In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, we looked at all of the Twelves Steps and how they parallel with Orthodox Christian teaching. It’s my hope that many of you saw how much the Steps resemble the ancient practices of the Orthodox Church. Now that we have looked at the specific workings of each of the Steps, let’s take one final look at three principles we can all take away from this reflection.
The experience of those working the Twelve Steps has shown that addiction involves what is referred to as an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. An important component in recovery, then, is keeping watch over one’s thoughts that tend towards an obsession on one’s addiction.
Similarly, in Orthodox Christian practice, watchfulness is vital to the spiritual life. Instead of accepting and participating in our destructive thoughts, we can choose to let them pass. Some compare guarding our thoughts to watching a train go by without feeling we have to jump on, or watching a bird fly by without letting it roost on our head. Temptations seem to come out of nowhere sometimes. But we have a choice to either latch on to them or to let them pass by.
Keeping watch over our thoughts helps us to put this into practice. Watchfulness requires vigilance and self-awareness. This teaches us that the spiritual life is an active (not a passive) process.
One of the most commonly heard expressions by those working the Steps is “one day at a time.” This expresses not only a desire to live in the moment, but also a reminder to let go of the past and to stop worrying about tomorrow. Addictions take years to develop, and recovery must be given time as well. In moments of temptation, the thought of never having one’s drug can feel unbearable. “One day at a time” takes the focus off of “I can never have ___ again” and reorients the person back to the much more manageable present moment.
This same lesson is given by Christ when He said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). It’s so easy to beat ourselves up over our past failures or to despair over our ability to carry our crosses tomorrow. But we can only repent today; we can only encounter Christ today. So, we each have a choice to make. I can be anxious about whether or not I can do this or that, or I can live one day at a time and ask for God’s help.
This phrase, “abandon yourself to God,” from the book Alcoholics Anonymous is an important concept for those working the Twelve Steps. The active practicing of the Twelve Steps directs the addict to abandon himself to God in his daily life. This begins with the concept of surrender and is built up through regular prayer. The Serenity Prayer reads, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Repeated throughout the day, this prayer is a reminder to turn to God in order to accept life on life’s terms: to accept reality instead of trying to escape it.
Instead of focusing on the addiction or the sin in our lives, this principle of abandoning ourselves to the will of God reminds us that God can do what we cannot. Abandoning ourselves to God is an active work. It reminds us that knowledge of the Steps or knowledge of Orthodox teachings does not suffice. We have to put that knowledge to work by turning to God in all that we do.
There is much that could still be said on the common ground shared by the Twelve Steps and Orthodox Christian practice. Jesus Christ often elevated the lives of known sinners and non-Jews as examples to emulate because of the quality of their personal repentance and dependence on God. Similarly, we can all find courage, strength, and hope from reflecting on the experience of recovering addicts today. Their healing and recovery reminds us to practice watchfulness, to live one day at a time, and to abandon ourselves to the care of God as paths to our own healing.
How do you practice watchfulness in your daily life? Do you struggle to live one day at a time? Have you abandoned yourself to the care of God today?
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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