When I started researching the role confession plays on the road to healing, I was intrigued by how Twelve Step addiction recovery programs approach confession. Every year, millions of recovery seekers in the Twelve Step tradition embark on “a searching and fearless moral inventory” and “admit wrongdoing aloud to God and another human being,” the Fourth and Fifth Steps. What do these recovery seekers know about confession that millions from religious traditions don’t? A lot, as it turns out.
First is that the journey starts with recognizing the limits of our own power. Consider the difference between a religious seeker who approaches confession believing he had the power to make better choices but chose not to and a Twelve Step seeker who acknowledges that his defects of character took away his power to make better choices. We cling to a pleasing self-image even when the facts of our lives cease to agree with it. The discrepancy between image and reality draws us into conflict, igniting disharmony within ourselves, with others and with the world. Acknowledging this disconnect, or brokenness, is like finding a door labeled “healing.” Acknowledging that we are powerless to make the reality match the image is like opening the door.
The second thing Twelve Step recovery seekers know is that only by acknowledging a power outside ourselves and stronger than ourselves can we be reconciled to the self-image we desire. That higher power can restore us to the image, or conversely, once the higher power is acknowledged, the image we desire might be transformed. A religious seeker who approaches confession believing she had the power to make better choices in her past runs the risk of walking away from confession unchanged. She might walk away feeling obligated to make better choices in the future without availing herself of God’s power to help her 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 our own 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 any kind. Laying down my will, conversely, takes enormous spiritual strength. Religious seekers might approach God in search of a little auxiliary power without taking the difficult step of creating the power vacuum. When talking about turning over our own will to make space for God’s power and care, recovery seekers invariably talk of “taking it back” at some point in the journey. As difficult as creating a power vacuum is, relying on God’s power is more effective than will power. Despite the immense difficulty of this action, recovery seekers know it’s not enough to think God cares. They have to trust God’s care.
These three truths align to the first three of the Twelve Steps. Like the first three, the remaining nine steps outline a path of spiritual growth and healing that is much more specific and instructive than what most religious doctrine offers. I’ve been moved by testimony of people who considered themselves religious but could not find the healing they so desperately sought within their faith traditions. It was the Twelve Steps that got them there.
Join the conversation. How does the wisdom in these steps speak to your spiritual journey?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.acrosstraditions.com/.