Richard Rohr makes an educated but bold claim when he says, “I believe Jesus and the Twelve Steps of A.A. are saying the same things but with different vocabulary” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps). He then shares the mantra that makes this claim true:
“We suffer to get well.
We surrender to win.
We die to live.
We give it away to keep it”
I encourage people my classes on The Twelve Steps and spiritual formation to memorize these four simple but profound lines. If we can follow this steps, we can live the life of an Apprentice of Jesus. These four lines are paradoxical but still true – a communication technique that Jesus often used. In order to get at that truth of these four lines, we need to turn them around and ask, “How do we get well by suffering? How do we win by surrendering? How do we live by dying? And how do we keep something by giving it away? Many Christians understand these paradoxes intuitively, but it may be helpful to give them words.
Suffering to get well: How do we see suffering as a path to wellness? To understand this phrase we need to understand the concept of living in the Kingdom of God. That kingdom is now – and still coming. We will suffer here on earth, but we are always safe (well) if we live in the Kingdom. Even in this life our suffering and pain will be redeemed; God will turn our mourning into morning. If we honor our pain, we will understand more about joy.
Surrendering to win: How do we win by surrendering? The concepts of giving up, submitting, and letting go are best illustrated by Jesus’ last days on earth. Knowing that the end was coming, he prayed in the garden, “Thy will be done,” a phrase he had taught his disciples before when they asked how to pray. Nailed to the cross, he said,”Father, into your hands I commit [give, handover, consign] my spirit and breathed his last breath. He WON! When we give up control of our life to the Father, we WIN – the ultimate victory over sin, a life of joy and freedom, a meaningful life of service.
Dying to live: How is it possible to die so that we can live? All of creation helps us understand this statement. Marigolds have to die in order to live. So do green beans. Stars die so that new suns and planets can be created; it is all part of the life process of the star. Doors shut and dreams die, but new dreams rise from the ashes. Jesus died so he could be resurrected. We die in order to be ushered into the eternal kingdom.
Keeping by Giving: How do we keep something by giving it away? Jesus said that the last will be first (Matt. 20:16) and whoever wants to be great must serve (Matt 20: 28). If we give our lives away we keep and honor the presence of Jesus in us. If we forgive, we understand God’s forgiveness more completely. If we offer grace, grace will flow back to us.
If a poll were taken in America today on how to live a successful life, it is unlikely that the concepts of suffering, surrendering, dying, and giving would gain a very high percentage of votes (if any). But these steps are exactly what Jesus taught his disciples about successful living; we should take them seriously.
image of stones by aaagnostica.org