Easter celebrations bring an end to Lent, a season many Christians observe with contemplation and disciplines designed to prepare ourselves for the newness of life that Christ’s resurrection promises to all who surrender themselves to God. A relatively small subset of Christians practice introspection and confession in particular as powerful steps toward making needed course corrections in life.
In contrast to ancient religious practices, another influential and well-established tradition offers a more contemporary take on practices for finding life change and spiritual awakening. The tradition is spiritual but not religious, and celebrated Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr describes it as “America’s most significant and authentic contribution to the history of spirituality.” It is the Twelve Step tradition pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Every year, millions of Twelve Step recovery seekers embark on a searching and fearless moral inventory and admit their wrongs aloud to God and another human being as essential steps towards profound life change. What do these recovery seekers know about spiritual transformation that millions of religious seekers don’t? A lot, as it turns out.
First is that life change starts with recognizing the limits of our own power. Consider the difference between a religious seeker who approaches introspection believing he had the power to make better choices (but simply chose not to) and a Twelve Step seeker who acknowledges that his defects of character took away his power to make better choices. Although we can find a false sense of security in our own power, it leads us towards unrealistic expectations for ourselves (and unwarranted derision).
The second thing Twelve Step recovery seekers know is that life change is possible but only with God’s power. Some religious seekers don’t really believe in the transformation that is being offered to them, or they walk away from confession unchanged but determined to make better choices in the future without genuinely depending on God’s power to make them. Acknowledging that God has this power, that we don’t have to change through sheer force of will alone, is the kernel of hope for healing.
The third thing recovery seekers know is that we have to create a power vacuum in order to make space for God’s power to enter, and that actually relying on God’s power instead of will power is incredibly difficult. Relying on one’s own will is easy. I want what I want, after all. Being demanding or strong-willed about what I want takes little strength of character. Laying down my will, conversely, takes enormous spiritual strength. Religious seekers sometimes approach God in search of a little auxiliary power without taking the difficult step of creating the power vacuum. They may want God to be almighty, but on their terms.
These three truths align to the first three steps of the Twelve Steps. Like the first three, the remaining steps outline a path to healing, life change and spiritual awakening that is much more specific and instructive than much of what religious doctrine offers.
Join the conversation. Do you think God cares or do you actually trust God’s care?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.