Back to the Basics of Recovery – Step Three

By Wally P.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

In this article, we will examine the third part of the surrender process, which is to move from a “life run on self will” to a life guided by “the vision of God’s will.” We do this by turning our ego-centric lives over to the “Power greater than ourselves” that resides inside each and every one of us.

One of the earliest references to “God as we understood Him” comes to us from Reverend Sam Shoemaker, the pastor of the Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City. This is where Bill W., one of the co-founders of A.A., attended meetings from 1934-1937. At the time, Sam was one of the leaders of the Oxford Group, the organization from which A.A. evolved. He was the man Bill W. described as the teacher of “the principles and attitudes that afterward came to full flower in A.A.’s Twelve Steps for recovery.”

When talking about self-will vs. God’s will, Sam would say, “Surrender as much of yourself as you know to as much of God as you understand.” Bill W. And others picked up on this concept. Instead of relying upon a God of somebody else’s understanding, they started relying upon a God of their own understanding, hence God as we understood Him.

Some of the key paragraphs the A.A. pioneers used to explain and take the Third Step are:

• A life run on self-will: pg. 60: 4 (1-8)

• Selfishness blocks us from God’s will: pg. 62: 1 (1-8) and pg. 62: 2: (1-8)

• A life guided by God’s will: pg. 62: 3 (1-4, 6-8) and pg. 63: (1-4)

• Third Step prayer: pg. 63:2 (2-8)

On pages 62 and 63 the “Big Book” authors explain how to become God directed. But, first they tell us that being self-directed keeps us separated from the spiritual solution to our difficulties. In the fourth paragraph on page 60, they explain that, when we live on self-will, we are like actors trying to control every detail of a play:

“The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. . . . Each (of us) is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his (or her) own way.”

In the first paragraph on page 62, the authors declare that it is our selfishness that gets us into trouble. We must take responsibility for our preoccupation with ourselves and lack of concern for others:

“Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. . . . (W)e invariably find that sometime in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. . . . Above everything, we . . . must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without (God’s) aid.”

Then in the third paragraph on page 62, the authors tell us what happens once we rid ourselves of this selfishness:

“This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. . . . Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.”

Although they say the wording is optional, the “Big Book” authors do provide us with a prayer we can use to take the Third Step. The prayer is in the middle of page 63, starting with the second line in the second paragraph:

“. . . ‘God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!’ ”

Once we have internalized the Third Step prayer, we have completed the surrender process. But as the “Big Book” authors write on the following page, this surrender “could have little permanent effect unless AT ONCE followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us.”

In the next article, we will examine some specific difficulties that have kept us blocked from the Power greater than ourselves. We will determine what these blocks are by making an inventory.

About the Author

Wally P. is an archivist, historian and author who, for more than twenty-three years, has been studying the origins and growth of the Twelve-step movement. He is the caretaker for the personal archives of Dr. Bob and Anne Smith.

Wally conducts history presentations and recovery workshops, including “Back to the Basics of Recovery” in which he takes attendees through all Twelve Steps in four, one-hour sessions. More than 500,000 have taken the Steps using this powerful, time-tested, and highly successful “original” program of action.