Step 3 in Catholic Recovery

We make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

 

The things and demands of this world may have made this step seem difficult or even impossible for us at first glance. In our active addiction we had lived a life of total self-seeking, and when we were at odds with others, we only exerted our will even more to get what we wanted. Rather than living a harmonious life, we were in constant conflict, so it seemed, with all of creation. We couldn’t even live up to our morals and values, although we may have believed in them. “For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” (Rom 7:22-23). Most of our troubles were the result of futile attempts at self-preservation through our own will. “In the measure to which a man cuts off and humbles his own will, he proceeds toward success. But insofar as he stubbornly guards his own will, so much does he bring harm to himself.” [1] If we were honest with ourselves, we soon came to realize that trying to run our lives on our own willpower only resulted in needless worry and misery.

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself (Mt 6: 26-30, 34).

 

We wanted to have a relationship with our Higher Power, but we still wanted to do it our own way. In Step Two we realized that it was possible for our sanity to be restored by a Power Greater than ourselves, but we needed to take the next step to deepen our relationship with the One whom we call God. “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you” (Mk 14:36). We can look to the example of Jesus in Gethsemane, when he surrenders his human will to the divine will of the Father. “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mk 14:36).


Step Three is the beginning of practicing to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our God whom we accepted by taking Step Two. “Faith, at the same time that it is a gift, is also a virtue. It is a gift of God, inasmuch as it is a light infused by him into our souls; and a virtue, inasmuch as the soul has to exercise itself in the practice of it.” [2] With the faith that we have in our lives, we now translate that faith into action by working Step Three. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (Jas 2:14). If we want to continue on the road to recovery, then we must take further steps.  

 

In working Steps One and Two, acceptance was required of us; in Step Three we became willing to engage in a dynamic relationship with the living God. We often heard it said at Twelve Step meetings that we can never give back all that we have received. What we have been given is life and recovery from our addiction. “We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can – namely, surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.” [3] It is in our belief in God and surrendering our will to Him that we begin to realize the immensity of the love that our Father has for us. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16).


Many of us may have experienced fear before making this decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, but we began to develop trust in the process as we witnessed the changing power of Step Three as experienced in the lives of others who took this step. “Trust in God with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Prov 3:5-6). During the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary, she too was fearful at first in the presence of the Divine. The angel comforted her, saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Lk 1:30). It is in making this decision to surrender in which we say “yes” to God and invite Him to work in our lives, as Mary surrendered her life to God with her fiat. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Mary accepts this invitation from God, although she does not yet fully understand. With our own acceptance of God’s love and trust, our lives begin to take on a new meaning and purpose. “We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood, to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life.” [4] In essence we are opening the doors to our heart and become willing to expose our vulnerable selves to the healing presence of God who we are beginning to understand.


Some of us thought that we would somehow loose ourselves by letting go of our will and our lives to God, especially in a culture in which we are taught from childhood not to surrender – and so many of us thought that we were constitutionally incapable of surrendering. In reality we move towards our true self as we keep praying and practicing the Third Step by surrendering to God. In our addiction, our willpower was no good whatsoever. As we became more and more imprisoned by our disease, we had lost all sense of independence and closed the doors of our innermost being to ourselves, to others, and to God. We were living in death through our disease of self-centeredness. Those who are slaves of death are never satisfied and continue to impose their own will, but have no experience of freedom. “So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy” (Rom 9:16). As we become more willing to open ourselves to God and His love, the less fearful and the more freedom we experience. “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.  God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in Him. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” (1 Jn 4:16, 18). Because we now have entered into a relationship with God, we no longer have to be a slave to death and can begin to truly live in freedom. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:14-15).


We continue the practice of letting go of our self-will as we sense this new kind of freedom in Christ. “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50). We are not perfect and our egos tend to get in the way, so we apply this step on a daily basis through prayer, asking for help and guidance from the Holy Spirit. “And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 Jn 5:14). We began to develop the willingness and courage to say these words from the depths of our heart:

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Amen.

 

For many of us, it is in working Step Three when we began to realize and participate in the saving grace of the sacramental life found within the Church. It is within the Church where we truly live in freedom found in Christ and in communion with others, for we are members as the Body of Christ through a spiritual rebirth of the life-giving waters of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Justin Rigali writes about the healing sacrament of Baptism in the life of the addict:

Baptism initiates us into the life of Christ and draws us close to him.  Those who suffer with addiction can be assured that in Baptism they have been joined to Christ in a way that gives them strength to journey toward healing.  God can repeat in the midst of the cycle of addiction the effect of the saving action by which they were sealed in Baptism: the victory of Jesus on the Cross.  [5]

 

When we made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood Him, this was a decision to continue the spiritual journey as shown to us through the rest of the Twelve Steps. The word decision implies an action of faith, and as we continue to work the Steps our love and understanding of God becomes deeper. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:12-13).


It is in knowing the love that God has for us that we begin to trust in the process of working through our fears of the past and living our lives in the present through Christ. As Peter stepped out of the boat to come to Christ during the storm, He also invites us to step out of our addiction and into a life of recovery and freedom.

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt 14:28-33).

 

It is in the new faith and hope that we have in Christ in which we find the strength and the perseverance to continue with the next step of our recovery. We are now ready to begin the process of making a “searching and fearless inventory of ourselves” as we enter into the fourth step.

The seed is the word of God.  Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved.  Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial.  As for the seed that fell among the thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are chocked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit.  But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance (Lk 8:11-15).

[1]  St. Ephraim the Syrian, Counsels to a Novice Monk.

[2] St. Alphonsus de Liquori, The Glories of Mary, Rev. Eugene Grimm, ed. (Brooklyn, New York: Redemptorist Fathers, 1931), 567.
 

[3] St. Teresa of Avila, The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 2, “Way of Perfection,” Chapter XXXII, translated and edited by E. Allison Peers (New York: Burns & Oates, 2002), 139.

[4] Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1987), 13.

[5] Cardinal Justin Rigali, Let the Oppressed Go Free: Breaking the Bonds of Addiction (Dallas: Basilica Press, 2009), 54.

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