My Third Step

"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."

Of all the twelve steps in Alcoholics Anonymous I consider steps one and three to be the most crucial. Step one because we cannot change what we don't acknowledge and step three because it opens the door to a spiritual experience -which is the heart of AA's recovery program.

In the second step we came to believe that there is a Power greater than ourselves at work in this universe. We don't need to understand or name that Power, but in step three we must come to an understanding of God that is personal and meaningful enough to serve as the foundation for a serious relationship and spiritual awakening.

Understanding God

I like to compare this initial step toward a relationship with God as meeting a new lover. We don't know everything about someone when we fall in love with them. We just get an intuitive sense of compatibility and an overwhelming desire to spend time with them. Over time we come to learn the details -their birth date, favorite foods, secret fears, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. We don't sit down and ask them to list all of these things before we agree to enter into a relationship with them. We all come to God with a huge list of unknowns -even if we associate ourselves with a major religion. Our connection to God will deepen and blossom through insights and experiences if we have the willingness to risk pursuing a relationship.

Our beliefs about God need not conform to those of another, but we do need to come to an understanding of God that will help us in our recovery. The details may change over time but the foundation must be one in which God cares. I wouldn't advise anyone to get involved with a lover who is distant, impersonal or uncaring let alone a Higher Power.

Making Sense of Will

Now, I want to share a little bit about the concept of will. There are two ways to interpret the word will. When I speak about wanting to know God’s will for me I am referring to God’s wish or desire. However, when I say I can’t will myself to stop drinking I am actually referring to willpower –which is the power of the mind to control thoughts and actions. Depending on the context the word will could be indicating a desire or it could be describing an effort.

It's no bad thing to have a desire for something and to work with steadfast determination toward achieving that goal. However, sometimes our will is weak and we fail. Other times we try to use our will to control things that are beyond our control. By trying to force our will on things we set ourselves up for suffering. Sure, from time to time there will be successes, but willpower is an unpredictable source of strength. The mind is easily manipulated when the flesh wants something. Trying to control an addiction by sheer will is a battle best not waged.

We must make a conscious decision not to engage in dialogue with our demons. When we struggle against something we are giving it energy and attention which only serves to empower that which we are resisting. We must let our weakness become our strength so our failure can become our victory. By acknowledging our brokenness we walk away from the ring before the first punch is pulled. This is the practice of surrendering our will (willpower). We can’t lose if we don’t fight!

Practicing Acceptance

If we are going to experience serenity in recovery we not only need to forfeit our willpower, we also need to be emotionally mature enough to cope when things don't go our way. Turning over our will is also about surrendering our desire and expectations. Failing to live life on life's terms is rejecting reality, which, if I may point out, is the definition of insanity. We will drive ourselves crazy if we keep focusing on what we want instead of the truth of what actually is!

Thankfully, by practicing acceptance we can free our mind and energy, become fully present and perhaps even experience some peace despite the circumstances. This process of letting go also allows us to act rather than react to situations. When we aren't consumed with overpowering emotions we are able to think much more clearly. I like to think of this as resting in the eye of the storm. There may be a whirlwind of chaos going on around us but if we keep ourselves centered we can avoid getting caught up in the cyclone of insanity.

Believing He Can Help

Although I often struggle to surrender my will, I do understand it intellectually. Something that I couldn't wrap my brain around quite so easily was turning my life over to God. The truth is I have been grappling with this third step for a few months now because I wasn’t entirely convinced that God would intercede on my behalf. I wasn't sure what I believed about divine intervention.

I know people who pray to God when they can’t decide where to go on vacation or what car to buy. If they get a promotion it is because God is blessing them; if they lose their job it is “God’s will.” I find it hard to make sense of all this. Does God really orchestrate every event in our lives? What about free-will? When horrible things happen to me is that part of God’s plan too? These are pretty big, important questions about the nature of God and existence that I needed to investigate before I could go any further with step three.

So, I thought about it. And then I thought some more. I changed my mind a dozen times and then changed it back. My conclusion is that although I don’t believe God is a supernatural puppeteer who micromanages every aspect of my existence, He is involved. It seems from my experience that when we fully commit ourselves and ask for help, then Providence moves too. Sometimes God seems frustratingly elusive or absent but occasionally He breaks through in spectacular ways. I love hearing personal accounts about miraculous events and the power of prayer.

I try to avoid comforting myself by saying it was God's will when bad things happen because I don’t believe that it is ever God’s desire to inflict pain or suffering on us. However, I do believe He can use these experiences for good purposes. Since God is merciful it is not his wish to destroy darkness but to transform it into light. For example, God takes my addiction and uses it to bring me closer to Him.

Finally, Turning it Over

This is the crux of the matter. Instead of being the captain of my ship I step aside and let God take the helm. I do this by praying, asking for guidance and listening for answers with an open mind. At first it is difficult to recognize God's voice. I've come to understand that the best way to know God's will is to examine my own heart. "I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts." (Jeremiah 31:33)

I don't spend my days looking for signal graces (signs sent from God to help us make decisions) but I do believe they exist. I figure when God wants His will to be known He will speak to me in a language and medium that makes sense to me -whether that be dreams, synchronicity, coincidences, intuition, conscience or something else. I'm certain that as my relationship with my Higher Power evolves, as I come to know and trust Him more deeply, I will hear His voice more clearly.


I used to be intimidated by the third step. I thought I needed to have some great spiritual experience before I could claim that I had turned my life over to Him. Now I know that I will never be able to surrender my will perfectly like Jesus did. I will continue to rely on my own willpower and get frustrated when the world doesn't yield to my expectations. But, little by little, as I practice this step again and again, my will and God's will will draw closer together.

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