Step Three

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


Step Three

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

The original has ".as we understood Him." in italics. The pronoun is capitalized in the Christian manner - and is capitalized all through the AA literature - because AA grew out of a Protestant group. Early AA's even thought for a while that Catholics would not be able to get sober in the program. I notice that the OA 12 & 12 generally avoids the masculine pronoun, but they still capitalize words like Power and Higher Power.. But as noted in the last chapter, men and women in all the 12-step programs have experienced miracles of recovery with a wonderful variety of higher power concepts that might have gotten them thrown out of an AA meeting in 1938. We've come a long way.

A little apology and also support for the personal stories I've thrown in so liberally (and will surely continue to do that). There's a sweet paragraph at the end of Chapter 2 in the AA Big Book which inspires me to keep on sharing and which I'll quote here in full:

We hope no one will consider these self-revealing accounts in bad taste. Our hope is that many alcoholic men and women, desperately in need, will see these pages, and we believe that it is only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems that they will be persuaded to say, "Yes, I am one of them too; I must have this thing."

Before we get started, I want to ask you to do just a few pages of background reading. In AA groups, and this was true in OA before there was OA literature, the first part of the Fifth Chapter of the AA Big Book (where the steps are listed all in one place) was/is read at the beginning of a meeting. The part they read ends with three propositions:

(a)That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b)That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (c)That God could and would if He were sought.

That's where they stop reading, just where it gets good. The following short paragraph reads,

"Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?"

Now if you have access to an AA Big Book, please read from "Being convinced." on p. 60, and stop at "Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action.." At the bottom of p. 63. It is solid gold. The reason I' d like you to have a look at this is that it's quite different from the discussion of Step Three in the OA 12 & 12 (which is good in its own right) and I'd like you to be exposed to it. You won't have to do much substituting food for alcohol here, because the main theme of the Big Book's treatment of Step Three is that there is something very deeply wrong with us, here's what it is, and here's what we do about it.

A few words before the stories start: In nearly thirty years of program I have heard people (myself included at first) say despairingly that they are having trouble with Step Three. Now if you go back to the old-fashioned grammar school sentence diagramming exercise they taught when I was a kid, the basic structure of the step is

[We] made decision

and the rest is peripheral. It does NOT say "We succeeded in trusting God with every inch of our lives, present past and future, day in and day out." Too big an order for any of us.

We are not saints. We are rebels. And so were a lot of the saints. Flobird, a saint in her own way if she'd belonged to the right religion and the most God-centered person I've ever known, was not an attractive woman in her older years. When her marriage ended and she was old, she knew it was the end of sex and romance for her, KNEW it. And she walked on the beach with the surf roaring and raged and cried and screamed at God and her heart broke. And then she came back and gave herself to us and saved us and loved us for the rest of her years.

So at some early point in my recovery, I was saying to everyone who would listen that I was having trouble turning my will and my life over to the care of God.. And my good sponsors took a load off my shoulders, same as my mom had way back when I'd asked her about Hell. They asked me if I had decided that I wanted to live my life on a spiritual basis as they did. I said Yes, I do want that. Then, they said, you say a prayer voicing that desire without reservation and you will have completed Step Three. The actual trusting and turning over will come as the result of working the rest of the steps.

One of the reasons I asked you to read those three or four pages, is that it provides a general picture of what underlies the debilitating defects of character that we must examine in Step Four. Step studies count on losing sixty per cent of their members at the juncture between Steps Three and Four, and part of my thinking in writing about Step Three is how to keep a few more of you on board for the next steps, the life-saving ones.

********************The Stories********************

As I write this, I'm in an email exchange with a friend who's dealing with some losses of the sort Flobird experienced and wondering what it's all about. I have told you about some of my own disappointments that put me at the edge of suicide. Here's what I think is going on.

When I was a kid, the Southern Baptists used to debate this proposition they called "Once saved, always saved." Even as a little guy, I thought it was a chicken-and-egg question that was too dumb for grown people to busy their minds with. But now I think I see a similar phenomenon, a condition that once arrived at, cannot be undone. This is what I told my friend and she sees it the same way:

At some point in the first few months of recovery, when I was enthralled with the Birds, as Flobird's crowd was called, and with my sponsors and program heroes and their closeness with God, one of those nights when I was on my knees in that same garage apartment room where I'd been struck by lightning, I told the spirit of the universe that I wanted it ALL, the spiritual life, and I wanted it no matter what the cost or where it took me.

There came many a time when I lost sight of the commitment, but IT damn sure never lost sight of ME. It was not a commitment I can get released from. And it has kept its end of the bargain as well. I do have it all.

In the first years of program, I felt like a tree must feel when it's being pruned. I'd hand my marriage to God and say Here, take my marriage. And he 'd wad it up and throw it in the trash. And I'd hand my job to God and say Here, take my job. And he'd wad it up and throw it in the trash. But down here almost thirty years into the deal, it strikes me that if the tree surgeon knows his business, that tree that hurt so badly when it was pruned is going to be damn healthy later on.

I told you about a life-changing inventory and fifth step I did when Seth was a baby and his mom left. There was one more piece to that story. When I read the inventory to my sponsor, he kept the blank part of the legal pad and told me just to read all the way through and he would take notes and give me feedback at the end.

At the end of this soul-wrenching outpouring of twenty-five pages of despair and fear of the old God and loss and failure and betrayal, when I was finished, I waited to see what he would have to say. He handed me the legal pad, and on it there was only one word: MANIPULATION. I looked at it, puzzled. He asked me, "Do you really think you can make it all come out right by managing well?" I said, "No."

So, once again, Being convinced, I was at Step Three. just like the book said. And that was the beginning of my turning my will and my life over to the care of a different God, one who liked my STYLE, loved me as a rebel and a misfit.


In the first year of program I invented a game - you may not want to try this, results are unpredictable - called Master Spy. I still play it when life gets too serious. The deal is, I am the Master Spy. I am here on a mission. I do not know my mission, but my handlers know my mission. My job is to get up every day, show up and look for my orders for that day. My handlers give me assignments that further the mission, and they look after my needs. They say, "He needs some money, let's send him a check from, well, let's make it a tax refund." "He needs to get laid, let's tell Jennie to go talk to him, she's got a secret crush on him." "His truck's broken down again. Have Larry offer him that old VW transporter and let him pay later." "He and Seth need somewhere to live. Have Erich invite them to live in the old trailer on his farm."

Now when I play Master Spy life is SO happy and free. And then the day comes when I forget to play it. Or worse, I start thinking I know what the mission is and that sets the stage for me to go into crisis mode when the mission isn't what I thought it was and it all falls apart. As you'll see below. And then the times come, even today, when I wake up one day and I'm the Master Spy again.


The AA Big Book says some things in the treatment of Step Ten that struck me as strange. We should carry the vision of God's will into all our activities (and it uses that uncomfortable word CONSTANTLY), okay so far, but then it says, "We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will."

Like so many things in program, this odd notion of using my will power to seek God's will became sensible only when I tried it. I have discovered many times now that although I wish to turn a difficult life problem over to God (when I say God, you guys know it means different things or entities depending on what I believe on that particular day), I am unable to stop lying awake working it to death and imagining all the worst things that can happen. Especially if it is something terribly important, and I know by now that those too don't always go my way. And the thing that works is persistence.


Makaha. Gorgeous place way at the end of nowhere on the island of O'ahu. I got good abstinence in OA in May 1977, and about September or October I got a job up at Makaha, at an apartment complex way up in the valley. I worked and lived on the property, and my truck wasn't running most of the time, and it was even a couple of miles from the so-called town of Makaha and what would you do if you did get down there.. So I had a year alone and learned to meditate and love solitude (sometimes). There were waterfalls out back, wild peacocks called and came out on the wall and strutted, you could hear baby wild goats bleating in the hills in the springtime. Well with abstinence I was finally able to hold a job, to be a partner with my boss and try to make things work HIS way, and I came to LOVE this job. It paid $1200 a month and I didn't even wish for more than that. I could have stayed there fixing the air conditioners and the swimming pool and electrical wiring and tending my beehives for the rest of my life.

The next summer, my friend the manager had moved on and the new people transferred my job over to Honeywell on a contract. Honeywell asked me to stay on and work for them. Then the management accused me of stealing - told Honeywell I had stolen from them and thereby letting Honeywell know they did not want me there. The Honeywell agent, who knew me, told me what was happening. But when I confronted the new manager, he denied everything. I got an attorney in AA and tried to fight it, but Honeywell could not jeopardize their contract by testifying against their new client and told me I was on my own. My lawyer told me the same thing.

I lay awake, fighting it in my mind, the unfairness of it and the fear of being uprooted again when I thought I was dug in. And all along, I persisted in asking God to take care of it for me (meaning, you know what I meant by that). In one of those moments, by the side of my bed up on the 17th floor overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the highest mountain on the island, I asked God once more to take it and this time my neck and shoulder muscles relaxed and I was at peace.

I did lose the cherished job. And I sold my beekeeping business for $5000 and went to visit my sponsor Johnnie on Oklahoma City just to lick my wounds and be near him. And the second day I was there, I met the girl who was to be Seth's mom and she asked me to take her to an OA meeting. And the next twenty-something years of my life were set in motion. God had needed me somewhere besides Makaha.


A little story before we leave Makaha. If you're of the churchy mindset, skip this story. I told you I was learning to be alone. Well I didn't want to be alone. I wanted a girlfriend. And a nearly-forty maintenance man with a broken-down truck and old cowshit jeans and boots isn't going to attract the tourists off Makaha Beach down the road. Well I was telling my boss and friend Larry how lonely and horny I was, and he said "You've gotta get out there and make things happen. God's not going to put a girl in your bed!" I said, "That's exactly what he's going to have to do. I don't know how to do this thing."

Now a couple of years before, I'd dated Peggy. And I'd given Peggy a jar of honey from my beehives, that still had the comb in it, very pretty. Peggy's family didn't like it, so she gave it to her friend Carolyn, who also lived in Kane'ohe. Now Carolyn had gone to high school in Montreal with a friend named Evie, both of them French. Evie was now married and lived in Vancouver, and she'd flown down to talk to her old friend Carolyn about her unhappy marriage. And she tasted the honey and asked Carolyn where it came from. And they called Peggy, and Peggy told them Bob Wilson was a beekeeper who lived up in Makaha - two hours' drive each way. They made the drive up there, I greeted them cordially and sold them a large jar of honey and offered to show them my bee farm. Maybe this weekend, they said.

Well, Evie, this delightful thirtyish French girl with the dearest accent, a pointy nose and three light brown hairs under each arm, rented a car, drove back out to Makaha, spent three days with me, flew back to Vancouver and told her husband she wanted a divorce, flew back to Hawai'i and MOVED IN. My boss/friend Larry stared in shock and awe. I can't tell you how much fun it was cause it would burn the wires the message goes through. One afternoon we were lying in a muddy path in the rain forest, in a rain storm, kissing as if there were not another soul in sight, with tourists stepping over us to get out of the storm. And then drove hell for leather to my place and put ZZTop Tres Hombres on the tape player and tore each other's clothes off and it was all a big blur. Well, you had to be there. I told you I had a God that likes my style.


Fast forward to 1982. Seth's mom and I were divorced, she had custody of Seth and I had made a commitment to live close to them until he grew up and to pay her child support and spend time with him, etc. That summer, when Seth was 18 months old, Felix, the owner of the construction company I had parted company with a year before, had seen his company fall apart without me and called to ask me to come back. "I need a grouchy old man to run my company," as he put it. It was his way of admitting that the thing that had come between us - my stubbornness about standards and ethics - was in fact the very thing he needed most. I told him to give me a day to think about it - I had already put in one semester in a doctoral program at the university. The next morning, of all times, Seth's mom came to me and told me she was unable to raise him and wanted me to take full custody of him. I was overjoyed and terrified and sad for her. Normal people would have seen that as a sign that I was going to need lots of money and I should take my good construction job back. I saw it just the opposite way - God had given me a job to do and it was not compatible with sixty-hour weeks in the construction trade, money or no money. I called Felix and thanked him and told him I had been given something so important to do that I could not work for him. And I cried and poured out my heart to God and told him I did not know how to raise a kid by myself and if he wanted me to do this job he would have to give me a lot of help. And he put it in my heart to step aside from some of my macho ways and call Seth endearing things and hold him a lot and keep cut flowers in the house, things like that that have persisted and have become part of my way of living.


When Seth was about four, I was writing my dissertation and planning to move us to Israel when I finished my doctorate in about a year. I got engaged to a family friend, an old friend of Seth's mom's. And Seth's mom went into a jealous tailspin and sued for custody - did not want custody but sued anyway, and it was just madness. I was terror-stricken at the thought of Seth's being raised in her household. Two times I made plane reservations to send him to family in Texas and hide him, and two times I cancelled the reservations when sanity would return and I'd know that was a bad move. The custody case lasted for most of a year. Seth's mom had married money, and I was a graduate student and hadn't worked in years, and thanks to my mom's sacrifices we were able to hire a lawyer and try to keep up with all the moves their lawyer could make.

Then one night, and nothing was different about this night, I was on my knees beside my bed, and I told God, "Please put Seth in the place that's best for him." And the muscles in my shoulders and neck relaxed and I knew the burden had been taken from me. I woke up the next morning and said, I will let the judge be the judge, the lawyers be the lawyers, his mom be his mom, and I will be his dad and know my place. And I will let God be God, for God's sake. I will pay my lawyer and tell him the truth, and I will go into court and tell my truth and let God and the judge put Seth where he belongs. And I was at peace.

The judge asked Seth's mom's lawyer, "Why did you let your client pursue this case when you knew she could not win it?" He was silent. And Seth stayed with me, and we three went to Israel and he was able to see me follow my dreams.


I'm not going to tell you any more stories. It really could go on and on, even just the important ones. My Peace Corps job down on the coral reef on the east end of Moloka'i where I got fired for having a delicious love affair with a Mohawk Indian forester, I got the job out of left field without even looking for it. My coming into possession of the beekeeping business and a truck when I was still in the men's house was a total miracle, just like love at first sight with Evie. My job at the State Dept was a series of coincidences that ended up with me in a position of trust. My lectureship at Tel Aviv University came by my asking an AA person if they knew anybody there in OA, and the OA person's husband was head of the Linguistics Dept. Einstein himself couldn't have gotten a faculty position there at that time if he'd come back, and I blundered into one. And there were many more things like that, and more that I witnessed with my friends who live on the same basis I do. And most of them were taken from me before I was ready to let go, and nothing to replace them for a while.

They say, When one door closes, another one opens. That's bullshit. When one door closes, they ALL close. And you pound on all of them till you finally collapse in the hallway. And then a trapdoor opens in the floor and there's a mile of pure air beneath you, and a little voice says "Jump." And you jump, and a new life begins out of it all. Or you don't jump and continue to live in quiet desperation in the hallway.

My deal with the universe is: I must leave the present unacceptable situation, if I'm in one, and be prepared for a long wait before the next thing is offered to me. I can live in fear and quiet desperation when the marriage or job is obviously beyond repair, or I can walk off the cliff and see if God catches me. And speaking only for myself, I have avoided the life of quiet desperation, the living of a lie that requires me to overeat or drink or take prescription meds, by being willing to walk away from what is unacceptable to me and take the consequences. When we'd tell old Flobird about a miserable situation we were enduring, she'd say in her singsong voice, "Honey, pick up your hat and walk toward the sun."

My early teachers used to say "Your life is none of your business." That is the essence of Step Three. My own way of putting it is, God takes care of my business and I take care of God's business.


1) We have accepted in principle that we're powerless over food. Are you now ready to give up managing your food, making "healthy choices" and using will power and let your food be in the hands of a higher power? And live in the "choiceless awareness" Flobird used to speak about?

2) Are you enduring a marriage or work or living situation right now that you should have walked away from long ago but are afraid there'll be nothing to replace it? Or because you'll lose face if you fail?

3) Does advancing age and the prospect of failing health or "losing your looks" make you feel that you will be left on your own without the resources you need?

4) Do you have a life dream that you're afraid to go for because you're afraid to leave the safe place you're in?

5) Can you face turning over to a higher power, not your whole life in one big chunk which is rather easy, but specifically the management of each part of your life one thing at a time, not knowing which direction they will go once you turn them over? Your weight, your marriage/love life, your children, your career, your health, your business or your home?

6) Are you ready now to put together a prayer of your own choosing, that expresses your willingness without reservation, to put all these things, all you have and the whole future, into the hands of the best higher power you can come up with?

7) If you are ready to do all these things, can you face the scary prospect of following through with the ego-leveling housecleaning steps Four through Nine? Like, starting next week?

Step Two

Step Four

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