‘Both you and the new man must walk day by day in the path of spiritual progress.’
‘Counsel with persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final judge.’
‘This is perhaps difficult—especially discussing our defects with another person.’
‘Notwithstanding the great necessity for discussing ourselves with someone ...’
‘When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately ...’ (Alcoholics Anonymous)
Sometimes, criticism is voiced of sponsors who set themselves up as ‘gods’ in people’s lives. An alternative is presented: total reliance on God. The appropriateness of God-reliance (as opposed to sponsor-reliance) is consistent with my experience. God-reliance is what the programme is all about. My sponsor does not tell me what to do; I do not tell sponsees what to do.
Now, let’s look more deeply at what God-reliance means, and let’s look more deeply at what sponsorship means.
Sponsorship is not just about saying: ‘Do this next!’; ‘Now do this!’ Sponsors are not merely the AA equivalent of the voice on the GPS system that verbalises the map. Sponsorship is about far more than voicing the instructions set out in the Big Book.
Firstly, as a sponsor, I explain what may not be clear to a sponsee from just reading the Big Book. Much needed to be explained to me, and I have rarely encountered a sponsee that does not need at least some parts of the Big Book explaining. People frequently get the wrong end of the stick.
Secondly, I share experience with sponsees, and my sponsor shares experience with me. That experience can then be used as a general template for or guide to right thinking and conduct.
Thirdly, as a sponsor, I can help a sponsee work through how to apply spiritual principles, including God-reliance, to a particular situation.
To me, this is what the first of the above quotations means: we are in this together.
What are the boundaries of this?
As a sponsor, I don’t tell people what to do about any specific matter, because the consequences of the actions must be the sponsee’s not mine (amongst other reasons). I point sponsees towards God and to the principles of the programme.
What does God-reliance mean?
To me, it means that I go to God on any questionable matter and ask for direction. How does that direction get given? It gets given directly through inspiration, an intuitive thought, or a decision; it comes through spiritual reading I engage in; it comes through listening at meetings; it comes through sudden observation in the course of life outside AA; it comes through consultation with others.
God-reliance does not mean that I shut down all other relationships and refrain from discussing anything with anyone else, trusting instead that now that I have a hotline to God, such that God and I can now handle everything without any interference from other people, thank you very much.
A further point: I was 21 when I got sober, and clueless. I cannot count the times over the last 23 years when I was convinced through prayer and meditation that a particular course of action was right, only to mention it to a sponsor or friend in AA and watch their face fall. Is this consistent with early AA? The Tradition Two essay in ‘Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions’ provides a perfect example of this, where Bill comes up with what he thinks is a splendid idea, only to have the group point out that it is anything but.
God-reliance does indeed mean that I place God first; it does not mean that I blithely disregard others’ views or experience.