12-step discussion: step 3

this is the third installation of a series of discussion about the 12 steps as conceived in various programs of recovery, from alcoholics anonymous to adult children of alcoholics, from debtors anonymous to naranon.

today i’ll present you with a meditation on step 3:

made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood god.

any good atheist worth their salt will vigorously shake their heads at this: no way!!!

one thing that needs to be remembered here is that originally, the steps were written for people who were desperate, who were totally at their wits’ end. the person who has tried everything and doesn’t know where to turn now will say, ok, i’m just going to see how this works, i’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

but is this step of any use at all for people who feel that while they do have problems, they’re most definitely not desperate? how is this for people who do have something to lose?

as i’ve done it with the two previous steps, i’m going to try and offer some “translations”. some of them may even work for atheists.

made a decision. that’s a crucial part. you make the decision. not your parents, your priest, your therapist. YOU and no one else has the power to make such a momentous decision.

our will. reams and reams of books have been (and i’m sure, will be) written about the concept of “will”. what i suspect is meant here is that part of us that more or less consciously propels us to act. the prime motivational force.

our lives. oh boy. the whole thing. warts and all. “and all” means the parts of ourselves that we are proud of and the ones that we desperately want to hide; what we desire and what we fear; our past, present and future. the whole of our lives.

the care. this is a part that escaped me for the longest time. i used to just read “to turn our will and our lives over to god”. aah, but that’s the rub. it’s not just any god, it’s a caring god. a god who cares for us the way we want (OUR decision!) her/it/him to care for us. i think often we don’t even have a clue what that care could look like.

god as we understood god. same thing, really, as with the previous paragraph. a decision, an investigation that we may have never made. how DO we understand god? how do we WANT to understand god? who or what is our god? yes, who or what. let’s not get hung up on the “who” too much. god does not need to be a person-type entity. god can be an idea, a concept, god can be our values. it’s a “power greater than (fill in the blank)”.

this step, as i see it this day, this moment, is a step about decision-making. it’s a step where i decide to make my own reality (as i understand it), one in which i feel cared for, in which i feel so cared for and about that i can decide (my will) to throw my whole life into it.

so let’s pull this all together:

you can make your own god-reality. god is whatever/whoever caring, loving goodness you want it/her/him to be. you can make the decision to trust this goodness no matter what, to be guided by this goodness wherever you go.

you can decide to follow into the footsteps of those who have made a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of god as they understood god.

a radical step, no doubt. but maybe it’s the step that is needed to live life to the fullest. and do we really need to feel desperate to want that? are we not all desperate to live life to the fullest?

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

(this post was featured in the 3rd carnival of all substances at everyone needs therapy)

3 thoughts on “12-step discussion: step 3

  1. Scott

    Hi Isabella,

    It’s Easter week, so I’d like to throw a log on this fire.

    The 12 steps were originally based in Christian belief, so I want to speak to the original interpretation of God as it was intended by the founders of AA and your interpretation here.

    I like how you have stepped the 3rd step down to a level where it can be easily understood. I think the problem with any statement such as

    “we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood god.”

    is that it is so loaded with meaning and implication that it just scares people to death. In this article I think that you have done a great job of bringing the dreaded 3rd step down to earth.

    I do have a bit of a different perspective on the definition of God however. In the original Christian context, “God” represents the “unknown and unknowable,” or “the Almighty.” In other words, God is beyond human understanding or knowledge.

    This is not an easy concept for even a Christian to accept or understand. How can we relate to something that we don’t even comprehend?

    However, Christians have an “out.” They have an intermediary in the form of Jesus. The same applies to Jews and Muslims, who reach God through Moses and the Prophet.

    I have always wondered how people who are not of the Abrahamic faiths interpret the 3rd step. As a Christian, Jew or Muslim, I would interpret the third step to encompass the act of a leap of faith. I am placing my fate and my life in the hands of God. This is an act of profound spiritual significance, and AA members who have completed the 3rd step demonstrate incredibly strong faith.

    When I read your interpretation of God, I don’t sense the same spiritual strength. This is not a stab at you, because I know that you are a very spiritual person. However, “a power greater than myself” just doesn’t resonate with me the same way that “The unknowable” does.

    I worry that by creating their own god, people will fall short of achieving the same spiritual fulfilment as they would if they were Christian, Jewish or Muslim. How could a single person create and conceive of anything greater than themselves, especially when they are in the despairing depths of alcoholism? Won’t any standard of goodness that they create be tainted by their own failing self-esteem or broken self-image?

    I have been sitting here wondering if a Buddhist or Native American interpretation would be more appropriate, but I think the same problem will still emerge. In Buddhism you’ll come right up against the “unknowable” when you start thinking of dharma, and in Native spirituality, the same thing will happen when you come to Nature or the Great Spirit.

    I am really wondering if it is it even possible to take a humanist interpretation of the 3rd step.


  2. Pingback: more on step 3: a bit of a theological discussion » change therapy - isabella mori

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