Spirituality and Language
We live in a country that respects and encourages freedom of thought; we share ideas and disagree (hopefully) without being disagreeable. Since my article in October of last year, I’ve received some complimentary emails concerning the following idea regarding God’s detachment.
While I believe that God truly cares for this world, He has granted to us the gift of freedom. God wants me to be good, but He does not make me good. God wants me to be clean and sober, but He does not make me clean and sober. God wants peace in the world, but He does not stop genocides or holocausts. God is not codependent; He exists in a blessed aura of detachment.
Because I believe this to be true and because I believe that poetic language is powerful in expressing ourselves spiritually, I’m forced to meditate and consider the intent of those who wrote the Third Step prayer and the Seventh Step prayer in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I truly like both of these prayers and say them with others at meetings, but I would never have written them that way.
It is Okay to Think
Is it okay to think this? Is it okay to write this? Is it okay to say these things? Absolutely! Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever said that the book Alcoholics Anonymous is infallible. It’s not presented as God’s tablet that was brought down from a mountain. What is it then? Some very practical and common sense information gleaned from personal experiences on what alcoholism is and how an ever-expanding group of people got sober and stayed sober. Most of it I agree with, but being a theologian, some of what it says concerning how God interacts with humankind I disagree with. Or, I interpret it as poetic language and seek an explanation of what it means for me. After all, recovering people do not make up a religion, rather we are a fellowship.
Let’s look at what the Third Step prayer says.
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. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always! (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1976, p. 63).
This prayer, if you study it carefully, speaks more about what the writer believes God is doing, but rarely, other than the initial “offer” at the beginning, speaks of what we need to be doing. It’s God who builds and does the work; He relieves the bondage of self, He takes away the difficulties; yes, I intend to help others but only in God’s power, love, and way of life.
It seems so overly codependent. What is my part? This does not seem a prayer based on the well-known saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Surely we need to be involved in our recovery? In cleaning up our mess? In recreating a new life based upon spiritual principles?
I see the same codependent philosophy in the Seventh Step prayer:
My Creator, I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to You and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding. Amen (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1976, p. 76).
I often catch myself thinking, do people actually believe this? Why am I giving back, good or bad, what God created? Don’t I have any part in removing my defects of character? Don’t I find strength and self-esteem in doing the steps necessary for recovery?
Some people get angry when I say these things. That I’m trying to change a recovery plan. Then again, I’ve met many people who agree with me. They enjoyed reading The Happy Heretic because the idea of our cooperation with God is a central theme of that book. Others say that our involvement is implied, it’s just not spelled out. Really? But maybe that’s why I meet so many people who are angry at God because they are waiting for Him to do the work. They are waiting for magic!
The miracle is that we have the power to change our lives; we just didn’t know it or had forgotten it. People are changing their lives all the time, usually because of pain and challenges in life, and it’s usually in their own interest.
Here is a suggested prayer:
My Creator, I am working with You to remove the negative aspects of my life with positive actions. I am searching and removing those defects of character that stop me being useful to You and my fellows. In our strength, I go forward to do Your bidding. Amen.
It often seems to me, when I hear people talk about God that He is the One who is doing all the good things in our lives—yet we are the ones doing all the bad things. And I believe this dysfunctional thinking makes God cry . . . poetically speaking. But that’s another article.
Alcoholics Anonymous. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous. New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.