People in Twelve Steps programs for recovery from addiction or some other disorder are familiar with the Eleventh Step. “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood [God], praying only for knowledge of [God’s] will for us and the power to carry that out.” Earlier in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous one came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity (step 2). Steps three, five, six, and seven also speak of turning one’s life over to the care of God to admit wrongs and to remove the defects and shortcomings of one’s life. The program is truly a spiritual experience. It is an opportunity to come to terms with one’s life and to realize the necessity of incorporating the spiritual aspects of our lives into daily living. Full recovery requires these stages of spiritual growth.
Twelve Step programs are good for any of us whether or not we are seeking recovery from an addiction. They direct us to pay attention to the spiritual aspects of our lives. Those who are in touch with these spiritual realities find purpose and meaning in their lives as they are enriched by the Spirit. As Richard Rohr writes, “Contemplation opens us to the absolute union and love between God and the soul. Prayer is not about changing God (to do what we want), but being willing to let God change us, or as Step Eleven states, ‘praying only for knowledge of [God’s] will for us and for the power to carry it out.’”
After turning one’s life over to God we are still not certain that our actions are in fact according to God’s will. But our commitment to do this on a daily basis puts us in a position to receive the love and direction God may reveal to us in prayer, contemplation, and silence. Thomas Merton, one of the great spiritual contemplatives and authors of the past century, in a prayer writes: “I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.”
Merton’s prayer is comforting. We’re not always going to get it right, but that’s not even the point. God desires a relationship with us in the ups and downs of our lives. Our desire to please God is what keeps our participation in the relationship active. It is a relationship of love and trust and eventual union with God. It is more important than any products of our lives. God redeems all the circumstances of our lives for good.
Those involved in Twelve Step programs find this prayer helpful:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.