerlessness can do the job correctly. Otherwise, we try to engineer our own transformation by our own rules and with our own power—which is therefore, by definition, not transformation! It seems we can in no way engineer or steer our own conversion. If we try to change our ego with the help of our ego, we only have a better-disguised ego! To borrow a quote often associated with Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” [1] 

Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie offer this prayer which speaks to those times when life seems unmanageable: 

A Prayer for When God Seems Absent 

Oh God, comfortable would we be if You gave us formulas and answered prayers and realized hope. But You call us beyond comfort. 

But God, life upends us. We face divorce or miscarriages, financial struggles or job insecurity, and the people we love are tossed about by disease or loneliness or homelessness or addiction. 

We are afraid. We don’t have adequate answers. And sometimes we can’t find You. 

Or, we can’t find the person we hoped You would be. 

May we learn to trust that You aren’t asleep on the job. That You haven’t forgotten us. That You are as near to us as our very breath. Give us the courage to press on. To suffer with hope that You have overcome the world. 

May again and again we be awed by Your presence. That even when we feel like we’ve hit rock bottom, may we recognize we have fallen into Your arms because there is no place so deep or so dark or so scary that Your presence cannot reach. 

In the name of the One who can still the seas with mere words, amen. [2]  


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 10th anniv. ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2011, 2021), 4–5. 

[2] Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie, Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection (New York: Convergent, 2022), 43. Used with permission.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Jenna Keiper, North Cascades Sunrise. Jenna Keiper, Jonah. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in, we learn to navigate in the midst of our lack of control. 

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