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Category Archives: Alcoholics Anonymous

“The best the earth has to offer is not big enough or good enough to rescue us from ourselves,” writes Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw in a Christian explanation for why most of us need grace, whether we are alcoholics or not. Interestingly, his view echoes the words, My Creator, which launch AA’s seventh-step prayer:

Modern people have tried every earthly source to solve their problems: government, education, economics, social sciences, psychology and psychoanalysis…. [Yet] our only true hope and our only sure help is in the God who made heaven and earth.

Similarly, we alcoholics who are also Christians may need to take seventh-step restorations to lengths that other alcoholics sometimes ignore. Oswald Chambers explains in My Utmost for His Highest the purity that Christ offers through grace:

Jesus says if you are My disciple you must be right not only in your living, but in your motives, in your dreams, in the recesses of your mind. You must be so pure in your motives that God Almighty can see nothing to censure. Who can stand in the Eternal Light of God and have nothing for God to censure? Only the Son of God, and Jesus Christ claims that by His Redemption he can put into any man His own disposition, and make him as unsullied and as simple as a child. The purity which God demands is impossible unless I can be remade within, and that is what Jesus has undertaken to do by His Redemption…. Jesus does not give us rules and regulations; His teachings are truths that can only be interpreted by the disposition he puts in. The great marvel of Jesus Christ’s salvation is that he alters heredity. He does not alter human nature; he alters its mainspring.

Little did I know, in 2001, how thoroughly God would use AA’s twelve steps to remake an alcoholic like me from within. But that’s precisely what God did. And He used circumstances that offered a new way of life to me, one that I would never have chosen. I’m an alcoholic in recovery who—nine years ago—began a career in foodservice that started as a dishwasher in a restaurant-bar. Not coincidently, foodservice is an industry where workers rank among America’s heaviest abusers of alcohol and/or other drugs. Thus, I entered the proverbial refiner’s fire when I first completed the twelve steps, then started my job as a dishwasher….

Copyright © 2009 by Randall E. Greene

“The strain is the strength. If you spend yourself physically, you become exhausted; but spend yourself spiritually, and you get more strength.”

Clarence H. Synder’s certainty that Step Seven gives us alcoholics a clean tape is affirmed by a comparable sure thing in The Life Recovery Bible:

Our holiness—the removal of our shortcomings—is God’s will for each of us. The apostle John wrote: “We can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. And if we know he is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure he will give us what we ask for.”

On the other hand, if we alcoholics need a cleansing prayer that functions in almost any creed or faith, Drop the Rock reprints the “Set-Aside Prayer.” It embodies humility:

Lord, today help me set aside

Everything I think I know about myself,

Everything I think I know about others, and

Everything I think I know about my own recovery

For a new experience in myself, a new experience in my fellows and my own recovery.

Interestingly, Dr. Gerald G. May suggests that we alcoholics who pursue spiritual growth in recovery may even need to set aside our penchant for newness:

In our culture, we are conditioned to expect growth to involve acquisition of new facts and understandings. To put it neurologically, the functional systems of our brains are used to elaborating upon themselves as growth happens. We have, in a way, become attached to the very process of expanding our attachments. But spiritual growth is different. It cannot be packaged, programmed or taught…. The essential process is one of transformation, not education. It is, if anything, an unlearning process in which our old ways are cleansed, liberated and redeemed…. Obviously, we cannot ‘conduct’ spiritual growth. At bottom it is God’s work. It is grace.

Personally, I consider this section of Addiction and Grace to be eloquent, more insightful into lasting recovery than anything I’ve experienced so far—and yet evidence for my hope and the essence of my very best moments during recovery. In all my years of drinking, I never doubted alcohol’s ability to erase my thoughts. Why, then, in recovery, do I doubt God’s ability to remove my shortcomings? Clearly, the best I can do sometimes is ask God to help me set aside my own thoughts. In fact, as New Year’s approaches, I do that with abandonment!

Copyright © 2009 by Randall E. Greene

“True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes”Edward F. Halifax (1881-1959)

AA co-founder “Dr. Bob” used AA’s sixth and seventh steps as vital tools in spiritual healing. So did another early AA leader, Clarence H. Snyder, who cited Psalm 103 as assurance that God erases defects revealed by the twelve steps, according to AA historian “Dick B.” This psalm describes a God-controlled, curative process:

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies…. He has removed our rebellious acts as far away as the east is from the west.

The Life Recovery Bible combines this scripture with Isaiah 1:18 and 43:25 to create colorful images that illustrate how thoroughly God restores us:

No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool…. I—yes, I alone—am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.

That is forgiveness, restoration, perfect healing. As a boy in Appalachia, I sang those words repeatedly in a popular Baptist hymn, and decades later, I experienced that white-as-wool cleansing while working AA’s steps.

Other early AA members in Ohio used group prayer to assist individuals who were working Step Seven. As Christian alcoholics, they believed “God could and would ‘remove’ transgressions when believers prayed together. The authority for such prayer was found [...in] James 5:13-16,” Dick B. confirms.

The Life Recovery Bible translates this passage as

…Pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And their prayer offered in faith will heal the sick. The Lord will make them well. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.

More specifically, Dr. Bob wrote about removal of sins through prayer. And Clarence “urged his sponsees to study for three weeks the problems they had unearthed and then say the following prayer every day of the twenty-one days: ‘Dear God. Thank you for removing these defects from me. Praise you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus,” according to Dick B.’s history—which observes that, afterward, Clarence said:

You now have a brand new tape. The new Manager has given you a clean tape because you asked for His help. 

Copyright © 2009 by Randall E. Greene

“Clarence never doubted that the slate was wiped clean in the Seventh Step….” But he warned newcomers about the “return” of cast-out evil.

Drop the Rock links seventh-step humility to service—meaning that if we alcoholics want our recovery to be so real that it shows, then service is a good way to put our feelings into action. Provided, of course, we are sincere about service:

When most of us thought of service, we thought of restaurant help, chores around the house or washing windows. The thought of service was burdensome if not downright irritating. We probably schemed throughout our lives to do as little service as possible…. [Yet] when we pass on our recovery, we keep it. This spiritual paradox becomes an all-determining reality for us…. If humility, being humble, is valuable to us, then we must learn to model it. Practice humility. We do the Sixth Step by surrendering to becoming entirely ready and conscious of our defects and shortcomings. Then the Seventh Step becomes natural…. The Sixth and Seventh Steps are really asking us, “What is important to us?” And, “If it is so important, where does it show in our lives?”

Service is practical action suggested by spiritual terms like usefulness and doing God’s bidding, featured in the Big Book’s seventh-step prayer. However, even intense prayer can be very practical, according to Drop the Rock:

What do we ask for in our prayer? …A humble prayer would contain a request for an awareness of those character defects that hurt ourselves and others. It would also ask for ways or methods of ridding ourselves of those defects…. A gentle, open prayer for help and of thanksgiving surely will help pave the way for change. We don’t need to make it a struggle or an epic. Our prayer can be a gradual, gentle process…. Asking through prayer is a simple and direct way of putting our intent into action.

The Life Recovery Bible compares simple prayer to a story in Luke 18:10-14: Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, the other a dishonest tax collector. The respected Pharisee prayed proudly about his goodness. But the tax collector “dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner’.” And Jesus responded: “The proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.”

Most of us alcoholics feel uncomfortable with concepts like paradoxes and prayer. Yet those oddfellows to modern recovery have, in fact, turned out to be my most effective medicines. And doesn’t paradox include the juxtaposition of unlikely pairs?

Copyright © 2009 by Randall E. Greene

One popular way to do Step Seven is use a “God box.” Write a description of what you want your Higher Power to remove, then drop it in the box.

Humility “opens us up to possibilities, as we choose open-mindedness and curiosity over protecting our point of view,” explains Bruna Martinuzzi, a leadership-training expert, and she adds:

We spend more time in that wonderful space of the beginner’s mind, willing to learn from what others have to offer. We move away from pushing into allowing, from insecure to secure, from seeking approval to seeking enlightenment. We forget about being perfect and we enjoy being in the moment…. There are many benefits to practicing humility…. It opens a window to a higher self.

Martinuzzi echoes what Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions details about Step Seven. The AA text describes attaining greater humility as the “foundation principle for each of AA’s twelve steps.” It says humility “can give us serenity” and that it is “a healer of pain.”

The Life Recovery Bible connects Step Seven’s humility to Jeremiah 18:3-6—a famous allegory in which God sends the prophet to the potter’s shop to learn a lesson. Afterward, Jeremiah explains:

I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so the potter squashed the jar into a lump of clay and started again. Then the Lord gave me this message: … “Can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”

In fact, both AA’s classic seventh-step prayer (which addresses God as “My Creator”) and the Jeremiah passage describe God as if he is the master artisan who can create, start over with, and transform those of us who respond humbly to his touch.

Whatever God does, The Life Recovery Bible concludes, “we can trust that he will recreate our life beautifully, once we get out of his way!” After all, we alcoholics who are Christians are God’s own to reclaim, in any manner that God chooses.

Copyright © 2009 by Randall E. Greene

“To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else”Dalai Lama

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