When I first decided to follow I made a decision to let someone else have control over my life. A few months at Bible College and I suppressed that craziness. There were far too many people who wanted to tell me what to do, when to do it and how it should be done. Everything from meal time to bed time became regimented for me. One of my homework assignments was reading through the New Testament and recording ever ethical statement I found, every “do” and “do not”.
I became an expert on keeping rules.
Some call that “following”. It is not.
Being an expert on keeping the rules gives you a profound relationship with the rules. It also gives you, and this is important, control. I check my list off and that puts me in the driver’s seat.
So after years of expertise I came to a sad and sorry realization. Maybe it was a revelation. Following the rules doesn’t change you. Following the rules doesn’t guarantee your prayers get answered, trouble won’t find you or that everything works out. As I kept the rules and believed all the right things I still found myself in a place where all around me had crumbled and I’d completely lost my way.
I took the first and second step and had to come back to the beginning and take a third step.
I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care and direction of God. Again.
Getting married took about 20 minutes.
Being married has taken a lifetime.
Being married encompasses experiences and knowledge I collected both before and after the ceremony. Long before I liked girls I was accumulating impressions and ideas that informed what being married means to me. After the ceremony I changed which box I check on forms, from single to married, but as Madeleine L’Engle has said, “It takes a lifetime to learn another person.”
That’s the thing with these steps, there’s a great deal of misunderstanding from the outside looking in. I used to think the 12 steps of AA were some sort of step by step process to be checked off as each was completed. I thought the steps were just a method of giving up the drink for those who struggled with over-drinking. I thought sobriety just meant you didn’t drink any more. That started to change, like so many other things in my life, when the issue grew some skin.
In Bible College I preached against the evils of Catholicism – whore of Babylon and all. Then I met some Roman Catholics and was embarrassed by the intimacy of their relationship with Jesus. Out of Bible College I taught my youth group about the dangers of Charismaniacs. Then I met weekly with a group of youth pastors for lunch and discovered that the Pentecostal youth pastor didn’t spontaneously break into to tongues, slap all of us on the forehead or pronounce Christ’s name JE-zussuh! And he served the rest of us like he was serving Jesus.
Over a decade ago I met Yves. Yves became a friend who let me into his world of recovery. He explained to me what the Big Book was and it turned out not to be the cultic guidebook I’d been told. I learned that being sober wasn’t the same as not drinking. AA offers something greater than not drinking through the steps, it offers a new way of life. He gave me tapes of AA speakers who shared their experiences. He quoted C.S. Lewis as much as Bill W. and he demonstrated what honest, transparent (sometimes painfully transparent) living could look like.
He showed me that the 12 steps weren’t a check list to do in order to join a club, rather a way of living that led to wholeness, peace and real joy. His life demonstrated that the steps were about living out a relationship with God that went beyond Sundays, went further than a list of beliefs or even a code of conduct. The Bible word for it was discipleship.
Now here’s how simple it really is. The Big Book teaches us this prayer at the start of our day and through our day, “What is your will for me?” And then do it. Whatever God shows you, you just do it and that’s it. Whatever comes your way, you just embrace it and look for God in it rather than fighting it. Simple. Not easy. Not if you’re breathing anyway. But life becomes so much simpler. There’s a clarity that comes and, like the Big Book says, “Self-seeking will slip away…Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change…We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.”
That’s the difference between following rules and following a person.
(Note: Christians tend to blast away at this phrase from recovery, “…God of our understanding”. They usually say something about God being a light bulb or whatever you want God to be. That’s not what the Big Book means by that phrase. What the Big Book says is that in order to start following you don’t have to have God all figured out. That the amount that you do understand (‘our understanding’) is all it takes because God is much bigger and more capable than we are. It also is meant to shut down the argument of every true addict or alcoholic – “I’ll start following as soon as I figure God out.” Generally we’ll wait to give up our addiction until we get our head around this – ie. NEVER. Some groups who try to do this without God – never, ever the original intent of AA – will say silly things but it is not what the Big Book teaches. The simple truth is that none of us, according to the 1 Corinthians 13, have a full understanding of God, that doesn’t have to keep us from following.)