by Dale and Juanita Ryan
The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility. It is really saying to us that we now ought to be willing to try humility in seeking the removal of our other shortcomings just as we did when we admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, and came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. If that degree of humility could enable us to find the grace by which such a deadly obsession could be banished, then there must be hope of the same result respecting any other problem we could possibly have.
–Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
The biggest change the humility of Step Seven brings is in our relationship with God. He is no longer the “helper” who helps us get our agenda on track so we can accomplish what we want. He is the “owner of the business,” and we are trainee employees, learning the business and our part in it one day at a time.
–J. Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing
The first three Steps allowed us to make peace in our relationship with God. We did this by admitting our need for help, by realizing the existence of a Power greater than ourselves, and by making a decision to give ourselves over to God’s care. This is just a beginning. Hopefully, we will continue for a lifetime to grow in our relationship with God. Starting in Step Four, we began, with God’s help, to clean house. As part of this process, we made an inventory, admitted our wrongs, and became ready for God to remove our shortcomings. Step Seven brings us to the end of this second stage of the Twelve Step journey. We are ready now to ask God to remove our shortcomings. Step Seven shows us how to proceed when we are entirely ready for God to change us:
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
In Step Seven we ask God to remove our shortcomings. We cannot, however, expect to have all of them removed immediately. Step Seven is not magic. We will not be immediately transformed into new people. It will take some time to do the asking. We will be able to make some requests promptly, but others may require more preparation on our part.
Step Seven: A Closer Look
Humility is the spiritual foundation of Step Seven. But what is humility? The prophet Isaiah provides a helpful image of the humility we seek in Step Seven. He said, “We are the clay, you are the potter” (Isaiah 64:8). The clay can become a useful pot only with the help of the potter. This is the biblical theme of God as Creator. We are God’s creation. God is the potter. We are the clay. We deceive ourselves completely if we try to be the potter. Practicing humility teaches us to accept the role of the clay and to let go of attempts to be the potter. We are a lump of clay that can become a magnificent pot if we have the humility to let God take charge of our lives!
Humility is the opposite of grandiosity. But it is important to emphasize that humility has nothing to do with humiliation. It has nothing to do with thinking that we are bad or unworthy. There is no shame in humility. The humility we seek in Step Seven is based on an honest and accurate assessment of who we are. With humility we are able to stop trying to “look good.” We can stop trying to manage how other people perceive us. With humility we are able to think and feel about ourselves more accurately–with less grandiosity and less shame. Humility contributes significantly to our serenity, because it frees us from so much of what causes us to feel anxious and burdened. Jesus summarizes it well when he says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
The idea of asking for something may feel awkward to us. There are many reasons for this. As children, our requests may have fallen on “deaf” ears–so we learned not to ask. We may see no reason to ask God because he already knows what we want or need. After doing our fourth Step inventory, some of us feel a sense of shame at the thought of asking anything of God. But asking is a necessary part of the process of change. Jesus talks about the benefits of asking for help:
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)
To Remove Our Shortcomings
The Twelve Steps use a variety of words to describe the problems we face. Some of these words are unmanageability, insanity, wrongs, defects of character, and shortcomings. Each description emphasizes a slightly different aspect of the problems we have created for ourselves. The word “shortcomings” in Step Seven is similar to one of the words translated as “sin” in the Bible. It means “to miss the mark,” as an archer might miss a target. We have definitely missed the target, as our work in Step Four made very clear. Now in Step Seven we ask God to change us so that we can be “on target”.
What we ask for in Step Seven is the removal of our shortcomings. We don’t ask for help in adapting to them or for help in managing them. We don’t ask for help in continuing to live with them. We want them removed. And that’s what we ask for.
We have spent many years developing the character defects that we are now asking God to remove. As a result, some of our requests for the removal of character defects may be granted promptly, but others may require patience and perseverance. When we become discouraged or frustrated with God’s timing, we may be tempted to take back control of the process. But it may help us to sustain hope if we review the work we have done in earlier Steps. Seeing our progress may help us remember how much better off we are in God’s care, even if change sometimes seems unbearably slow. The removal of our shortcomings is now in God’s hands. A master craftsman of souls is at work. God can be trusted to do a good job, because he cares about his work–and he cares about us:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6, 7)