Transcribed from the 12&12 in:
- First Person
- Present Tense
- “Real Problem”
“Since this step is so specifically concerned with the desire to seek and do God’s will, I should pause here to consider what a desire to seek and do God’s will is and what the practice of it can mean to me.
Indeed, the attainment of a greater desire to seek and do God’s will is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of a desire to seek and do God’s will, I as an alcoholic can’t stay sober at all. I, like nearly all A.A.’s, have found, too, that unless I develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety; I still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. Without a desire to seek and do God’s will, I cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that will meet any emergency.
The desire to seek and do God’s will, as an ideal, has a very bad time of it in this world. Not only is the idea misunderstood; the word (humility) is often intensely disliked. I haven’t even a nodding acquaintance with the desire to seek and do God’s will as a way of life. Much of the everyday talk I hear, and a great deal of what I read, highlight my pride in my own achievements.
With great intelligence, men of science are forcing nature to disclose her secrets. The immense resources now being harnessed promise such a quantity of material blessings that many have come to believe that a man-made millennium lays just ahead. Poverty will disappear, and there will be such abundance that I can have all the security and personal satisfactions I desire. The theory seems to be that once my primary instincts are satisfied, there won’t be much left to quarrel about. I will turn happy and be free to concentrate on culture and character. Solely by my own intelligence and labor, I will have shaped my own destiny.
Certainly I, and surely no member of A.A., want to deprecate material achievement. Nor do I enter into debate with the many who still passionately cling to the belief that to satisfy our basic natural desires is the main object of life. But I am sure that nobody in the world ever made a worse mess of trying to live by this formula than I have (as have other alcoholics). For an entire lifetime, I have been demanding more than my share of security, prestige, and romance. When I seem to be succeeding, I drink (or think) to dream still greater dreams. When I am frustrated, even in part, I drink (or think) for oblivion. Never is there enough of what I think I want.
In all these strivings, so many of them well intentioned, my crippling handicap is my lack of a desire to seek and do God’s will. I lack the perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values have to come first, and that material satisfactions are not the purpose for living. Quite characteristically, I have gone all out in confusing the ends with the means. Instead of regarding the satisfaction of my material desires as the means by which I can live and function as a human being, I have taken these satisfactions to be the final end and aim of life.
True, I think good character is desirable, but obviously good character is something I need to get on with the business of being self-satisfied. With a proper display of honesty and morality, I stand a better chance of getting what I really want. But whenever I have to choose between character and comfort, the character building is lost in the dust of my chase after what I think is happiness. Seldom do I look at character-building as something desirable in itself, something I would like to strive for whether my instinctual needs are met or not. I never think of making honesty, tolerance, and true love of man and God the daily basis of living.
This lack of anchorage to any permanent values, this blindness to the true purpose of my life, produces another bad result. For just so long as I am convinced that I can live exclusively by my own strength and intelligence, for just that long is a working faith in a Higher Power impossible. This is true even when I believe God exists. I can actually have earnest religious beliefs, which remain barren because I am still trying to play God myself. As long as I place self-reliance first, a genuine reliance upon a Higher Power is out of the question. That basic ingredient of all humility, a desire to seek and do God’s will, is missing.
For me, the process of gaining a new perspective is unbelievably painful. It is only by repeated humiliations that I am forced to learn something about a desire to seek and do God’s will. It is only at the end of a long road, marked by successive defeats and humiliations, and the final crushing on my self-sufficiency, that I begin to feel a desire to seek and do God’s will as something more than a condition of groveling despair. As a newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous I was told, and soon realized for myself, that this humble admission of powerlessness over alcohol is my first step toward liberation from its paralyzing grip.
So it is that I first see a desire to seek and do God’s will as a necessity. But this is the barest beginning. To get completely away from my aversion to the idea of being humble, to gain a vision of a desire to seek and do God’s will as the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit, to be willing to work for a desire to seek and do God’s will as something to be desired for itself, has taken me a long, long time. A whole lifetime geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse all at once. Rebellion dogs my every step at first.
When I admit without reservation that I am powerless over alcohol, I am apt to breathe a great sigh of relief, saying, “Well, thank God that is over! I’ll never have to go through that again!” Then I learn, often to my consternation, that this is only the first milestone on the new road I am walking. Still goaded by sheer necessity, I reluctantly come to grips with those serious character flaws that make a problem drinker of me in the first place, flaws that must be dealt with to prevent a retreat into alcoholism once again. I will want to be rid of some of these defects, but in some instances this appears to be an impossible job from which I recoil. I cling with a passionate persistence to others, which are just as disturbing to my equilibrium, because I still enjoy them too much. How can I possibly summon the resolution and the willingness to get rid of such overwhelming compulsions and desires?
But again I am driven on by the inescapable conclusion, which I draw from A.A. experience that I surely must try with a will, or else fall by the wayside. At this stage of my progress I am under heavy pressure and coercion to do the right thing. I am obliged to choose between the pains of trying and the certain penalties of failing to do so. I take these initial steps along the road grudgingly, yet I do take them. I may still have no high opinion of a desire to seek and do God’s will as a desirable personal virtue, but I do recognize it as a necessary aid to my survival.
When I take a square look at some of these defects, discuss them with another, and become willing to have them removed, my thinking about a desire to seek and do God’s will commences to have a wider meaning. By this time in all probability I have gained some measure of release from my more devastating handicaps. I enjoy moments in which there is something like real peace of mind. Since I have hitherto known only excitement, depression, or anxiety, this newfound peace is a priceless gift. Something new has indeed been added. Where the desire to seek and do God’s will have formerly stood for a forced feeding on humble pie, it now begins to mean the nourishing ingredient, which gives me serenity.
This improved perception of humility starts another revolutionary change in my outlook. My eyes begin to open to the immense values, which have come straight out of painful ego puncturing. Until now, my life has been largely devoted to running from pain and problems. I flee from them as from the plague. I never want to deal with the fact of suffering. Escape via the bottle has always been my solution. Character building through suffering might be all right for saints, but it certainly does not appeal to me.
In A.A., I look and I listen. Everywhere I see failure and misery transformed by the desire to seek and do God’s will into priceless assets. I hear story after story of how the desire to seek and do God’s will brings strength out of weakness. In every case, pain is the price of admission into this new life. But this admission price had purchases more than I expect. It brings a measure of a desire to seek and do God’s will, which I discover to be a healer of pain. I begin to fear pain less, and desire to seek and do God’s will more than ever.
During this process of learning more about a desire to seek and do God’s will, the most profound result of all is the change in my attitude toward God. And this is true whether I have been a believer or unbeliever. I begin to get over the idea that a Higher Power is a sort of bush-league pinch hitter, to be called upon only in an emergency. The notion that I can still live my own life, God helping a little now and then, begins to evaporate. I who had thought myself religious awoke to the limitations of this attitude. Refusing to place God first, I had deprived myself of His help. But now the words “Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the works” begins to carry bright promise and meaning.
I see I needn’t always be bludgeoned and beaten into a desire to seek and do God’s will. It can come quite as much from my voluntary reaching for it as it can from unremitted suffering. A great turning point comes in my life when I seek for a desire to seek and do God’s will as something I really want, rather than something I must have. It marks the time when I commence to see the full implication of Step Seven: “Humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings.”
As I approach the actual taking of Step Seven, it will be well if I inquire once more just what my deeper objectives are. I would like to live at peace with myself and my fellows. I would like to be assured that the grace of God can do for me what I cannot do for myself. I see that character defects based on shortsighted or unworthy desires are the obstacles that block my path toward these objectives. I now clearly see that I make unreasonable demands upon myself, upon others, and upon God.
The chief activator of my defects is self-centered fear – primarily fear that I will lose something I already possess or fail to get something I demand. Living upon this basis of unsatisfied demands, I am in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace can be had unless I find a means of reducing these demands. The difference between a demand and a simple request is plain to anyone.
The Seventh Step is where I make the change in my attitude, which permits me, with a desire to seek and do God’s will as my guide, to move out from myself toward others and toward God. The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on a desire to seek and do God’s will. It is really saying to me that I now ought to be willing to try a desire to seek and do God’s will in seeking the removal of my other shortcomings just as I did when I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol, and came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. If that degree of a desire to seek and do God’s will can enable me to find the grace by which such a deadly obsession is banished, then there must be hope of the same result respecting any other problem I can possibly have.”