[I prepared this piece as the lead sharing for our weekly, parents Alanon group last night. My wife Andrea and I have been active members of the Alanon fellowship for seven years.]
“Let go, let God”
Step 6 of the Twelve Steps says: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
I am still working Step 6. I did conscious work for many months on Steps 4 and 5 with an Alanon sponsor. In Step 4, I took the plunge to do a thorough self-examination. As I began that process, my sponsor asked me to first write out a list of my best qualities. This eased entry into the more difficult work of acknowledging and admitting my faults to “God, myself, and to another human being.” My sponsor also helped me to see that there was an interesting relationship between my virtues and my faults; that many of my faults were distorted versions of my virtues. Step 5 invites us to go a level deeper to determine “the exact nature of our wrongs.” This took me to a level of questioning some of my fundamental beliefs about the nature of Reality. The “nature of Reality” is my current working understanding of God.
I am learning that working Step 6 requires prayer. My inner work sometimes suffers from an over-reliance on my self-will. Self-will works fine in the domain of most self-help programs. But Alanon is more than another self-help program. The prayer “Let go, let God” allows me to release my self-will and trust in the benevolent unfolding of a Higher Power.
My positive will serves me very well in many aspects of my life. In fact, my positive self-will got me to Alanon and to a place of serious inner work. It gets me out of bed in the morning and enables me to make commitments to projects and goals that are important to me. But I discovered that I cannot simply will serenity, peace, or happiness. The entire efficacy of the Twelve Steps is based on a personal experience of our Higher Power, and that requires me to loosen the reins of “what I want”. Another version of the prayer for me is: “not my will but Yours be done”.
To become “entirely ready” to turn my inner doubts and fears over to a Higher Power, I had to first use my conscious good will to honestly and fearlessly face myself as I am. For me, this requires a stripping down from pretense and from an identity built on outward accomplishments.
One of the beliefs that I unearthed in Steps 4 and 5 had to do with my motivation for one of the most important undertakings of my life: the adoption of two older Brazilian street kids: “at risk” kids par excellence. These two grown children are now my Alanon “qualifiers”.
Along with a genuine desire to expand our loving home, and a genuine desire to come to the aid of “throw away” children, I discovered a self-righteous pride for being such an exemplary person. When our kids acted out with drugs and alcohol, this self-righteous pride took a serious hit. I was doubting myself and slipping into depression. Part of the reason was that I could no longer proudly claim my great valor and compassion for the adoption. Drilling down into the “exact nature” of my depression revealed how I had built a sense of self based on the performance of good deeds. When my good deed went awry, my sense of self took a big hit.
This led me into an inquiry into the truth-value of my ruling belief that my self-worth required an ongoing performance of good deeds. Is this what reality is requiring for me to feel like a whole, healthy person? I could easily see the fallacy in this belief, yet I felt it was so deep in me that letting it go would mean the loss of everything worthwhile in my being.
I could certainly see that others of my family and friends were not so driven by the need to perform good deeds. And I admired and loved many of them. I certainly didn’t require others to be performing good deeds in order for me to accept, trust, and value their essential worth. “Let go, let God” became an important prayer for me in releasing the tyranny of my self-imposed requirement that I must always do good deeds to prove my value and worth.
So Step 6 is steering me to fundamentally challenge this false belief that my self-worth requires ongoing self-sacrifice. I can accept the mission that I signed up for with the adoption, without relegating my life to ongoing strife and hopeless disappointment. Once I articulated this, I sensed other possibilities. And yet, with the continued acting out of a qualifier, I would regularly return to my false belief.
I’m learning that in prayer, I can acknowledge my own powerlessness. Using self-will alone, I’ve not been able to make the leap to a new personal paradigm. “Let go, let God” and the serenity prayer are helping me to let go of responsibility for all the many events in life that I have no control of, especially the choices and behaviors of my adult children. These prayers offer me inner peace and positive self-esteem even when my wayward adult-children act out once again.
The prayer “Let go, let God” points me to a place where I can feel myself as real, whole and loving, without having to prove it to myself or anyone else. With faith and trust in my Higher Power and my own Higher Self, I can become “entirely ready” for the God of my understanding to liberate my spirit.