Thursday, December 09, 2004

Step Three. Willingness, Faith, and

"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him

Practicing Step Three is like the opening of a door which to all appearances
is still closed and locked. All we need is a key, and the decision to swing the
door open. There is only one key, and it is called willingness. Once unlocked
by willingness, the door opens almost of itself, and looking through it, we
shall see a pathway beside which is an inscription. It reads: "This is the way
to a faith that works." In the first two Steps we were engaged in reflection.
We saw that we were powerless over alcohol, but we also perceived that faith of
some kind, if only in A.A. itself, is possible to anyone. These conclusions did
not require action; they required only acceptance.
Like all the remaining Steps, Step Three calls for affirmative action, for it
is only by action that we can cut away the self-will which has always blocked
the entry of God--or, if you like, a Higher Power--into our lives. Faith, to be
sure, is necessary, but faith alone can avail nothing. We can have faith, yet
keep God out of our lives. Therefore our problem now becomes just how and by
what specific means shall we be able to let Him in? Step Three represents our
first attempt to do this. In fact, the effectiveness of the whole A.A. program
will rest upon how well and earnestly we have tried to come to "a decision to
turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
To every worldly and practical-minded beginner, this Step looks hard, even
impossible. No matter how much one wishes to try, exactly how can he turn his
own will and his own life over to the care of whatever God he thinks there is?
Fortunately, we who have tried it, and with equal misgivings, can testify that
anyone, anyone at all, can begin to do it. We can further add that a beginning,
even the smallest, is all that is needed. Once we have placed the key of
willingness in the lock and have the door ever so slightly open, we find that
we can always open it some more. Though self-will may slam it shut again, as it
frequently does, it will always respond the moment we again pick up the key of
Maybe this all sounds mysterious and remote, something like Einstein's theory
of relativity or a proposition in nuclear physics. It isn't at all. Let's look
at how practical it actually is. Every man and woman who has joined A.A. and
intends to stick has, without realizing it, made a beginning on Step Three.
Isn't it true that in all matters touching upon alcohol, each of them has
decided to turn his or her life over to the care, protection, and guidance of
Alcoholics Anonymous? Already a willingness has been achieved to cast out one's
own will and one's own ideas about the alcohol problem in favor of those
suggested by A.A. Any willing newcomer feels sure A.A. is the only safe harbor
for the foundering vessel he has become. Now if this is not turning one's will
and life over to a newfound Providence, then what is it?
But suppose that instinct still cries out, as it certainly will, "Yes,
respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other
matters I must still maintain my independence. Nothing is going to turn me into
a nonentity. If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of
Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I'll look like the hole in
the doughnut." This, of course, is the process by which instinct and logic
always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development. The
trouble is that this kind of thinking takes no real account of the facts. And
the facts seem to be these: The more we become willing to depend upon a Higher
Power, the more independent we actually are. Therefore dependence, as A.A.
practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit.
Let's examine for a moment this idea of dependence at the level of everyday
living. In this area it is startling to discover how dependent we really are,
and how unconscious of that dependence. Every modern house has electric wiring
carrying power and light to its interior. We are delighted with this
dependence; our main hope is that nothing will ever cut off the supply of
current. By so accepting our dependence upon this marvel of science, we find
ourselves more independent personally. Not only are we more independent, we are
even more comfortable and secure. Power flows just where it is needed. Silently
and surely, electricity, that strange energy so few people understand, meets
our simplest daily needs, and our most desperate ones, too. Ask the polio
sufferer confined to an iron lung who depends with complete trust upon a motor
to keep the breath of life in him.
But the moment our mental or emotional independence is in question, how
differently we behave. How persistently we claim the right to decide all by
ourselves just what we shall think and just how we shall act. Oh yes, we'll
weigh the pros and cons of every problem. We'll listen politely to those who
would advise us, but all the decisions are to be ours alone. Nobody is going to
meddle with our personal independence in such matters. Besides, we think, there
is no one we can surely trust. We are certain that our intelligence, backed by
willpower, can rightly control our inner lives and guarantee us success in the
world we live in. This brave philosophy, wherein each man plays God, sounds
good in the speaking, but it still has to meet the acid test: how well does it
actually work? One good look in the mirror ought to be answer enough for any
Should his own image in the mirror be too awful to contemplate (and it usually
is), he might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from
self-sufficiency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society
breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, "We are
right and you are wrong." Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough,
self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing
is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less
peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is
not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final
achievement is ruin.
Therefore, we who are alcoholics can consider ourselves fortunate indeed. Each
of us has had his own near-fatal encounter with the juggernaut of self-will,
and has suffered enough under its weight to be willing to look for something
better. So it is by circumstance rather than by any virtue that we have been
driven to A.A., have admitted defeat, have acquired the rudiments of faith, and
now want to make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a Higher
We realize that the word "dependence" is as distasteful to many psychiatrists
and psychologists as it is to alcoholics. Like our professional friends, we,
too, are aware that there are wrong forms of dependence. We have experienced
many of them. No adult man or woman, for example, should be in too much
emotional dependence upon a parent. They should have been weaned long before,
and if they have not been, they should wake up to the fact. This very form of
faulty dependence has caused many a rebellious alcoholic to conclude that
dependence of any sort must be intolerably damaging. But dependence upon an
A.A. group or upon a Higher Power hasn't produced any baleful results.
When World War II broke out, this spiritual principle had its first major
test. A.A.'s entered the services and were scattered all over the world. Would
they be able to take discipline, stand up under fire, and endure the monotony
and misery of war? Would the kind of dependence they had learned in A.A. carry
them through? Well, it did. They had even fewer alcoholic lapses or emotional
binges than A.A.'s safe at home did. They were just as capable of endurance and
valor as any other soldiers. Whether in Alaska or on the Salerno beachhead,
their dependence upon a Higher Power worked. And far from being a weakness,
this dependence was their chief source of strength.
So how, exactly, can the willing person continue to turn his will and his life
over to the Higher Power? He made a beginning, we have seen, when he commenced
to rely upon A.A. for the solution of his alcohol problem. By now, though, the
chances are that he has become convinced that he has more problems than
alcohol, and that some of these refuse to be solved by all the sheer personal
determination and courage he can muster. They simply will not budge; they make
him desperately unhappy and threaten his newfound sobriety. Our friend is still
victimized by remorse and guilt when he thinks of yesterday. Bitterness still
overpowers him when he broods upon those he still envies or hates. His
financial insecurity worries him sick, and panic takes over when he thinks of
all the bridges to safety that alcohol burned behind him. And how shall he ever
straighten out that awful jam that cost him the affection of his family and
separated him from them? His lone courage and unaided will cannot do it. Surely
he must now depend upon Somebody or Something else.
At first that "somebody" is likely to be his closest A.A. friend. He relies
upon the assurance that his many troubles, now made more acute because he
cannot use alcohol to kill the pain, can be solved, too. Of course the sponsor
points out that our friend's life is still unmanageable even though he is
sober, that after all, only a bare start on A.A.'s program has been made. More
sobriety brought about by the admission of alcoholism and by attendance at a
few meetings is very good indeed, but it is bound to be a far cry from
permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life. That is just where the
remaining Steps of the A.A. program come in. Nothing short of continuous action
upon these as a way of life can bring the much-desired result.
Then it is explained that other Steps of the A.A. program can be practiced
with success only when Step Three is given a determined and persistent trial.
This statement may surprise newcomers who have experienced nothing but constant
deflation and a growing conviction that human will is of no value whatever.
They have become persuaded, and rightly so, that many problems besides alcohol
will not yield to a headlong assault powered by the individual alone. But now
it appears that there are certain things which only the individual can do. A11
by himself, and in the light of his own circumstances, he needs to develop the
quality of willingness. When he acquires willingness, he is the only one who
can make the decision to exert himself. Trying to do this is an act of his own
will. All of the Twelve Steps require sustained and personal exertion to
conform to their principles and so, we trust, to God's will.
It is when we try to make our will conform with God's that we begin to use it
rightly. To all of us, this was a most wonderful revelation. Our whole
trouble had been the misuse of willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems
with it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with God's intention
for us. To make this increasingly possible is the purpose of A.A.'s Twelve
Steps, and Step Three opens the door.
Once we have come into agreement with these ideas, it is really easy to begin
the practice of Step Three. In all times of emotional disturbance or
indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: "God
grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change
the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be


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