The AA 12 Step program, which considers itself both non-sectarian and non-religious, tells us that a “No B.S.” policy of rigorous honesty is crucial to healing the spiritual ailment at the root of alcoholism. The same holds true, I believe, to every psychologically or emotionally wounded human being on the planet. No matter where you come from, no matter what your belief, honesty is the foundation for progress in the spiritual life.
Honesty is the act of telling the truth about ourselves. It is looking at ourselves squarely in the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual mirror, and being willing to face whatever we see there, no matter how painful it may be. It is to acknowledge where we stand and who we are right now, without resorting to denial or escape.
According to AA and other spiritual traditions, the first conclusion to which honesty leads us is that we cannot go it alone. We need a Higher Power outside and beyond ourselves to find healing and self-fulfilment. This Higher Power can take different forms. For some atheist or agnostic alcoholics, for example, a local AA home group is the Higher Power in which they trust. However it is expressed, though, the Higher Power must possess one crucial quality: a loving nature. The “God of our understanding” has to be seeking our ultimate wellbeing, and not our harm or destruction.
Having realized our inability to fix ourselves, and our need for a loving Higher Power (Steps One, Two and Three of the 12-Step program), we have effectively begun the spiritual life. To make progress and grow, however, we must regularly examine ourselves and rededicate our commitment to the Higher Power who will heal us and bring us closer to our true and fulfilled identities.
In this process, experience has shown that we need not only the Higher Power, but also other human beings. Why? Because restricting our self-examination to our own minds and hearts can lead to self-deception and more denial. As one AA friend of mine put it: “My mind is dangerous neighbourhood. I never go there alone.”
Spiritual renewal, then, means making a “fearless moral inventory” (Step 4 of the 12-Step program) and then sharing that inventory, both with our Higher Power and another human being. When we make a declaration before a witness, the spiritual rubber hits the road, and we can really be sure that honesty—and therefore healing—is really and concretely at work in us. Honesty in our minds is merely theoretical. Honesty offered out loud to someone else is incarnate, and therefore real in a way that it can never be in the abstractions of our private thoughts.
Real spiritual progress flows from regular spiritual renewals of the above kind—daily, if possible. As long as “No B.S.” is the motto, a renewal can take many forms, and may be undertaken with any person that we trust and love, as long as they are genuinely seeking our wellbeing. To that end, if we are involved in an addiction of any sort (alcohol, drugs, sex, anger, gambling, co-dependency, etc.), we may not want to do a daily renewal with someone who enables our addictive behaviour...
With those guidelines in mind, I would like to share with you a daily spiritual renewal that I have undertaken with my wife, usually after the kids are asleep and we are in bed (squabbles and complaints tend to detract from our spiritual focus). As the 12-Step saying goes, “Take what you want and leave the rest.” And may the Higher Power of God grant you a renewed spiritual life, wherever you may be!
A Daily Spiritual Renewal
Guidelines for sharing:
- Nothing is too great or small to be shared.
- Let there be no criticism or judgement of others
- Let there be no advice-giving, unless requested.
- Everything shared should be kept confidential.
Begin by saying the “Serenity Prayer” together:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Your will, not mine, be done.”
Each person takes turns to share, answering the following:
- In the past 24 hours, I have struggled with fear or worry about...
- In the past 24 hours, I have struggled with anger or resentment about...
- In the past 24 hours, I have been grateful for...
- In the past 24 hours, I sought the Presence of God by...
- For the next 24 hours, what will I specifically do to maintain my spiritual health? (Examples: spiritual reading, reaching out and calling others, prayer and meditation, going to Church, caring for my body, setting proper boundaries)
- For the next 24 hours, what situations or personal encounters could threaten my spiritual health? How can I avoid them or deal with them appropriately?
- Right now, am I truly willing to surrender my will and my life to the care of God for the next 24 hours?
End by repeating the “Serenity Prayer” (above)