Step three of the twelve steps calls us to turn our wills and our lives over to the care and guidance of God as we understand God. Step Eleven urges us, through prayer and meditation, to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for God’s will for our lives and the courage to carry that out.

Having grown up in a culture that teaches an angry, punishing, rejecting God, I was fearful of trusting God, especially when the God of my understanding differed from what many churches teach. What if their God is right and I’m wrong? What if God only loves perfect people? What if I’m not good enough?

There is such compassion in the 12 steps, especially in that amazing phrase, “the God of our understanding.” Therein lies permission to trust the inner God voice that calls us to become the person we long to be. There are many reasons for church rules, a big one being power and control. Yet fear is a poor motivator for going to church and following the rules. When fear and a sense of worthlessness is all we know, why even try? Why bother to be fair, just, kind, to seek to grow in grace when it won’t make any difference?

Why not keep on cheating and lying, staying drunk or high?

How can we love and honor a God we fear and mistrust? How are we to turn our will and our lives over to the care and guidance of a capricious, punishing, rejecting God. But the God of our understanding, the God we ache to be authentic, the God who loves and accepts us unconditionally emerges as we learn to trust ourselves and others by working the program to the best of our ability. Old-timers share their experience, strength and hope in a caring, forgiving God. They encourage us to trust the inner voice that seeks to overcome all those messages of failure and worthlessness.

It takes a lot of courage and humility to trust the God within, to defy the religious authorities. That’s a good reason to keep praying the Serenity Prayer, the St. Francis Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. When our son was in treatment, he said they were given affirmations.

One important practice to stop each time they went through a doorway and say out loud, “I am a beautiful worthwhile person.” The logic on having the kids do this builds on the command to pray without ceasing. After the kids said “I am a beautiful worthwhile person” our loud each time they went through a door for the 6 to 8 months they were in treatment, they left with that affirming message having moved from their heads into their hearts, that is their unconscious. Now every time those kids go through a door their inner voice whispers “I am a beautiful worthwhile person.

Father Richard Rohr says if any thought or idea feels too harsh or uncaring, if something is shaming or diminishing, it is not the voice of God. But, if something comes toward us and graciously passes through us toward others, we can trust it as the voice of God.

He goes on to observe that it take a lot of courage and humility to trust the voice of God coming from deep within. Recovery (faith) is the journey of discovering our own souls as one with the God of our understanding.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of theFairfield Mennonite Church

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