"I've turned the problem of alcohol
over to the Higher Power, but I have trouble in many
other things. How do we go about turning our whole lives
over? This subject has come up at our beginners' meeting,
but we can't seem to clarify our understanding that
the suggested Third Step does not pertain solely to
the problem of alcohol or just the first drink."
Thus writes an AA member who is perplexed
by a problem that baffles countless other AAs: Just
what is meant by turning our will and lives over to
God and how do we do it? Should His help be sought only
in solving the drinking problem? Or does it involve
everything we do? And are we being both selfish and
naive if we expect Him to hand down guidance and help
in dealing with our social, business and health problems?
Many AAs dispose of these questions
with a good-natured but revealing comment: "Pray
for potatoes, but grab a hoe. "Clearly, this saying
suggests that God's action in human affairs--if it exists
at all--is slight and is certainly no substitute for
human effort. "Go ahead and seek spiritual guidance,"
the newcomer might be told, "but don't expect to
hear bells or see bolts of lightning."
Yet these remarks hardly answer the
needs of many earnest and troubled AAs who have met
complete frustration and defeat from problems that are
fully as baffling and terrifying as alcohol proved to
be. They might wonder, with a great deal of justification,
if they've escaped from the fleshpots of Egypt only
to perish in the desert. Freedom from John Barleycorn's
house of bondage--however priceless a gift--is difficult
to appreciate fully when one feels overwhelmed by numerous
other problems. Can we turn these over and expect results?
We can and we should; indeed, this is
the true meaning of the Third Step. It does not directly
concern itself with the first drink or the drinking
problem; rather it calls for turning our will and our
lives over to the Higher Power. A nonalcoholic can take
this Step in exactly the same way that an AA member
might follow it. Many do. Our goal should be to seek
and develop a God-consciousness within ourselves which
will govern our lives. The experience of many AAs is
that this God-consciousness can be found and that it
works. Prayer does change things, and always for the
It should be understood that taking
the Third Step--letting go and letting God--is not an
abdication of personal responsibility or duty; it will
not do away with the need for hoeing the potato patch.
But it is a way--perhaps the only way--of facing our
responsibilities in the proper spirit and performing
our duties more perfectly. For the sad story of man
without God is that he does far too much hoeing for
too few potatoes.
Let it never be said that the spiritual
way is a cowardly or escapist approach to life. On the
contrary, it requires maximum diligence and persistence
to seek divine guidance when all the evidence of our
eyes and ears tries to tell us that life is largely
physical, intellectual and emotional. It means constant
work to exclude from our own minds the doubts and fears
that interfere with this God-consciousness. It means
putting the spiritual life ahead of all else whenever
possible, to seek the long-term gains of spiritual well-being
over short-term pleasures that get in the way of spiritual
progress. But those who seek the spiritual approach
will, in the end, not only come to terms with all their
problems, their strength of character and calmness of
mind will be admired by the same people who scoff at
this 'God business.'
If all this is accepted as being true,
how then do we go about making our contact with God--turning
things over? How does one know if it's working--if our
prayers are being answered? What can we do to improve
the success of our prayers?
Since God doesn't usually reveal Himself
by ringing bells or sending bolts of lightning, we can
go only by our own feelings about specific matters.
If we feel a sense of God's presence in our affairs,
however slight and fleeting it sometimes seems to be,
then it's likely that we're making our approach in a
suitable manner. We should also remember that God's
power is ready to come into our lives whenever we are
ready; we are seeking Somebody whose presence is all
around us but goes unnoticed because of our own doubts,
fears and lack of faith. The job is essentially one
of getting ourselves out of the way of our own good.
The AA member who knows all this but
still feels he's being held back--that some things are
just too difficult to turn over--might consider approaching
God by three distinct means: prayer and meditation,
love, and service. For it may be that God wants us to
seek Him while bending to help somebody as well as while
bending the knee in prayer. If our own prayers seem
to go unheeded, it may partly be due to our own selfish
lack of concern about others who need our help. If our
faith seems dead, we might try bringing it to life with
good works, particularly those that require some effort
and sacrifice on our part.
The good life of an AA member who is
seeking these three approaches to God is like a fruit
tree. Prayer and meditation are the water and fertilizer,
love is the golden sunlight, and service is the pruning
and picking. Such a tree must always bear fruit.
All are perhaps equally important, but
in AA the emphasis has often been on service, or action.
That's understandable, for without service AA would
die. The AA message does not carry itself; somebody
must carry it. It's interesting; also, that AA began
with an act of service--when another alcoholic thought
of paying a visit to his old friend, Bill W., and telling
him about a simple program that had helped to keep him
sober. This action set the pattern for all the AA service
that was to come; without it, AA couldn't have been
Some form of service may be the only
immediate solution for the AA member who is facing complete
defeat or frustration from other problems. This may
seem escapist, but it's not. What is more practical
than to get one's own spiritual house in order before
attempting to straighten out some of the confusion in
one's environment? For unless a person is able to approach
his problems with an uplifted state of mind, the chances
are high that he'll never solve them; he'll only cause
Service is God in action; when we seek
to help others, we automatically serve God. If we cannot
approach service spontaneously and lovingly, we should
do the next best thing: we should serve because we need
to serve for our own good.
Any AA member can begin to change his
life by finding better ways to serve others. There are,
of course, many opportunities to serve by working with
newcomers and attending meetings, but there are also
other forms of service that include everybody who enters
our lives in any way. We can serve others by thinking
well of them; our changed attitude toward them is bound
to have an uplifting effect on their lives. We can put
an end to gossip, jealousy, criticism, or any other
disharmony among members of our family and friends.
If there's any good that we can do for anybody, we can
take the time to do it. And if there's something in
us that balks at these suggestions, then we ought to
find out what it is, for that's part of the barrier
that lies between us and our ultimate realization of
It never can be emphasized too strongly
that, in the end, our thoughts and actions toward others
color our own spiritual life. We become what we do.
Acts of kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness and forgiveness
must inevitably strengthen those qualities within us
that heighten our consciousness of God's love.
This great love is the sunlight of AA's
tree of life, and any member who seeks to learn more
about God should ask himself how much he really loves
his fellow men, all of them. If we don't feel the need
for some feeling of goodwill toward everybody--call
it love--we should reflect that in approaching God we
seek to contact the very source of love. In asking God
to guide and direct our lives, we are asking love to
take over and lead us where it will. If we are unwilling
to have this happen--if, instead, we wish to retain
our right to be critical and indifferent toward many
of our fellows--then we're not really ready to turn
our whole lives over. We only get out of AA what we
put into it, and if we wish to climb great spiritual
heights, we ought to remember that only fears and reservations
within ourselves hold us back.
Fortunately, any of us can make a beginning,
no matter how love-starved our previous lives have been.
Some think that alcoholism itself grows out of love
starvation and that alcoholics are actually persons
born with a great capacity for love. Whatever the truth
may be, it's plain that many AA members have felt a
keen love for the suffering alcoholics they tried to
help, though they would have snorted at the suggestion
that there was something Christ like in this devotion.
The origin and growth of AA itself can be described
only as another expression of the great potential for
love which God has placed in man.
It's also possible that if a large number
of us could truly glimpse the potential of love, we
could carry the AA fellowship to even greater heights
of service. For we live in a love-starved world surrounded
by fearful people who don't know where to turn for strength;
who don't know that faith and the love of God are the
only perfect answers to fear.
Another quality of love is that it brings
on an automatic adjustment in personal shortcomings
that might otherwise cause all sorts of trouble. When
we look upon the difficulties that people have with
troublesome character traits, we can't help but reflect
that many of these traits are perversions of the love
instinct, or exist because love is absent. The truly
loving person cannot lie, cheat, steal, withhold his
assistance, or do any of the despicable acts that promote
so much evil in the world. It certainly must have been
for this reason that Jesus stated that the only commandments
really necessary were to love God and to love one's
neighbor no less than oneself.
But for its highest growth the tree
of life in AA needs to be watered and fertilized with
prayer and meditation. If a member is already giving
himself over to AA's love and service, he can bring
these to mature fruition through a deliberate, sustained
effort to seek God in his own thoughts.
The need for this is sometimes viewed
rather lightly in AA, but even a casual reading of the
book "Alcoholics Anonymous" should convince
one that AA's pioneers not only relied heavily on prayer
and meditation but also reported some profound results.
Prayer changed their thinking and brought some marvelous
blessings into their lives.
Evidently the winning qualities in prayer,
as in acts of love and service, are single-mindedness
In any case, the purpose of prayer and
meditation should be to align ourselves with God and
to invite Him to lead us and inspire us according to
His will ("Not my will, Father, but Thine be done.")
Steps Three and Eleven in the AA program both contain
this idea, the latter being only the idea applied on
a daily basis. The phrase "improve our conscious
contact with God" in the Eleventh Step is very
meaningful, for it suggests that our prayer and meditation
should be bringing about the happy result of increasing
our awareness of God's presence.
No sane person would attempt to carry
on a discussion with another human being who was not
known to be within his hearing by one means or another.
In a like manner, any talking things over with God is
less effective if one doesn't really believe he's in
contact with a Higher Power. So it's helpful to begin
such a session by tuning in; by clearing the mind of
worldly clamors and other intrusions. Otherwise there's
a good chance that self-will and selfish desires will
insinuate themselves into one's guidance and keep him
from his highest good.
It must be clear that we shouldn't try
to give orders to God, to tell him the exact direction
His guidance should take. Our Father knows our needs
before we ask Him, and it's actually self-defeating
as well as presumptuous to tell Him how something ought
to be solved. We lack the ability to see around corners,
we have no periscope into tomorrow. The lucky break
we crave today may turn out to be next week's liability,
or the advantage we seek for ourselves may be better
suited for another person.
It's also clear that we cannot with
any justification ask God to help us vanquish others
in competition or to hand us an advantage that works
to somebody else's detriment. Being on a spiritual basis
does not mean that God now favors us over other men;
if anything, it means only that one should try even
harder to acknowledge the rights of those who have not
yet brought this blessing into their own lives.
If we're truly letting go and letting
God, the probable result is that we've lost most of
the fear and anxiety concerning any problem that might
be troubling us at the moment. Obviously we're hopeful
that the solution, whatever it may be, won't involve
too much temporary pain or loss. Still, we should also
be careful not to assume that God delights in causing
us pain or loss, for these usually occur only as a result
of our partial or total separation from Him. Surely
God's will for us is that we live fully and abundantly
on all levels--the physical, emotional and intellectual,
as well as the spiritual.
Therefore He knows of our economic and
social needs. But all too often our real need is to
let go of certain things in order to make our conscious
contact with God. We may be putting these things first
in our own minds, looking to them for security and power
that rightly ought to come from God. For this reason
it's sometimes a distinct blessing when circumstances
wrest them from us and force us to turn elsewhere for
help. This, in fact, is what happened with our drinking
Our great need, however we approach
God, is to know that God loves us and needs us too,
and that with Him all things are possible. If we seek
Him, we find that He comes to meet us as the father
in the Biblical parable rushed to meet his prodigal
son. Who can ask for more than that?