As the guest of a good friend of mine who is in his second year of recovery, yesterday I attended an AA meeting, something I had never done before. I was very much moved by the raw honesty of the people who shared their stories. And, as people introduced themselves, as wonderful as it was to hear from people who have been sober for 12 or 15 or 20 years, it was the people who were in their early stages – those sober for 8 days or 12 days – that most touched my heart. I rejoiced at their early steps toward recovery.
I am not totally unfamiliar with the Twelve Steps. When I was writing Growing in Love and Wisdom, my research assistant was someone in recovery and helpfully pointed out places where the wisdom of the AA “Big Book” was consonant with points I was making, with the result that I quote from the “Big Book” in several places in my book. But I can’t claim deep familiarity with all of the steps.
The reading shared at yesterday’s meeting was from the seventh step: “Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.” The seventh step is about understanding that “the grace of God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” In Christian terms, it is about embracing poverty of spirit – our utter and absolute dependence on God and God’s grace.
The language of the reading is no less true for non-alcoholics than for alcoholics. It described a shift away from the view of God as a “sort of bush-league pinch hitter, to be called upon only in an emergency” (a view I think is common among all too many believers). That is, “[t]he notion that we would still live our own lives, God helping a little now and then began to evaporate. Many of us who had thought ourselves religious awoke to the limitations of this attitude. Refusing to place God first, we had deprived ourselves of His help. But now the words ‘Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the works’ began to carry bright promise and meaning.”
As I heard the words, what came to mind is the line in Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Alcoholic or not, in recovery or not, all of us need to grow in our embrace of humility in this sense. It is not about making ourselves smaller than we are. It is about recognizing our need for God.