“Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine;” (Ephesians 3:20)
The first step of twelve step recovery programs reads as follows: “We admitted we were powerless over________(insert addictive behavior) and our lives had become unmanageable.”
These past few weeks, I have been blessed to work with a young woman struggling to get clean and sober and to stay that way. I am once again reminded how fragile sobriety is. A gift of God’s grace and mercy. This is also the time of year when I celebrate my sobriety anniversary. God willing, April 6 will mark 30 years of continuous sobriety for me. I stand amazed at this landmark, and I ponder how my life might be speaking to me through these current life experiences.
My newly sober friend is coming to see that, while she may be quite successful in many areas of her life, she is unable to manage her drinking. She is powerless over the addiction. The obsession and the craving overtake her. In my case, while I no longer struggle with cravings for alcohol, I still battle with obsessive thinking toward the many people, places, and things in my life over which I am completely powerless.
“When we are powerless, let us be quiet and let God act.”
The first three steps in addiction recovery can be summarized as:
1) I can’t, 2) God can, 3) So I’ll let him! Or, as I’ve also heard it said, “God is, and I am not.”
A longtime favorite read of mine is THE RULE OF BENEDICT: A Spirituality for the 21st century by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. The prologue counsels us: “What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Holy One to supply by the help of grace.”
Father Martin (You can find him on YouTube) suggests that God wants to be asked to help us. He wants the alcoholic to acknowledge to Him, “You have what I don’t have, may I please have some?”
My life and times are in your hands, Lord.
These and many other wise words that I have heard and read over the years all point to a power shift from self-reliance to God-reliance. I am asked to trade my poisonous pride for God’s humility. I accept the truth of my limitations and weaknesses with the hope that my loving and powerful God will do for me what I cannot do for myself. I learn to trust that God is in charge; it’s His plan I follow, not mine. I can be open to His surprises and miracles. I have always been drawn to the humility of Mary’s words, “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
I accept me as me and I let God be God.
My new friend in recovery accurately describes the process: “God doesn’t want me to ‘get it right’ or ‘get it together’ or be self-reliant or have a lot of willpower. He wants me to fall on my face and admit: “I can’t do it! Help me!!”
Every mass and many recovery meetings include a moment when we all hold hands and recite together the Lord’s Prayer. Linking arms in community, we acknowledge our willingness to let our Father God take us by the hand and lead us. We sense that we are united to each other and to God. It can be a moment imbued with power.
“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” (Isaiah 41:13)
As we pray, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. A brilliant and powerful strategy of the twelve-step recovery program is to only focus on a 24-hour time period—one day. To live in the present. Most of us feel we can do just about anything for one day. This beloved prayer affirms that God’s plan for us is that we live one day at a time asking Him to provide what we need for that day–His power. It is a simple program because God’s ways are simple. He is tender, yet powerful. He will provide us with two things we desperately need: a change of mentality and a new style of living.
The whole of the recovery program hinges on Step One’s honest admission of powerlessness. Steps One, Two, and Three form the basics of the program—the power shift. A newcomer to recovery is advised to “stick to the basics”. Often when someone is struggling in their recovery, it’s suggested that they go back to the basics. The truth is that we should always stick to the simple basics because it is in following the basics each 24 hours that we stay clean, sober, and mentally and emotionally sane. This is true whether you are new to recovery or getting ready to celebrate 30 years clean and sober.
I have learned so much about myself and about God as I have walked the road of recovery. I can replace the lie(s) I have been believing with these truths:
- Our weaknesses will take us to God IF we let them.
- Telling the truth to myself and others releases me from the power that the addiction has over me.
- Whatever the problem or situation, I need to get the focus off of me and onto God.
- I have to reach for recovery and reach for God.
- Day by day I simply “Do the next right thing.” Simple, yet full of power.
So, who has the power? God does.
I’ll end with a translation of the Lord’s prayer you may not have read before. May you be blessed by it today.
Abba, let our lives honor your name
Let your home be with us
Let your ways be our ways
Let heaven and earth be as one
Give us today simply the bread of tomorrow
Forgive us our violences as fully
As we have forgiven others theirs.
Do not let us stumble; give us refuge from evil ways.
Yours, O God, is the place, the power and the wonder.
Peace, now and forever. Amen.