Wednesday, March 14, 2012

12-Step Spirituality

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

We say these words every week in worship during our time of confession––but how often do we really stop to consider what they really mean?

It’s easy for us to skip over these words and think that they don’t really apply to us. We rationalize that we are, deep down, good people, and we tell ourselves that our efforts to be good people absolve us from our occasional failures at living up to our potential (and, after all, there’s always grace, right??). We tend to think about sin as being someone else’s problem, not ours.

But this passage from 1 John reminds us that we deceive ourselves if we think like this. In other words, we deceive ourselves if we think that we are free from the self-deception that keeps us from seeing the ways in which we ourselves fall short of being the people God created us to be.

Getting beyond this self-deception can be difficult––but it’s not impossible. One of the ways we can do this is by practicing "12-Step Spirituality." 12-Step Spirituality is a series of 12 tasks, or "steps," used to treat various addictions, including (but not limited to) alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, and gambling. Working through these steps can be a very effective way of achieving personal (and hopefully permanent) transformation.

This transformation is not thought to be solely as a result of the effort of the addict, however (although effort by the addict is definitely required). Success, instead, is believed to be a function of the addict's having voluntarily turned his or her life over to "a higher power"––a power we Christians call, "God." 

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, the originator of all 12-step programs, is as follows:

1.   We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8.   Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or      others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we       understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Steps one through three involve admitting there's a problem that the addict is helpless to control, while the remaining steps have to do with "cleaning house," i.e., cleaning up the mess that the addiction has caused in the lives of both the addict and those around him.

In reading through AA's 12 steps, I was struck by how well the 12 steps of their program mirrored the central task of the Christian journey as Paul so elegantly summarizes it in Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ; 
and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:19-20).

The 12 steps describe how one can intentionally "crucify" oneself in order to ready the self to receive "new life" in Christ.

And the beauty of the program is that it's accessible to everyone, no matter what your issue. It's really just a matter of being honest with yourself, and with God––and asking God for help.

12-step programs don't guarantee spiritual perfection, but they do promise spiritual progress if you work the steps:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: 
everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 
All this is from God (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a). 

What addictions are you struggling with these days? What is getting in the way of your relationship with God? Which step are you on in your spiritual journey? 

May new life be yours in Christ––whatever your addiction.

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