I joined Al-Anon a little over a year ago. I’ve been recording my personal journey through the Steps in daylogs because it helps me to clarify my thinking to write it all down. Hopefully, these entries are also helpful (or at least not injurious) to others. In any event, this entry marks Step 7.
Step Seven:Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Joining Al-Anon was my first experience with a 12-Step program. I think for many people, joining a 12-Step program and “working the steps” is the beginning of a major life change. Although Al-Anon is compatible with many religions/ belief systems, it does ask its members to consider (and try to live by) a few core points. These are, in essence,
- that an individual is not in control of other persons or events; 1
- that there exists some form of Higher Power on which the individual can lean; 2
- that relinquishing the idea of control and its accompanying willfulness and expressing gratitude for the positive aspects of life can lead to a wider perspective and awareness of other life choices; "We can find peace of mind and real fulfillment only through devotion to something above and beyond ourselves"* 3
- that it is beneficial to inventory personal strengths and weaknesses 4, 5 , do what we can to correct character defects 6 , 7 and do what can be done to right past wrongs; 8, 9
- and that responsibility for self 10 and openness to (spiritual) guidance 11 are key elements for healthy living. 12
I read the 12 Steps years ago, and didn’t much like them. I wasn’t interested in admitting my own powerlessness over anything, I didn’t see any of my own behavior as lacking in sanity, and I had no desire to “turn my will and my life” over to anyone’s God. Fourteen months ago, however, I got to a point in my life where I was willing to give this program a try. The fact that people in the meetings and even the literature remind me frequently that I could “take what I like and leave the rest” helped calm my skittishness around the mention of God, and over time, I have developed a healthy respect for the way of life espoused by the 12 Steps.
In the past year, I have come up with a definition of a Higher Power that I’m comfortable with. I have absorbed many teachings from this program, and I have seen my life change for the better. I feel that I’m on a path that's right for me. I’m not to Step 10 yet, but every time I hear the words, "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it", I think ‘Wow, what a good way to live--to be courageous enough to admit mistakes right away, and then move on, with a clean slate...’ I want to get there.
I am impressed with the pacing of the 12 Steps; each one is an undertaking in its own right, and yet paradoxically, when taken individually, each one seems manageable. For instance, it is the work of three distinct Steps to identify my shortcomings, become willing to change, and then ask my H.P. to remove my defects of character. As I wrote in my daylog about Step Six, the whole process makes sense to me. It stands to reason that over time I would become aware of a certain trait that has overstayed its usefulness, and then start to feel like I could let it go. In fact, I had a plan; I had a list of character defects that I wanted to get rid of. I was working on changing my behavior, becoming ready to let go. It caught me off guard when my sponsor pointed out to me that maybe my Higher Power has a different plan in mind, that perhaps my shortcomings won't be removed in the order I think. This was yet another aha! moment for me. It made me laugh—I had not meant to present my H.P. with a list, "here, take this one, I'm ready to let go of arrogance..." but that was pretty much how I had been thinking about it.
In the children's book Charlotte's Web, Charlotte the spider spins words of praise for Wilbur the pig in her web. One of the words she writes is humble, which in addition to meaning unassuming and unpretentious, comes from the root humilis, (F., fr. L.) on the ground; low. Charlotte figures this is a most fitting adjective for the pig, who is 'not high or lofty... not magnificent' and is also literally close to the ground.1
I don't like the part of the definition of humility that says "a sense of one's own unworthiness through imperfection and sinfulness; self-abasement" (Webster 1913). Rather, Charlotte's definition resonates with me; to do something humbly meaning to do something from a position of being grounded. Al-Anon's ‘Conference Approved Literature’ (CAL) defines humility as “honesty and depth of vision, a realistic assessment of ourselves and our part in the scheme of things” 2 and “having an attitude of honesty and simplicity along with a mind set of being teachable”.3
Sometimes I’m not sure which is harder to deal with, the idea that I am responsible for and can determine, to a large degree, the quality of my life experience based on my attitudes and choices, or the idea that I am ultimately not in control of the world around me, but I have the option of turning to a Higher Power that can help me in ways that I can’t help myself.
Some days I feel that I’m acting prematurely on this step. Some days I’m not sure what I believe, or how much I believe it. I am coming to believe in a power greater than myself—not just the good will of the people around me, although that is part of it—but in a benevolent force in the Universe. Sometimes I call it Love. Sometimes I call it God. Whatever it is, I have found that I can ask for help with a problem, relief from obsessive thinking or worrying, for patience or perspective, and it arrives. I find answers I didn’t see before. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me whether this is all the work of a spiritual force or a figment of my own imagination. I can't explain it, but whatever it is, it’s working. As Anne Lamott put it,
Why does God always use dreams, intuition, memory, phone calls, vague stirrings in my heart? It would say that this really doesn’t work for me at all. Except that it does.4
It comes as a relief to me that I am not working alone to exorcise my defects of character. My job is merely to become aware of them, be willing to let go of them, and ask to have them removed. I heard a Russian folk saying quoted on NPR the other day--"Trust in God, but keep rowing toward shore". Along that note, I like what it says in the CAL:
Sitting back and behaving in all the same old ways while asking God to remove the defects is not effective. We cannot continue to do the same things over and over and expect different results...In turning to the God of our understanding for removal of our shortcomings, we find we are given countless opportunities to see our requests answered.5
I am willing to do my part, and I am comforted by the idea that the outcome is not only not entirely up to me, and may in fact be better or more than I can imagine. Above my desk, I have tacked to the wall a drawing from a journal illustrated by the artist who calls herself Flavia. The drawing shows flowers above ground and their root systems below, and the caption reads "We are unaware of what sweet miracles may come." This sums up what I feel about the seventh step; I need to trust, and ask, and wait and see what happens. It's simple, but it’s not easy.
Okay, so I did it. I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings. I amended the prayer I had made up back on Step 6,
God, today I place myself in your hands
I trust that you will guide my thoughts and actions.
Thank you for everything.
Please take my character defects, in whichever order and whatever manner you see fit.
Many of the Steps make it sound like you do the action once, and are done with it, but really how it seems to work is that you go over them repeatedly, sometimes daily. What’s listed above is the more formal version of my asking; some days, I just say to God, “Go for it”; sometimes I say “they’re all yours.” I figure, if nothing else, by repeating the request I am remaining mindful of it.
So the funny thing is, I have this little bad habit, not anything I had even thought to inventory, or to ask to have taken from me—something like scratching mosquito bites too much, or biting my nails. Anyway, I thought about performing this bad habit the other day, and the thought came into my head, ‘I don’t do that anymore.’ I have no idea where that came from. I don’t feel like I made a conscious decision to quit. However, having had that thought, I’ve decided to run with it; maybe I really don’t do that anymore. Maybe this is how it works. I guess time will tell.
* One Day At A Time in Al-Anon, p. 122.
1 Thanks to Webster 1913 for the definition; the book Charlotte's Web was written by
E.B. White, and illustrated by Garth Williams.
2 Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 1981, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., p.45.
3 Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, 1997, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, p.78.
4Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anchor Books, 1999, p. 82.
5 Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, 1997, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, p.73.
Artwork and journals by Flavia can be viewed at www.flavia.com.
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