Last week, we looked at the first three steps shared by the twelve step recovery programs. We discovered that the same wisdom that is applied by addicts in recovery can be used in recovery from sin and the passions. The first three steps have brought us to admit our powerlessness over our sin, to believe that God alone could restore us, and to make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
This week, we will look at the next four steps. These steps call us to look honestly at ourselves, acknowledge our wrongs, and then let go of them so that God can take them away.
The fourth step is “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” This step involves creating several inventories or lists where we consider our past and admit where we have been in the wrong. Based on the foundation of the first three steps, Step Four isn’t about guilt or shame. If we have surrendered our will and our lives over to God, then we should have no fear in taking an honest look in the mirror; after all, it is Christ who gives us the strength to go forward (Philippians 4:13).
We all have things we have pushed under the rug of our lives. We may have things we wish we could keep secret, or perhaps we have confessed something, but we have never truly let it go. Shame and resentment create a cycle of continued isolation and wrong action. According to the Twelve Steps, resentment is the root issue. Resentment is evidence that we have not yet forgiven someone. As the Lord taught us in the Our Father, withholding forgiveness keeps us from being forgiven too. So for the first inventory, we list out everyone we are resentful towards. Then, we write out why we hold this resentment and in what way we have been in the wrong. It’s important to be as thorough as possible here, because it’s about rooting out things we need to let go.
In addition to a resentment inventory, Step Four calls for a fear inventory and a harm inventory. So we list out all of our fears and how each fear affects us. Finally, in the harm inventory we list who we harmed and how, how were we at fault (selfishness, dishonesty, being inconsiderate) and what we should have done instead.
We can all benefit from this sort of honest self-appraisal. Instead of ignoring the past or beating ourselves up over it, Step Four calls us to look honestly at ourselves so that we can move forward on solid ground.
The fifth step is “admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
While Step Four is completed alone, in the context of prayer and reflection, Step Five is done with another person. It involves reading Step Four aloud to a sponsor, a priest, or an understanding friend. The purpose is to get outside of oneself, and to shed light on ourselves.
As we look at ourselves honestly, with the help of God and another person, we can lay aside the things of our pasts which we have unnecessarily held onto. Step Four and Five could be compared to a thorough examination of conscience and receiving the sacrament of confession. Step Five is not done alone for similar reasons that confession is not done alone. We tend to see ourselves either too generously or too critically, and we need the guidance of another more experienced person who is further along the path than we are to help us see clearly.
Steps Six and Seven work together and read “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” and “humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
After taking inventory in Step Four, we tend to see patterns in our behavior. These negative traits we begin to see in ourselves are referred to as defects of character. In the language of the Church, we call these bad habits passions. Examples are laziness, a judgmental attitude, and selfishness. In looking at our fears, we’ll see patterns that most of our fears are based on pride like self-reliance, self-perception, or concern with how others perceive us. These two steps remind us that we must trust in God’s help to move forward. And once we are willing to let go and let God remove these defects, one day at a time, we ask Him in prayer to do so. This is Step Seven.
Steps Four through Seven offer perhaps the greatest parallel to the Orthodox Christian spiritual life. It is through these steps that the addict discovers with absolute clarity the deeper spiritual root of addiction. For the Orthodox Christian, we will see how passions rooted in pride have turned our focus to ourselves and away from love of God and others. The steps that follow put this knowledge to work and help cultivate a life of repentance, right action, and service.
How do resentments and fears guide your thoughts and actions? What defects of character affect your relationships with others and with God? How could you benefit from working these steps?
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.
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