Step Four – “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
The readings for the Eucharist on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist can be found here.
We deceive ourselves
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Right away, in the first chapter of his first letter, John lays it out for us: either deceive ourselves or confess our sins.
Step Four similarly faces our defects head-on. When confronted with our out-of-control desires for sex, for security, for companionship, we realize that our instincts have turned into liabilities.
By discovering what our emotional deformities are, we can move toward their correction. Without a willing and persistent effort to do this, there can be little sobriety or contentment for us. Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of us have found that the faith which really works in daily living is still out of reach. (43)
If we say we have no liabilities, we deceive ourselves, but if we face them head-on we may have a chance at “the faith that really works.”
This perverse soul-sickness is not pleasant to look upon. Instincts on rampage balk at investigation. The minute we make a serious attempt to probe them, we are liable to suffer severe reactions. (44)
Step Four is usually taken with a sponsor for this very reason. We need someone to walk us through a deliberate, step by step process — perhaps over several weeks, as my sponsor did — or else we’ll despair at tackling such a mess.
During those weeks, we go back and forth between darkness and light.
Light and darkness
In both the Gospel and the letters that bear his name, John speaks in terms of light and darkness.
“In the beginning was the Word,” we heard in yesterday’s Gospel. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1; 4-5).
Later in his Gospel, John observes that
This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. (John 3:19)
And Jesus tells his disciples that
The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:35-36)
Believing in the light, coming to the light, means we must act like seeing makes a difference. If we want to know where we are going, we must open our eyes.
The need for a list
But all this religious-sounding talk of light and darkness may keep us from doing the actual work of making a list of our own specific failings.
It feels easier to keep what’s hidden “in the dark,” so to speak, as if ignoring it would make the problem go away.
Now let’s ponder the need for a list of the more glaring personality defects all of us have in varying degrees. To those having religious training, such a list would set forth serious violations of moral principles. Some others will think of this list as defects of character. Still others will call it an index of maladjustments. Some will become quite annoyed if there is talk about immorality, let alone sin. But all who are in the least reasonable will agree upon one point: that there is plenty wrong with us alcoholics about which plenty will have to be done if we are to expect sobriety, progress, and any real ability to cope with life. (48)
If we are to become sober (not only free from drink but balanced in our behavior) we must face what we have done squarely.
My sponsor walked me through a series of actual checklists and had me fill them in, writing down specific actions, the names of specific people. It took several weeks to work through, and it was an ugly process.
A wonderful, fruitful light
Looking at our own failings is hard, and we don’t like to do it.
Both [the newcomer’s] pride and his fear beat him back every time he tries to look within himself. Pride says, “You need not pass this way,” and Fear says, “You dare not look!” But the testimony of A.A.’s who have really tried a moral inventory is that pride and fear of this sort turn out to be bogeymen, nothing else. Once we have a complete willingness to take inventory, and exert ourselves to do the job thoroughly, a wonderful light falls upon this foggy scene. As we persist, a brand-new kind of confidence is born, and the sense of relief at finally facing ourselves is indescribable. These are the first fruits of Step Four.
Having filled in the checklists, I began to see them less as lists of dark behavior, but as work that was slowly bringing me into the light, bringing me toward real life.
John puts it this way: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:8).
No longer servants but friends
Discipleship basically means a “willingness … to exert ourselves to do the job thoroughly.”
The defining character of John the Evangelist is that he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He enjoyed a special relationship of intimacy with Jesus beyond mere obedience.
At the Last Supper, Jesus widens the circle even further. He says to all of his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
This intimacy strikes right at the root of the defects that manifest themselves in our addiction, as our thorough inventory makes clear:
The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being …. We have not once sought to be one in a family, to be a friend among friends, to be a worker among workers, to be a useful member of society. Always we tried to struggle to the top of the heap, or to hide underneath it. This self-centered behavior blocked a partnership relation with any one of those about us. Of true brotherhood we had small comprehension. (53)
How proud and arrogant and manipulative I was when I was drinking. People close to me tried to tell me, tried to show me time after time. But it wasn’t until by grace I was able to face facts myself that I could begin turning around.
We can become “a friend among friends” if we willingly face facts and are searching and fearless in addressing our failings.
“The light shines in the darkness,” says John about his friend Jesus, “and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Find someone who will walk with you, and then go ahead and shine the light into your dark corners.