Step 3 of the Twelve Steps: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God.”
Renouncing our will. Doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? However, Jesus put it even more bluntly than “Bill W,” the acknowledged author of the Twelve Steps. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mark 8:34) Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat. I am.”
Denying ourselves is the last thing 21st Century North Americans want to do. Our culture tells us that we should go after what we want! We fight to be in the driver’s seat, to be in control. Our anxious moments come when we realize that we are not in control.
Christians seek control, too, but we are often more subtle about it. Richard Rohr, in Breathing Under Water, says that there is a common and almost universal substitute for renouncing our will. He calls it “the myth of heroic sacrifice.” This is often, I think, the way that Christians deal with Jesus’ command to deny ourselves. As Fr. Richard explains, “The common way of renouncing the self, while not really renouncing the self at all, is being sacrificial. It looks so generous and loving, and sometimes it is. But usually it is still all about me”(p. 21)
My mother, who in some ways was generous and giving, most often lived the life of “heroic sacrifice.” Every Sunday after dinner, she would say, “Well, I made this big Sunday dinner for you all (sigh), and now I guess I’ll go do the dishes (another sigh).” Given that state-ment, we all skedaddled out of the dining room. After all she had said she would do the dishes!
Rohr goes on to say, “There is love that sincerely seeks the spiritual good of others, and there is a love that is seeking superiority, admiration, and control for itself, even and most especially by doing “good” and heroic things. Maybe we have to see it in its full-blown sick state to catch the problem. Suicide bombers are sacrificial, most resentful people are very sacrificial at one or another level, the manipulative mother is invariably sacrificial, all co-dependents are sacrificial” (p. 22).
False sacrifice makes it possible for us to avoid any real sacrifice. We look good when we do things for others, so we think that gets us off the hook. But “doing things” to win God’s love and approval is NOT what Jesus (or God) has in mind for us. Jesus says that we must turn over our lives to him. But because we often understand God’s love as “tit for tat or quid pro quo” we don’t see a need to truly “deny”ourselves or give up the driver’s seat.
However, “the myth of heroic sacrifice” often makes us difficult to live with. Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher says that what he resents in most Christians is what he perceived as underlying resentment:
- a denied resentment toward God for demanding sacrificial living
- resentment toward others for not appreciating our sacrifice
- resentment toward sacrificing as much as we sacrifice
- resentment toward others for not sacrificing
Step 3 sounds pretty much like Jesus when it says to turn over our lives and our will to God. If we want to be somebody and earn our salvation, we will fail. If we are willing to surrender, and, as Rohr puts it, “radically accept being radically accepted – for nothing”(p.27), we will live in grace and gratitude.