Step Three

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


My name is Lawrie, and Iím a compulsive overeater. Itís my privilege to be your leader for the third quarter 2005 Step Study based on the Big Book. This is Week Five, and weíre discussing Step Three. We spent three weeks on Step One, and one week on Step Two. I anticipate two or weeks on Step Four, two weeks on Steps Five through Nine, one week each on Steps Ten and Eleven, and possibly two weeks on Step Twelve, which I think will bring us up to the fourth quarter of 2005.

Last week I ended my share on Step Two with the following cryptic statements:

"Next weekís posting will be on Step 3, found in "How It Works" from page 58 to 63. We will find that it contains extremely important information, but that it is a relatively simple step. It is the first step in which we actually DO something, but what we do is not that complicated or time-consuming. "There appears to be an interpretation of OAís Twelve and Twelve which gives the impression that Step 3 is a step we canít take until weíre really really really ready, and that if we donít suddenly find ourselves actually turning our will and our life over to the care of our god, we havenít completed Step 3. From a Big Book point of view, that doesnít appear to be the case."

This, of course, requires some elaboration!

Step Three is discussed in the Big Book from the bottom of page 60 to the bottom of page 63. Before we start discussing Step Three, however, itís important to discuss the first two and half pages of Chapter Five ("How It Works") -- pages 58 to 60.

Page 58 stresses "rigorous honesty". It points out that the only thing that stands in the way of recovery is a lack of the ability to be honest with oneís self. It also asks us if we are committed "to go to any lengths" to find recovery.

Page 59 to the top of page 60 sets out the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which have been adapted for OA, with only two changes (in Steps One -- what weíre powerless over -- and Twelve -- to whom we try to carry the message).

Itís important to know, however, that originally AA had six steps and not twelve. There are many sources for this statement (see AA Comes of Age and The Language of the Heart, both available from AA); you can find one source on page 292 of the third edition and 263 of the fourth edition of the Big Book.

The Big Book was written to be a do-it-yourself manual, for people who were not able to have contact with AA members who had recovered. As a do-it-yourself manual, Bill Wilson, who basically wrote the Big Book, considered it necessary to make certain that more detail was provided in the steps than existed previously. He therefore added what turned out to be six more steps. Thatís important to know because the six steps that he added are clearly not steps which have the same kind of significance as the original six steps.

Iíll set out the twelve steps with the original six steps (as found first in the Big Book on pages 292 third edition and 263 fourth edition, and then in AA Comes of Age on page 160) in [brackets]:

1. We admitted we were powerless over food, that our lives had become unmanageable. [Complete deflation. We admitted that we were licked, that we were powerless over alcohol.]

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. [Moral inventory. We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.]

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. [Confession. We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another person in confidence.]

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. [Restitution. We made restitution to all those we had harmed by our drinking.]

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when 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. [Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was for power to practice these precepts.]

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. [Continued work with other alcoholics. We tried to help other alcoholics, with no thought of reward in money or prestige.]

So you can see that the original six steps were basically Step One, Step Four, Step Five, Step Nine, Step Eleven, and Step Twelve. The other steps were put in in order to make certain that there were no loopholes. They were not the essence of the program.

You can see from the discussion of Step Two last week that Step Two is not a huge step to take the Big Book way. It is simply a sense of what a Higher Power could be, and a willingness to work the steps of the program in order to see if such a Higher Power can be found.

We will see from our discussion of Step Three this week that Step Three is also not a huge step. It is simply an acknowledgement of the CONSEQUENCES of that willingness. If you are willing to try to find a Higher Power through the steps, then you have to make a decision to WORK the steps. And that really is all Step Three is -- a DECISION.

I could decide to write an article on Step Three for this list, but if I donít actually sit down at my computer and write it, and then send it to the list, my decision to write is of no value whatsoever.

So my decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of my Higher Power is simply a decision. Itís not actually turning my will and my life over. Itís just a DECISION to do that. In order to turn my will and my life over, I have to get rid of the things in myself that are blocking me from my Higher Power. Weíll see the complete truth of this statement when we discuss Step Four next week.

So what of the discussion on pages 60 through 64 about Step Three? Why are they there?

I believe there are two main purposes of that discussion. The first is to explain WHY we have to make the decision to turn our will and our life over; this involves a discussion of "selfishness" from the Big Book perspective. The second is tell us WHAT we have to do in order to make that decision; this involves setting out the words of the Step Three prayer.

The pages discussing the WHY are divided into two parts. The first part (bottom of page 60 through bottom of page 63) discusses the WILL part of "turning our will and our life over to the care of" our Higher Power. The second part (bottom of page 63 to top of page 64) discusses the LIFE part of "turning our willing and our life over".

On pages 60 through 63 the Big Book discusses what it considers the universal characteristic of the alcoholic/compulsive eater. It uses as an example the actor in a play who wants to be the director/producer of the play, who knows the play would go much better if his or her way were adopted. I remember where I was sitting (in a small basement restaurant) when my first sponsor pointed those words out. They struck me right to the heart. Of course I wanted to be in charge! And it was the fact that I wasnít in charge, that the play wasnít going my way, that was at the heart of my problems!

The Big Book uses a number of words to describe that universal characteristic: self-willed, self-propulsion, self-seeker, manager, self-centered, egocentric, selfish, self-centered, fearful, self-deluding, self-pitying.

These words are all used to describe a person who basically wants life to go his or her way, REGARDLESS OF THE MOTIVATION. It is really important to emphasize that the motivation of wanting life to go your way is irrelevant.

Sometimes the motives can be quite outer-directed. Certainly I have my own convictions of how the world could be a better place and people could get along better, and my motives are really quite good in that respect. I donít suffer from the effects of poverty or torture or suppression or imminant disease or death; yet I would like to have a world in which other people didnít suffer from that either.

Sometimes the motives can be quite inner-directed. I want people to like me so I can feel good about myself; I want people to give me business to keep me financially secure; I wanted girlfriends (Iím married happily now!) to satisfy physical and social desires; when my kids were young, I didnít want them to embarrass me by bad behavior.

And sometimes thereís a mix of motives. I donít want close relatives to get very sick both because I donít want them to suffer AND because I donít want the inconvenience of having to take care of them. I donít want there to be bombs both because I donít want innocent people to suffer AND because I donít want to die.

But whatever the motives, I want life to go my way rather than the way it is going. I understand wanting to be the director of the play rather than the actor. It makes a lot of sense to me. Sometimes I tried to impose my will on others. Sometimes I just gave up and played the martyr. But in all cases I KNEW the right way, and it wasnít happening. And that was killing me!

The Big Book says at page 62: "Selfishness - self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!"

(This notion of selfishness -- wanting my way -- is at the heart of the Big Bookís approach to the steps. Selfishness according to the dictionary is "wanting my way for my own comfort or convenience". But the Big Book discusses selfishness in a broader, more generic, way -- as "wanting my way", period. This broader way will become extremely important when we discuss Step Four and ask where we have been selfish in relation to other people.)

The Big Book also says: "Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt." This is a sentence which can easily be misinterpreted as somehow saying that we have brought on or are somehow responsible for our own misfortunes, but I donít think thatís the case. If I were abused as a child, no one can say (and certainly the Big Book wouldnít say) that I somehow deserved the abuse; but if Iím grown up now, and that abuse still hurts me, even if the abuser is dead, then I have indeed "sometime in the past made decisions based self which later placed [me] in a position to be hurt"!

I think thatís all the Big Book is saying. If I live my life believing that nothing good happened to me, then I will live my life in unhappiness, and block myself off from my Higher Power, and continue to be a compulsive eater. If I can find a way to give up my wish to have life go my way, then I can finally live life as it should be lived!

At the top of page 63 the Big Book has some promises, and some people interpret those promises as being the promises of Step Three. I donít think thatís the case. Letís read those promises carefully. Iíll emphasize the conditional and forward-looking parts of these promises: "When we SINCERELY took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, IF we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we BECAME less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we BECAME interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. AS we felt new power flow in, AS we enjoyed peace of mind, AS we discovered we could face life successfully, AS we became conscious of His presence, we BEGAN to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn."

These are really the promises of the whole program, not of Step Three. They are conditional on doing the steps and Step Three is simply the beginning -- the decision to do the steps.

(Note that we have a new employer. We donít get our job description until we have recovered. See page 102 for our job description: "Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others". We canít do that job until we have worked the steps and recovered. The Big Book makes that clear on page 164: "But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got.")

Another way of proving that these are the promises of the whole program is to show that the only real promise thatís made about Step Three is found at the bottom of page 63: "This was only a beginning, though if honestly and humbly made, an effect, sometimes a very great one, was felt at once." Weíre promised an effect of some kind. And further, look at the top of page 64: "Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us."

So from a careful reading of the Big Book and in the light of the history of the steps, I think we can see that Step Three is a vital and important step, but that itís not a step that we spend a lot of time on. Itís a step where we reflect on what brought us to our knees -- the notion of selfishness -- and make a decision (in effect, while still on our knees!) to find a Higher Power by working the steps. Our job is to unblock the channel between our Higher Power deep down within us and us. To do that we have to clean house. To do that we have to do Steps Four through Nine, which weíll be discussing in future shares.

So letís say the Step Three prayer. The Big Book says that the language is optional so long as the idea is expressed, and that it is "very desirable" to say that prayer "with an understanding person".

"God, I offer myself to Thee -- to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!"

A beautiful prayer! Weíre offering ourselves to God. We want certain things to happen to us -- relief from the bondage of self, difficulties taken away -- not for those things to BENEFIT us, but so that those things will help us benefit OTHERS. This is the first time the Big Book really begins to talk about our need to get out of ourselves and to help others -- that that is our job.

So thatís it! Thatís Step Three.

We donít have to be really really really ready; we simply have to make a decision. The "really really really ready" part comes if we actually start to do some work -- start Step Four.

We donít have to wait to see if our will and our lives have ACTUALLY been turned over to God -- weíve only DECIDED to do that, but we havenít as yet done anything to accomplish that! Donít hang around waiting for something -- just keep on doing the steps!

Remember the Big Bookís discussion of Step Two: we are blocked off from our Higher Power that is deep down within us. The Big Book constantly reminds us that "Faith without works is dead." We have to take action, and that action will be cleaning house -- Steps Four through Nine. Cleaning house will remove those things that block us from our Higher Power, and the promises of Step Nine will show us that by that time our will and our life will have been turned over to our Higher Power!

Here are some questions:

* If you look at your frustrations and feelings about the past, do you see how they arose because things just didnít happen your way?

* Do you see yourself as the actor who wants to be the director/producer?

* Can you think of situations when you wanted things to go your way for the best of motives? How did you feel when they didnít go your way? And how do you feel now about those things? Are they settled now? Are you serene about them? Or do they still bother you in some way?

* Can you think of situations when you wanted things to go your way for motives which you consider to be self-centered? How did you feel when they didnít go your way? And how do you feel now about those things? Are they settled now? Are you serene about them? Or do they still bother you in some way?

* Can you see how wanting things to go your way is blocking you off from your Higher Power?

* Are you ready to make a decision to search for a Higher Power by cleaning house and thus unblocking you from your Higher Power? If you are, find an understanding person and say the Step Three Prayer!

Now youíre ready for Step Four! Donít wait around for God to come to you suddenly! The Big Book says that you canít wait! "Though our decision [Step Three] was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless AT ONCE followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us."

Next week Iíll discuss Step Four the Big Book way. I think youíll find that doing it solely the Big Book way is powerful and very very fast. You should be able to complete Step Four within weeks, and if it takes longer than six weeks, then either you literally have no spare time at all, or youíre procrastinating!

And weíll find that Steps Five, Six, Seven, and Eight, are all done on the same day. So if you havenít done the steps yet, youíll be well on your way in a few weeks! Thatís the power of the Big Bookís approach to the steps -- you can reach recovery quickly!

All my best,

Lawrie Cherniack

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