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a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care
of God as we understood Him"
Step Three is like the opening of a door which to all appearances
is still closed and locked. All we need is a key, and the
decision to swing the door open. There is only one key,
and it is called willingness. Once unlocked by willingness,
the door opens almost of itself, and looking through it,
we shall see a pathway beside which is an inscription. It
reads: "This is the way to a faith that works."
In the first two Steps we were engaged in reflection. We
saw that we were powerless over alcohol, but we also perceived
that faith of some kind, if only in A.A. itself, is possible
to anyone. These conclusions did not require action; they
required only acceptance.
all the remaining Steps, Step Three calls for affirmative
action, for it is only by action that we can cut away the
self-will which has always blocked the entry of God--or,
if you like, a Higher Power--into our lives. Faith, to be
sure, is necessary, but faith alone can avail nothing. We
can have faith, yet keep God out of our lives. Therefore
our problem now becomes just how and by what specific means
shall we be able to let Him in? Step Three represents our
first attempt to do this. In fact, the effectiveness of
the whole A.A. program will rest upon how well and earnestly
we have tried to come to "a decision to turn our will
and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
To every worldly and practical-minded beginner, this Step
looks hard, even impossible. No matter how much one wishes
to try, exactly how can he turn his own will and his own
life over to the care of whatever God he thinks there is?
Fortunately, we who have tried it, and with equal misgivings,
can testify that anyone, anyone at all, can begin to do
it. We can further add that a beginning, even the smallest,
is all that is needed. Once we have placed the key of willingness
in the lock and have the door ever so slightly open, we
find that we can always open it some more. Though self-will
may slam it shut again, as it frequently does, it will always
respond the moment we again pick up the key of willingness.
this all sounds mysterious and remote, something like Einstein's
theory of relativity or a proposition in nuclear physics.
It isn't at all. Let's look at how practical it actually
is. Every man and woman who has joined A.A. and intends
to stick has, without realizing it, made a beginning on
Step Three. Isn't it true that in all matters touching upon
alcohol, each of them has decided to turn his or her life
over to the care, protection, and guidance of Alcoholics
Anonymous? Already a willingness has been achieved to cast
out one's own will and one's own ideas about the alcohol
problem in favor of those suggested by A.A. Any willing
newcomer feels sure A.A. is the only safe harbor for the
foundering vessel he has become. Now if this is not turning
one's will and life over to a newfound Providence, then
what is it?
suppose that instinct still cries out, as it certainly will,
"Yes, respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent
upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain
my independence. Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity.
If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care
of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I'll
look like the hole in the doughnut." This, of course,
is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to
bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development.
The trouble is that this kind of thinking takes no real
account of the facts. And the facts seem to be these: The
more we become willing to depend upon a Higher Power, the
more independent we actually are. Therefore dependence,
as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true
independence of the spirit.
examine for a moment this idea of dependence at the level
of everyday living. In this area it is startling to discover
how dependent we really are, and how unconscious of that
dependence. Every modern house has electric wiring carrying
power and light to its interior. We are delighted with this
dependence; our main hope is that nothing will ever cut
off the supply of current. By so accepting our dependence
upon this marvel of science, we find ourselves more independent
personally. Not only are we more independent, we are even
more comfortable and secure. Power flows just where it is
needed. Silently and surely, electricity, that strange energy
so few people understand, meets our simplest daily needs,
and our most desperate ones, too. Ask the polio sufferer
confined to an iron lung who depends with complete trust
upon a motor to keep the breath of life in him. But the
moment our mental or emotional independence is in question,
how differently we behave. How persistently we claim the
right to decide all by ourselves just what we shall think
and just how we shall act. Oh yes, we'll weigh the pros
and cons of every problem. We'll listen politely to those
who would advise us, but all the decisions are to be ours
alone. Nobody is going to meddle with our personal independence
in such matters. Besides, we think, there is no one we can
surely trust. We are certain that our intelligence, backed
by willpower, can rightly control our inner lives and guarantee
us success in the world we live in. This brave philosophy,
wherein each man plays God, sounds good in the speaking,
but it still has to meet the acid test: how well does it
actually work? One good look in the mirror ought to be answer
enough for any alcoholic.
his own image in the mirror be too awful to contemplate
(and it usually is), he might first take a look at the results
normal people are getting from self-sufficiency. Everywhere
he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking
up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others,
"We are right and you are wrong." Every such pressure
group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes
its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing is
being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty
effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The
philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly
enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement
we who are alcoholics can consider ourselves fortunate indeed.
Each of us has had his own near-fatal encounter with the
juggernaut of self-will, and has suffered enough under its
weight to be willing to look for something better. So it
is by circumstance rather than by any virtue that we have
been driven to A.A., have admitted defeat, have acquired
the rudiments of faith, and now want to make a decision
to turn our will and our lives over to a Higher Power.
realize that the word "dependence" is as distasteful
to many psychiatrists and psychologists as it is to alcoholics.
Like our professional friends, we, too, are aware that there
are wrong forms of dependence. We have experienced many
of them. No adult man or woman, for example, should be in
too much emotional dependence upon a parent. They should
have been weaned long before, and if they have not been,
they should wake up to the fact. This very form of faulty
dependence has caused many a rebellious alcoholic to conclude
that dependence of any sort must be intolerably damaging.
But dependence upon an A.A. group or upon a Higher Power
hasn't produced any baleful results.
World War II broke out, this spiritual principle had its
first major test. A.A.'s entered the services and were scattered
all over the world. Would they be able to take discipline,
stand up under fire, and endure the monotony and misery
of war? Would the kind of dependence they had learned in
A.A. carry them through? Well, it did. They had even fewer
alcoholic lapses or emotional binges than A.A.'s safe at
home did. They were just as capable of endurance and valor
as any other soldiers. Whether in Alaska or on the Salerno
beachhead, their dependence upon a Higher Power worked.
And far from being a weakness, this dependence was their
chief source of strength.
how, exactly, can the willing person continue to turn his
will and his life over to the Higher Power? He made a beginning,
we have seen, when he commenced to rely upon A.A. for the
solution of his alcohol problem. By now, though, the chances
are that he has become convinced that he has more problems
than alcohol, and that some of these refuse to be solved
by all the sheer personal determination and courage he can
muster. They simply will not budge; they make him desperately
unhappy and threaten his newfound sobriety. Our friend is
still victimized by remorse and guilt when he thinks of
yesterday. Bitterness still overpowers him when he broods
upon those he still envies or hates. His financial insecurity
worries him sick, and panic takes over when he thinks of
all the bridges to safety that alcohol burned behind him.
And how shall he ever straighten out that awful jam that
cost him the affection of his family and separated him from
them? His lone courage and unaided will cannot do it. Surely
he must now depend upon Somebody or Something else.
first that "somebody" is likely to be his closest
A.A. friend. He relies upon the assurance that his many
troubles, now made more acute because he cannot use alcohol
to kill the pain, can be solved, too. Of course the sponsor
points out that our friend's life is still unmanageable
even though he is sober, that after all, only a bare start
on A.A.'s program has been made. More sobriety brought about
by the admission of alcoholism and by attendance at a few
meetings is very good indeed, but it is bound to be a far
cry from permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life.
That is just where the remaining Steps of the A.A. program
come in. Nothing short of continuous action upon these as
a way of life can bring the much-desired result.
it is explained that other Steps of the A.A. program can
be practiced with success only when Step Three is given
a determined and persistent trial. This statement may surprise
newcomers who have experienced nothing but constant deflation
and a growing conviction that human will is of no value
whatever. They have become persuaded, and rightly so, that
many problems besides alcohol will not yield to a headlong
assault powered by the individual alone. But now it appears
that there are certain things which only the individual
can do. A11 by himself, and in the light of his own circumstances,
he needs to develop the quality of willingness. When he
acquires willingness, he is the only one who can make the
decision to exert himself. Trying to do this is an act of
his own will. All of the Twelve Steps require sustained
and personal exertion to conform to their principles and
so, we trust, to God's will.
is when we try to make our will conform with God's that
we begin to use it rightly. To all of us, this was a most
wonderful revelation. Our whole trouble had been the misuse
of willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems with
it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with
God's intention for us. To make this increasingly possible
is the purpose of A.A.'s Twelve Steps, and Step Three opens
we have come into agreement with these ideas, it is really
easy to begin the practice of Step Three. In all times of
emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for
quiet, and in the stillness simply say:
"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change
the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy
will, not mine, be done."
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