“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 4 of The Twelve Steps
Many years ago, I enrolled in a two-year counseling program with the goal of becoming a certified substance abuse counselor. Never mind that I was a self-satisfied enabler and codependent; I studied hard, had perfect attendance – and looked good. One day, however, I was brought up short by the professor’s statement that “A counselor cannot bring a client any farther than he/she has gone already gone.” I wondered what more I had to learn about myself. How much farther did I have to go? The answer to that question is a story for another time.
I was brought back to that embarrassing burst of naiveté when I ran across a similar statement in Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr. Fr. Richard says, “You cannot heal what you don’t acknowledge.” He goes on to point out that “what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, festering and destroying your and those around you” (p. 39).
Step 4 gives us the tool to discover how much more we have to learn or what we don’t want to acknowledge. However, a searching and fearless moral inventory is not something that dwellers in the 21st century are much interested in. Most of us go out of our way to avoid knowing ourselves; in fact, we do our best to live in a world of denial of our own making.
The Apprentice Series (a study of the “Good and Beautiful” series of books by James Bryan Smith) advises the same process as Step 4 when it tells us to change our “false narratives” to the “narratives of Jesus.” For example, if we buy into our society’s view that in order to be acceptable and successful, we must be more and more productive, our relationships with those whom we view as unproductive will be judgmental and our relationship with God will be skewed and built on something Jesus never taught and the Bible never states. Digging into what Jesus really teaches about ourselves and about God helps us become authentic, transparent, and able to be nurtured by a loving God.
The process of a moral inventory or an examination of our false narratives is not usually pleasant. It reveals what Rohr calls our “shadow selves,” the part of us that we don’t want to see, the part of us that “allows us to do evil and cruel things – without recognizing them as evil and cruel” (p.33). It also forces us to do what Jesus advises in Matthew 7:4-5: remove the plank from our own eye before we attempt to remove the splinter from another’s eye.
While a “searching and fearless moral inventory” is inevitably a difficult process, we have the assurance that we are accompanied on the journey by a God who is “much wiser, wastes nothing, and includes everything. The God of the Bible is best known for transmuting and transforming our very evils into our own perfect good” (p. 35). And that makes it worth the pain.