Did you ever have a moment when something obviously true and astoundingly helpful struck you and you wondered why you never thought of it before.? I had that experience recently while teaching the Twelve Steps. I was thinking about a class member’s concern about being able to remember the content of the Twelve Steps in order when the pattern of the first nine Steps hit me. This pattern is illustrated in the first three of the Twelve Steps. They say that we:
- admitted that our lives we were powerless over [alcohol or drugs or our lives], that our lives had become unmanageable.
- came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Recognizing the pattern in these three steps (and the next two sets of three steps) makes the process of transformation seem much simpler than we might have imagined.
- First we recognize something that needs to change.
- Then we become willing to change.
- Then we let go of what needs to change and give it to God who does the hard work.
I said this was simple, but I didn’t say it was easy.
Learning to know ourselves and admitting our shortcomings is one of the hardest things for a human being to do. First of all, it requires standing outside of ourselves and paying attention to how we think and behave. Richard Rohr calls this becoming “conscious.” Instead of blithely going about our business every day, we learn to check in regularly to monitor our attitudes and behaviors. For example, let’s say that one day I notice that I always get defensive when someone disagrees with me. After observing that behavior for a while, I have to acknowledge that it is pretty ugly and drives others away. However, I also see that it is part of the system that keeps my walls up and intact and keeps me safe. Recognizing my defensiveness and why I have adopted it as a protective behavior is the first step to changing it.
Next I have to become willing to change. This may take months or even years. I need to come to the point where the pain of not changing is worse than the pain of giving up my defensive behavior. Perhaps I have to lose friends or feel lonely or isolated before I am willing to work on my defensiveness.
Finally, I have to accept that I am powerless to change myself. Instead I need to surrender my defensive behavior to God. I have to let go and let God take care of it. My role is to be open to whatever God is doing in my life to deal with my defensiveness. God’s role is to deal with it in God’s own mysterious way. And some day down the road I will notice that when my husband or a friend says something critical which would usually make me defensive, I just smile instead. And I didn’t even notice the change happening. When a situation that usually makes me defensive no longer does, I am on a path to transformation and healing.
I believe that this three-step pattern will make any goal of transformation become reality, whether it is creating margin in our lives, eliminating worry or anxiety, controlling our tongue, or forgiving someone. I encourage you to put it to the test.