Step Three in the 12 steps of recovery

By Sam Janson
Recent Volunteer for Franciscan At-One-Ment Mission Project
Placement Site: St. Christopher’s Inn Treatment Center for Drug and Alcohol Abuse

The third step in the 12 steps of recovery reads, “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Each morning at affirmation one of the steps is read. When I heard this step, the part that really stood out to me was in the last four words: “as we understood Him.”

The spiritual lives of the men who come into the Inn are varied. Some lead active lives of prayer, attending religious services and holding a devotion to their Church close to their heart. Others would regard themselves as having little interest in exploring and enhancing the spiritual dimension of their lives. Through the 12 steps and the environment created at St. Christopher’s, I’ve met numerous men who have begun to understand the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I find that the wisdom of Step Three and de Chardin’s words both illuminate something essential not just to those in recovery, but to everyone. Step three acknowledges that even within our own traditions and denominations, each individual’s conception of God is unique to them. While we can come together in community for prayer, meditation, and ritual, our contact with a “higher power” remains something that is uniquely ours. Unfortunately, even when a broad and inviting conception of God is presented, many people will fall back on old resentments towards a prescriptive form of religion that they were shown in the past.

I think this is where de Chardin’s words can offer guidance. He suggests that we are first spirit, but as humans we are experiencing what it means to be made flesh. For me, this means that we cannot really embrace our spiritual lives until we fully acknowledge the triumphs and frailties that are vital to our humanity. The men at St. Christopher’s really illustrate this point. In recovery, they must first admit accept the depth of their own humanity, even with all the suffering it has brought them, before they can connect spiritually. It has been an incredible experience for me to watch men who are on the path of recovery, embracing both their humanness and spirituality, and coming to know God “as they understand Him.”