Step Three We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
My self-will is the only part of me that I can know is going to wake up raring to go in the morning. It is tireless in wanting its way and thinking it knows best.
My self-will is also really good at engineering self-sabotage, as long as my will is under the domination of my complexes, my fears or my codependency. As long as I have “My will and my way” on the throne of my life — or as long as I have another person on the throne of my life, I’m under the control of something other than my best self-interest.
When my self-will is running riot, I can spout all the religious language in the world, but the truth is that it isn’t God who is running my life.
The other truth is that when I’m in the grips of codependency, I routinely and unconsciously turn my will and my life over to the care of other people, especially people I want to please.
Especially people whose rejection I fear.
Especially people upon whom I depend for approval, security, or _________________. (the
options are infinite)
Especially the people who hold some kind of power over me. (I can hardly bear to write that!)
Looking back over my life, I don’t have a ton of regrets, but I do regret that I handed over some of my power to certain people. Sometimes I didn’t know any better. Sometimes I knew better, but did it, anyway. Sometimes I thought I didn’t have a choice, and sometimes I was just not strong enough or brave enough to take the stands I needed to take.
I’m not going to become a victim of my own regrets, but it has been helpful for me to take a look at the people I let take up too much space in my head and learn from those few regrets I have.
I’ve learned that if I can turn over those regrets to God’s grace, even the worst mistakes I’ve made can become lessons and can even give me strength and wisdom.
The key is if I’ll surrender those hard experiences to God and let God’s love make sense of that which doesn’t make sense and make good what was intended for evil.
* * * * *
When I was a child, I did what most children did in my particular religious world. We said it two ways: I invited Jesus into my heart or I turned my life over to God.
That early surrender was so easy and natural. After all, I didn’t have that much to surrender to God when I was nine!
Looking back, I don’t doubt the childhood decision I made, and I don’t doubt that God as I understood God then or understand God now honored that decision. My understanding of that experience is more sophisticated now than it was when I was 9, but my God-concept is ‘way bigger than it was when I was a child.
The truth that I stand on is that at that point in my life, I gave as much as I knew of myself to as much as I knew of God.
The problem was that with my limited understanding at that time, I didn’t realize that there was going to be a great deal more to my relationship with God than anyone bothered to tell me.
I suppose it is best that I learned it for myself.
What I know now is that it isn’t until you have an understanding of what your “will” really is that you can fathom what it means to surrender it to a Higher Power.
I know now that you have to have a sense of your own self to have anything to surrender to God, and what I believe is that you probably have to be like the Prodigal Son and walk away from your beginning place (your childhood home and family) to understand what it is like to return home. When you come home to yourself, I’ve learned, and when you grow up, you always go back to your family of origin as a changed person.
* * * * *
I grew up in a culture that places high value on self-reliance and self-responsibility. Independence and being able to take care of yourself and your responsibilities is the mark of an adult. The proclamation of a two-year-old, “I’ll do it myself!” can become the defiance of an adult. To need help is considered a weakness.
Furthermore, in our culture the very word “surrender” indicates defeat. It means you lost or failed and you must resign yourself to being at another’s supervision, superiority or domination.
In our culture, it is even considered a weakness to apologize to someone, even if you are wrong, as if apologizing is demeaning and humiliating.
Surrender, turning yourself or something over to God, asking for help, yielding to a program of recovery, being malleable may be prompted by a humiliating experience, but the real truth is that surrender, in the spiritual sense, is an act of extreme courage. It is an act of humility, and is ia declaration of a willingness to be led to a healthier way of life.
We humans do resist surrendering our wills to another, and yet, to resist is to persist in a pattern that keeps you doing the same self-sabotaging behavior over and over.
The act of surrender is one of the hallmarks of all spiritual growth and is to be found in all religions.
In my lifetime I have made countless declarations of surrender. I have turned the same thing over to God repeatedly and then taken it back, refusing to give God time to work. I have thought that I knew best. I have believed that something that was outside my realm of influence was mine to repair, only to discover that no matter what the issue is, everything goes better for me if I can surrender myself and/or the situation, the problem, the challenge or the feeling to God as an on-going habit.
At first, I thought that surrendering my will to God would take away my freedom to choose.
I thought that surrendering my life to God would give him permission to push me around and pull me into places I didn’t want to go.
Now and then, I thought that giving my will to God would mean that I no longer had to do anything about stuff and could just rest on a flowery bed of ease, waiting for God to move me like a puppet on a string and arrange things for me.
I never have expected God to open up parking places for me, but I did think that if I gave myself to him, he might give me special rates on the hard trips of life.
At times I assumed that giving myself to God would mean that I wouldn’t have to struggle with myself any longer, but that I would just automatically stop being codependent. I would instantly have deep wisdom and know what to do about everything. I would not have an inner battle with fear or depression, anger or shame, and that other people in my life would quickly step in line, obviously impressed with my recovery.
What I have discovered is that surrendering my will and my life to God has meant these things and a lot more that I still have to learn:
— I now have access to a power greater than myself who is willing to help me help myself.
— I now have direction to the people, places, opportunities and information that I need to
learn how to live this new life I’ve chosen to live.
— I have access to mercy when I fail. I have access to grace when I need it.
— I have people come into my life at exactly the right time to be my teacher, my guide, my
— I have access to patience and the ability to keep on keeping on when I think I cannot go
— I have a feeling of being loved profoundly of who I am and who I am becoming.
— I have a deeper, greater and more prevalent sense of the exquisite beauty of life.
— I have more compassion for others and their struggles because I know how hard it is to
recover from any kind of addiction and any kind of character defect.
— I have more self-compassion and more patience with myself as I try to replace old,
self-defeating habits with new, self-nurturing ones.
— I no longer am attached to my “pie in the sky” idealism; instead, I am able to accept
the complexity of life, the imperfections of life and the mystery of life.
There’s something more, too, about turning my will and my life over to the care of God.
I have a sense of being carried by that Power greater than myself. I have a sense of the holiness of life — and a sense of God’s presence in everyday, ordinary events.
Singer/songwriter Peter Mayer says it best in this song that always takes my breath away when I remember the long, arduous passage from childhood innocence to adult faith, the long and winding road of recovery and the long, hard walk to freedom. This song speaks of the holiness of everyday life, one of the gifts of surrender:
When I was a boy each week
On Sunday we would go to church
Pay attention to the Priest
and he would read the Holy word
and consecrate the Holy bread
and everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is Holy now
Everything is Holy now
When I was in Sunday School
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
and Jesus made the water
I remember feeling sad
Miracles don’t happen still
but now I can’t keep track
cause Every things
Every things a Miracle
Wine from water is not so small
but an even better magic trick
is that anything is here at all
Sooo, The challenging thing becomes
Not to look for Miracles
but finding where there
When Holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
but now I have to hold my breath
like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heavens second rate hand me down
but I walk it with a reverent air
cause Everything is Holy now
* * * * *
Taking myself off the throne of my life — giving up having to be god in my life and others — and opening my mind and my heart up to the Mystery of God has infused my life with a sense of love, joy and peace that I never could have imagined while I was refusing to give up control of my life.
Don’t get me wrong. Under stress, I’m still vulnerable to feeling that I must be in charge, and if the threat is really big, I can go into action on a dime, thinking that it’s all up to me to run the world. I still have to take myself off the throne of my life, and I have to take others off that throne, as well. I suppose it — the eternal vigilance — won’t be over until it’s over.
Challenged, I still may get defensive and try to impose my will on another person.
Angry or anxious, I can slip into one of Dr. Jung’s complexes in a heartbeat. Thankfully, I now have the tools for recognizing that I’m in a complex (most of the time) and can work my way out, often with heavy doses of self-compassion and self-soothing.
If I’m hurting or if I am lonely, I’m still vulnerable to the big temptations to slip back into an unconscious state, asleep at the wheel of my life while thinking I’ve got to run my life, and then turning to old behaviors to assuage my pain.
Thanks be to God my Twelve Step sponsor taught me that “it’s progress, not perfection that matters.”
Over and over, though, life hands me the opportunity to return again and again to the stance in life that I have found to be the stance of peace, and that is the surrendered heart and mind.
Over and over, like the prodigal returning home, I can return “home” to the Father’s house, assured that my failures and flaws do not keep the Father from welcoming me home with loving arms, mercy and grace.
And the miracle is that even when life is messy, even when I’ve blown it and gotten off my path, the habit of surrender leads me back to the place where I remember and recognize that everything is holy now.
What about you?
How do you know when you’re clinging to your “my way or else” mode?
When do others’ wills and ways take over your mind and heart and control you? How does that feel, on any given day?
Complete this sentence:
I’d rather _______________________ than turn my will and my life over to God!
Think about it long and hard before you answer:
To what and to whom do you typically hand over your will, your decisions, your thoughts, your
life, your well-being?
And then answer this:
How’s that working for you?