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Center for Action and Contemplation

Step 3: Turning Over Our Lives

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 2

Step 3: Turning Over Our Lives
Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. —Step 3 of the Twelve Steps

Notice that each of the Twelve Steps is expressed in terms of “we” and “us.” There is a real sense of community and inclusivity in A.A. rather than the hyper-individualism and exclusionary tendencies that have contributed to making Western Christianity so ineffective. Atheism is actually a product of Western Christianity, which has promoted a spirituality of individual advancement—perfectibility, achievement, performance, and willpower. This is a far cry from the “loser’s script” of the naked, bleeding, crucified Christ. [1] The over-emphasis on individualism has also presented a toxic version of God as judgmental and unforgiving. If you ask an atheist to describe the God they do not believe in, you will probably discover that you don’t believe in that God either! How can we expect people to fall in love with a God who is going to burn them in hell forever if they mess up? I mean that quite seriously.

It should come as no surprise, then, that about half the original members of A.A. considered themselves atheists or agnostics before they began the Twelve Step program. [2] It is exactly the freedom to “choose your own conception of God” [3], as Bill’s friend put it, that frees even atheists and agnostics to be able to “lay aside prejudice and express a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves.” [4]

The Big Book describes the spaciousness for a variety of positive beliefs about a Higher Power:

Much to our relief, we discovered that we did not need to consider anyone else’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate [I would add that no conception of God is adequate!], was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with a Higher Power, or God. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Force, a Oneness in the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not remain aloof from those who seek God. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. [5]

Christians should not insist that “my Higher Power is better than your Higher Power.” This is love of self and not love of God. But it is still good for Christians to know that our Jesus was made to order for the transformative problems of addiction and human suffering. From the cross, Jesus draws all suffering people to himself. This God suffers with us.

What humiliated and wounded addict cannot look on the image of the crucified Jesus and see himself or herself? Who would not rush toward surrender and communion with such a crucified God, who against all expectations, shares in our powerlessness, our failure, and our indignity? Who would not find themselves revealed, renamed, and released inside of such a God?

The suffering creatures of this world have a Being who does not judge or condemn them or in any way stand aloof from their plight, but a Being who hangs with them and flows toward and through them in their despair. And further, this God wants to love and be loved rather than be served (John 15:15). [6]

Giving our life over to such a God is surrendering to Love, making it easier to say with many Twelve Steppers, “God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will . . . and bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.” [7] Or as Jesus and Mary simply said, “Thy will be done.”

Gateway to Silence:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, How Do We Breathe Under Water?: The Gospel and 12-Step Spirituality (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

[2] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 41.

[3] Ibid., 11.

[4] Ibid., 43.

[5] Ibid., 43.

[6] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 125-126.

[7] A Simple Program, 59..

Image Credit: Femme assise (Melancholy Woman, detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902-03, The Detroit Museum of Art.
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