Monday, 19 December 2016

Wild self-abandonment



The AA pledge (above) suggests that AA should never say 'no' to a reasonable, relevant request. At the individual level, this looks like it means we say 'yes' to all AA requests. It does not. It means we're responsible for making sure AA says 'yes' to all AA requests, provided that they are reasonable and relevant. We're not, for instance, responsible when someone asks for money or lodging. With the reasonable, relevant requests, almost all of the time, I discharge the duty myself. Occasionally the duty is best served by being discharged by someone else, in which case I pass the job on to them. This is not because I don't want to do it but because, for instance, I have a sponsee who is fairly new and is desperate to find someone to work with, and has several hours a day free to give to that person, whereas I might be able to offer a couple of hours a week. I do this also so that I am free to handle requests that come in that I am specially positioned to meet. The trade-off is not between self and God but between intensive work and extensive work, the former being what God is commissioning me to do. But I temper this with the offer for the person to continue calling me. If God has placed someone in my life, there is a reason, and I never shut the door on anyone or say I won't talk to them. Phone calls are available to anyone, provided I can be useful, and missed phone calls get returned within 24 hours.

It is possible to swing so far the other way, i.e. making sure that every request is met but not, ourselves, pulling our weight. That's a very obvious way of not doing God's will, as we're simply leaving it to others and then acting only as the final safety net or fuse in the fuse box. This is less dangerous, as it's hard to conceal to ourselves for long that we're not stepping up to the plate.

The most insidious form of self-reliance is to do a lot of service or sponsorship but to set boundaries on the basis that we won't be able to cope with more. There is no trust that God will help us find a way. This means that we do not reach our potential, as it is only when the pressure is applied that we're forced to grow to a new level where our intensive (not extensive) work with other alcoholics (page 89 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous) forces us to work smarter and quicker, as we grow in understanding and effectiveness (page 84).

This is partial surrender, compliance in the place of surrender, following God's will provided it's not hard or inconvenient, provided there are no sacrifices. This is not following God's will. This is getting by on just enough, with our own ideas of what we think is enough. It blocks God from truly working through us, as it leaves Him with one hand tied behind His back. It also means that there are going to be other false Gods, other false idols, other false north stars guiding us, grabbing our attention, and zapping our energy.

What is the result? Service becomes tiring because we're doing it on our strength not God's; life becomes tiring because the ego's demands are never satisfied and the ego takes more than it yields. What happens next? We pull back further, we pull up the drawbridge earlier, and we retreat even further into self-reliance.

When I have fallen into this trap, I have believed I can get by with only partial relief of selfishness. I want to abandon the bits of self that get in my way, and get just enough benefits of the programme that I have some relief from running on self in other areas of my life. But it stops short of full abandonment:


(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6)

There are several passages in the Big Book that suggest complete abandonment of self:




(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 14 et seq.)

Note that this is not just serving when it suits us: 'self-sacrifice' is a grand term, and denotes less martyrdom and more the abandonment of selfish desires.


(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 15)

Self-abandonment, again, is a strong term.

Exactly how 'abandoned' do we need to be?

Step Six is about the abandonment of limited objectives:


(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6)

The limited objectives are where we take on just enough service to satisfy ourselves we are doing enough: but if the requests are still coming through, God's calling us. This is where we need to step out of our comfort zone into the danger of performing God's will when we are frightened it will be too much. We must never forget that it is God who provides the strength and direction. We are responsible not for the work but for entrusting the work to God to be performed through us. Then we're free, and the burden is light or non-existent. It becomes a joy; it is like flying.


(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 7)

What we're interested in is the 'true purpose' of our lives: not our purpose but God's purpose. In Step Three, it asks us to turn our lives, not part of our lives, over to God. God does not care one jot for our personal ambitions. He wants to use us. This is wild, dangerous self-abandonment. But don't forget: what we get out of this is a working faith, a faith that actually gives us access to strength and intelligence beyond our own.


(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 7)

This final passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions summarises the content of the previous passage: we do not get to live our own lives, we get to live the lives that God wants us to live, which may be radically different from what we have in mind.

Let's look at what this looks like practically:


(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 20)

'Constant' is unambiguous in its scope.


(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 97)

This passage too, is unambiguous. Step Twelve is inconvenient.

There is little more to say on this subject: we give ourselves absolutely to God and let God worry about how everything is going to get fitted into the schedule. We're relying on a force that is infinite in its power, wisdom, and resourcefulness:


(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 68)

The results of living this way: apart from profound and wide-ranging usefulness, this affords me an invulnerability that can be achieved in no other way.





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