By Glen Doss, Major
The 50-year-old man was sobbing. Wiping his face with a Kleenex he had pulled from a box on my desk, he blurted: “My life’s a mess! I’ve run out of options. Nobody in my family will have anything to do with me anymore. And now I’m homeless. Can you help me get my life back?”
Men and women, nearly hopeless, are arriving at our social services programs in droves, finally admitting—after many a brush with hell—that they are helpless over their faulty ways of thinking—the product of lies they had long taken for truths. Based on these lies, they made major life decisions which ultimately led them to disaster. The journey they begin with us can ultimately lead them to the Truth.
Their persistent problem: powerlessness. The solution: power.
These anxious people look to us—corps officers, chaplains, social workers, and counselors—for a way out of their dilemma. We point these desperate men and women to the solution: There is a personal God, whose name is Jesus Christ, who can provide them with the power to live their lives effectively—even provide them with a full and meaningful life (John 10:10). They need no longer be powerless—they can receive power!
Once they’ve come to believe God can help them, these worried people find the hope they are seeking. Next they look to us for help in fulfilling their new expectations. If a person comes to believe God can help him, the next logical step is to let God do so. But how do you instruct someone on how to “let go and let God”?
Here is where the rubber meets the road. What happens next is crucial. How many times have I seen a man in my office asking why—after he has made a decision for Christ at the altar—his feelings are still running amok, pulling him in a thousand different directions, luring him back into old precarious, addictive ways of thinking?
This was the experience of Dr. Bob Smith, the alcoholic surgeon who cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with Bill Wilson. Bob had repeatedly responded to the altar call at his Congregational Church, only to fall off the wagon days later. Bible study groups were praying for him. When Bill visited Dr. Bob in 1935, Bob listened carefully as Bill outlined the evangelical Oxford Group’s tenets which had helped him get sober. As Bill described the principles of self-examination, confession, restitution, and carrying the message to others (all of which were based on a careful analysis of the Bible), Bob’s eyes grew wider and wider until finally he blurted out: “That’s the missing piece!”
Bob had long known the problem: He was powerless. He had long known the solution: God had the power to restore him. What he did not know were the practical steps he must take to rid himself of the largely subliminal barriers of resentment and selfishness and fear that obstructed him from making a full surrender to God. Over the weeks following Bill’s visit, Bob applied the steps to his life and finally laid the bottle down, never to drink again.
This word-of-mouth exposition of the Oxford Group’s program was what Bill would later expand “for the sake of greater clarity and thoroughness,” he explained, into AA’s Twelve Steps. These steps in their final form would become the concrete directions an addict of any kind could follow to bring about the psychic change essential to full surrender to God. “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” is how it is presented in Step 12.
After offering ourselves as “living sacrifices” to God, the apostle Paul urges us to be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:1-2). The roadmap by which this biblical injunction is carried out is outlined in a practical way in the AA’s Twelve Steps. The steps’ study worksheets, which sponsors provide, simplify the process even further. The renewing of our mind occurs as we trust and obey God daily by following such commands as Step 4: “Examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5); Step 5: “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16); Step 9: “Be reconciled to your brother” (Matt. 5:23-24).
Through working the steps, practicing prayer and contemplation (Step 11), we are increasingly relieved of the bondage of self from which we had long sought escape through alcohol, drugs, or other addictions. We emerge finally into a new consciousness of being, devoid of ego, seeking daily to improve our conscious contact with God.
Corps officers, chaplains, counselors and social workers provide a wonderful service when they offer the tool of the AA Twelve Step Program and stress the importance of working it. They place in the hands of desperate people a practical, proven model for affecting a full surrender to God. Those who come to us for help—they are the winners!