On the surface these two steps seem pretty simple. When I was first introduced to them I thought they were rather straightforward. No problem. I can turn my will and my life over to the care of God. Heck, I was doing a pretty lousy job caring for myself so I figured I had nothing to lose. And as far as my will? Well, I had been trying to change myself, trying to discipline myself, trying to will myself into getting better, healthier, saner. And that hadn’t worked out too well either so I was more than happy to let someone else take a stab at it.
I also figured that since I enjoyed listening to classical music on rainy days over a good cup of coffee at Panera, that I could definitely meditate. And prayer was a no-brainer for me. I had been praying for God to make changes in my life for as long as I could remember.
Yup. This whole 12 step thing was gonna be a cinch.
And then I read those steps again. And again. And… again. And I kept getting stuck on that little word… His. I had to follow His will. I had to abandon my will and rely only on His will. Being the intellect that I thought I was (another old idea), I figured that I was smart enough to know exactly what His will was for me.
I considered myself to be an expert listener because I had read books on how to listen. However, if you asked my teenage son to judge my listening skills, I would have failed. I also believed I was very good at reading between the lines and discovering the true meaning behind things. But again, if you asked my husband to judge how well I received his well-intended love and support at the height of my illness, he probably would have given me a very poor score.
Regardless, I dove into these steps figuring that I was smart enough to navigate them quite well. Actually, I was so egotistical that I thought I would merely let God know that I was fully aware of His will and I that I needed no further instructions – check the box, done, move on. Two steps down, ten to go.
But then something happened. I started getting better. I got a healthy dose of ego-deflation that led to some clarity, sanity and dare I say it, humility. It didn’t happen overnight. Nope. It was like a medication that takes a while to build up in your system. You don’t feel the effects for a few weeks. And then when you do, you realize just how sick you were. You didn’t notice the giant ego and pride before because you lived with them forever. It isn’t until they’re gone that you notice just how toxic and unhealthy they were.
Once I gained some sanity and clarity, I could see that maybe I didn’t know everything. I even was willing to say that perhaps I knew very little. With every meeting, every sponsor session, every step, I learned that I knew less and less. This process was eye-opening and freeing. It lifted the weight of the world off of me. I no longer had to be responsible for every answer, every solution, every fix.
But it also caused me to doubt my ability to judge right from wrong, good from bad and most importantly – God’s will from my own.
How was I supposed to turn my will over to God’s if I wasn’t able to hear him clearly? How was I supposed to follow His will if I didn’t know what it was? How was I supposed to know the difference between my will, my desires and selfish motives and His good, pure will for me? The clarity that I gained in recovery also brought with it new and unchartered confusion. I had never worried about what God’s will was before because I had lived by Jenny’s rules and done what I wanted, when I wanted, for reasons that satisfied me. But in order to continue on this path, to complete the steps, I had to learn a new skill.
I had to be a Will Whisperer.
I wasn’t skilled in this area. I had no prior experience discerning God’s voice and will. But thankfully, others did. So I turned to the people God had placed in my life. I turned to my sponsor, my accountability partners, others in recovery and listened to them as they translated God’s voice for me. I turned to His word and began trying to read His messages as they applied to me and my life. And most importantly, I turned inward to me, to the me that had always been in there underneath the ego and the pride. I looked for the little child who had known what the right thing was before insecurity made her question herself. I looked deep within myself to find the spirit God gave me; the pure, selfless, true passion and love that He wanted me to use for good before I locked that all away behind a wall of fear and doubt.
With the help of my sponsor and others, I learned how to better discern God’s voice. I was told that those awful, anxious, weird feelings in my stomach were not from God. If I ever took an action that made me feel like I had to hide it, lie about it or justify it, it was probably not the action God wanted me to take. In other words, doing things that I couldn’t be completely transparent about, that I couldn’t be completely at peace with, were probably not the things God was directing me to do. They were probably not God’s will for my life.
In time, I learned to spot several red flags that indicate when I’m following my will and not God’s will. They are:
- doing things to gain self-glory or recognition
- doing things that hurt others to make myself feel better
- using others to improve my position
- taking the easy path even though it feels wrong
- seeking out people who will approve my bad behaviors rather than trusting those who don’t
- justifying my actions, over and over and over and over again
- making excuses for my actions and behaviors
- acting on my own without discussing my decisions with another humble, sober, person I admire
- lying to myself and others
- ignoring obstacles that might be put in my path for a reason
- ignoring the wisdom and advice of those that have gone before me
- avoiding the difficult things even when I know they are the right things
- believing that I don’t have to follow the nudging and urging I feel to do the next right thing
- taking action even when it makes me feel all icky inside
These are just some of the signs that maybe I’m forcing my will on myself instead of surrendering to God’s will. There are other signs, too. They are subtle, tiny little God moments that make me aware I’m out of alignment and remind me to redirect myself. Things like feeling worn out, tired, sick tell me maybe I’m exceeding my limitations. Feeling angry or frustrated with someone might be God telling me to back off and mind my own business. Feeling like I’m failing at a job or project could be God’s way of telling me that He has something better planned for me.
I will never claim to completely know what God’s will is for my life. But I do know that I’m willing to be open to interpretation. I’m open to hearing God talk to me through you, through people in recovery, through my sponsor, friends and family. I’m willing to look for God’s signs in my surroundings. I’m willing to seek His messages in His word. And I’m willing to pay close attention to the greatest indicators of all, my physical and emotional responses to things. Because when I listen closely to all of these things, that still, small voice that is sometimes so hard to hear, finally becomes just a little clearer.