12 Steps of Christmas | Wednesday

Step Six – “Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.”

The service of Morning Prayer for this Wednesday after the First Sunday in Christmas can be found here.

Once you start, you just can’t stop

Having been granted a perfect release from alcoholism, why then shouldn’t we be able to achieve by the same means a perfect release from every other difficulty or defect? This is a riddle of our existence, the full answer to which may be only in the mind of God. (64)

As I wrote recently on the blog of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, I carry with me two talismans of recovery.

The first is a medallion celebrating my sobriety; the second is a bracelet that was one of the last things I bought without telling my wife. It arrived in the mail the day I recognized my alcoholism.

2015-11-03 08.50.53

I am fortunate that the desire to drink was lifted from me right away. What Step Six helped me understand — and what the bracelet helps me to remember — is how important it is to practice the principles of recovery in all areas of my life.

In truth, I’m working two recovery programs right now. The harder of the two, really, is controlling my spending — and understanding the compulsions that drive it.

Making a beginning

Step Six notes that, “As [alcoholics] are humbled by the terrific beating administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their obsession …. But most of our other difficulties don’t fall under such a category at all” (64).

The trouble with applying recovery principles to our other character defects is that we still have to do many of them in the course of normal living. We still need to eat, to buy things, to strive for success at work, to be in relationship with others, and so on.

Unlike stopping drinking, we can’t really stop everything else.

Two other problems arise at this point, as Step Six explains. First, we actually love some of our defects; and second, eliminating all of our character defects would be perfection, and no one’s capable of that.

Help me, but not yet

According to Wikipedia,

As a youth [St.] Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits. The need to gain their acceptance forced inexperienced boys like Augustine to seek or make up stories about sexual experiences.

It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

Step Six puts it slightly differently in a long passage, but the wisdom is the same. How do these observations tally with your experience?

What we must recognize now is that we exult in some of our defects. We really love them. Who, for example, doesn’t like to feel just a little superior to the next fellow, or even quite a lot superior? Isn’t it true that we like to let greed masquerade as ambition? ….

Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.

When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we call it “taking our comfort.” We live in a world riddled with envy. To a greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it …. And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on — only we call that “retiring.” Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables. (66-67)

Entering recovery reveals how deep our obsessions and compulsions run, how tightly woven they are into everything we do.

Aiming at perfection

Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall down,
but we will arise and stand upright. (Ps. 20:7-8)

Day after day we are given the opportunity to arise and stand upright — over and over again.

In my case, I get to practice watching my spending all the time.

I travel on business, which allows me to live like the jet set (all within the company’s expense policy, but still). I get to enjoy travel, eat out regularly, and earn hotel points and airline miles. I enjoy the perks of traveling very much.

Truth is, though, that because I’m in a different city nearly every day, I’d get along just fine with one suit. No one will really know if I wear the same shirt two days in a row, or the same tie. I tend to wear the same two pairs of shoes with my suit, so perhaps I don’t really need another pair.

This thinking runs entirely counter to my “clothes-horse” sensibilities, to my desire to have whatever I want.

Learning to recognize the spiraling thinking that leads me to buy something I don’t really need, that doesn’t make me any happier, is hard work. Every day it crops up.

But that same spiraling thinking causes me distress in all other areas of life, too, so the work of paying attention pays back dividends beyond just my checking account balance.

Step Six invites us not just into recovery from alcoholism but into a whole new way of living, upright and awake.

Seen in this light, Step Six is still difficult, but not at all impossible. The only urgent thing is that we make a beginning, and keep trying.

If we would gain any real advantage in the use of this Step on problems other than alcohol, we shall need to make a brand new venture into open-mindedness. We shall need to raise our eyes toward perfection, and be ready to walk in that direction. It will seldom matter how haltingly we walk. The only question will be “Are we ready?” (68)

A Collect for Guidance

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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