Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Milestones and Mountains

Each milestone I come to seems to follow a pattern: I work on something my sponsor assigns me; I wrestle with it, stress over it, struggle to figure it out; my sponsor says stuff about it, other guys say stuff about it, and I nod blankly and incomprehendingly; then it suddenly all clicks -- "Oh, now, I get it! It's exactly what you've been telling me, and it's really, really simple!"

The first milestone was the first AA meeting I went to, and I knew immediately I belonged there. Another was getting a sponsor and starting to work the steps -- slowly, thoroughly, "in God's time" as my sponsor said. As a typical alcoholic, the first thing I had wanted to do was complete all Twelve Steps, on my own, in an afternoon, finding every shortcut and loophole to skate, fake and bluff my way through them. So even though, in a simple way, I took Step One instantly, it took awhile to really internalize it and accept the full implication of what it means to be an alcoholic.

A big one was getting through my first Big Craving without a drink, without putting up a fight, simply by surrendering -- I mentioned it in my last post. That was internalizing Step Two for me -- I can't clearly define my higher power, but there is something other (and bigger) than me that keeps me from making the insane choice to drink -- and that bigger, higher power is using my program, including meetings, step work and my sponsor, to do its work. Very simple -- I just have to get the hell out of the way and let the higher power do it.

Now I'm working on Step Three. Like many alcoholics, I find the "God stuff" irritating, intimidating, and uncomfortable. Having been raised in one of the softer, easier mainline Protestant denominations, my decision to walk away from religion and spirituality many years ago did not require a very long hike. And of course I intellectualize, rationalize and complicate the whole issue of God's purpose vs. my purpose, who or what do I understand God to be in every facet...

But another bolt-from-the-blue milestone came at a speaker meeting on Thanksgiving. The speaker said she found Step Three easy, never had the struggle of "my will vs. God's will" so many of us have, it was all pretty obvious to her. I was startled at first -- easy? Obvious? After mulling it over a bit, I realized she was absolutely right.

It almost always is obvious what God's will is for me -- it's right there in my conscience that I've tried to ignore all these years. I almost always know what I should do in any concrete situation. Usually, of course, I do otherwise. Why would I do the right thing when someone else will, or may, not? At the very least, no one will appreciate it properly. Besides, in the long run, what difference does it make? And, how can God allow things like the Holocaust, or 9/11, or the Tutsi genocide if He is benevolent and omnipotent, and therefore why should I believe my "doing the right thing" makes any difference?

Interesting theological questions, and maybe fodder for PhD dissertations on game theory in ethics, but utterly irrelevant to my own personal responsibility. My conscience is God telling me, usually quite clearly, the next indicated thing I should do. (And it can be as mundane as God whispering in my ear, "do laundry.") It has nothing to do with how other people will respond, appreciate me, or act themselves -- that's up to them and God, not to me. And the larger questions of God allowing evil in the world -- I will never understand it, I simply have to accept that God's overall purpose is and will remain beyond my comprehension. I have my hands full trying to understand God's purpose for me.

I feel like I'm making a good start understanding Step Three intellectually, just as I made a good start on Step One the minute I stepped into a meeting. But I can feel I'm not there yet. Step Three is about action. It's where I really start behaving differently. I've become much more aware of what "the next indicated thing" I should do is, but I have continued to be unlikely to act on it. Until I'm willing to try -- not perfectly, but consistently -- to act in accord with my understanding of God's purpose, Step Three is beyond my grasp.

Right now, Step Three looks like a very high and steep mountain. But I'm starting to learn the lessons of taking the first two steps -- they looked like high and steep mountains ahead of me, too. Then one day I suddenly realized that I was already across, and they weren't that bad after all!


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