by Dale and Juanita Ryan
As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.” We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire as easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves.
–Anonymous, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Those of us who have come to make regular use of prayer would no more do without it than we would refuse air, food or sunshine. And for the same reason. When we refuse air, light, or food, the body suffers. And when we turn away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive our minds, our emotions, and our intuitions of vitally needed support. As the body can fail its purpose for lack of nourishment, so can the soul.
–Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Steps Ten and Eleven are often referred to as the “maintenance” Steps, because they help us to sustain the progress we have made in Steps One through Nine. In Step Ten we learned the value of continuing to practice honest self-examination through regular inventory and confession. In Step Eleven we seek to improve our conscious contact with God and we pray for his will to be done in our lives:
Sought through prayer and meditation
to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him,
praying only for knowledge of His will for us
and the power to carry that out.
As we review the work we have done so far, we can see signs that our spiritual lives have already undergone significant changes. Many of us had a very troubled relationship with God when we started using the Twelve Steps. We may not have trusted God or wanted anything to do with God. Our spiritual transformation began in Steps Two and Three, when we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity and then made a decision to turn our lives over to God’s care. In Steps Four through Seven we learned that God is there to help us with our shortcomings–not to abandon or reject us because of them. Throughout our journey of working the Steps we have turned to God for help and strength. Now, in Step Eleven, we focus directly on God, as we seek to increase our conscious contact with him and pray for the knowledge of his will for our lives.
Step Eleven: A Closer Look
Sought Through Prayer
There are many types of prayer. Prayer can be intimate conversation with our Creator–a conversation that begins with God’s invitation to us. God says to us: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). Prayer can be a means of sharing our lives with God in a way that makes us aware of God’s loving presence with us. In Step Eleven we use a specific kind of prayer. We ask for three very specific things. We pray for improvement in our conscious contact with God, for knowledge of God’s will, and for the power to carry out God’s will. We do not seek though prayer to control the details of our lives–or the lives of others. We do not seek through prayer to have things our way.
Meditation is a spiritual discipline that dates back to biblical times. Meditation makes possible a kind of intentional and deeply personal connection with God. The experience of meditation will not always be the same. For example, during a difficult period in his life, the psalmist prayed: “I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused [meditated], and my spirit grew faint” (Psalm 77:3). But meditation can also be a joyful experience. The psalmist also wrote: “May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD” (Psalm 104:34).
The kind of meditation we find in Step Eleven focuses on waiting and listening for God in order to learn God’s will for us. The prophet Isaiah talked about this “waiting” kind of meditation when he prayed, “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isaiah 26:8). This kind of meditation is a way to listen to what God has to say. The psalmist suggests that we “be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7). In meditation we wait patiently and we listen. We quiet our hearts and minds so that we can listen.
To Improve Our Conscious Contact with God
Improving our conscious contact with God means that we seek to deepen our experience of God and to recognize God’s presence in our lives on a more regular basis. As we look back over the work we have done in spiritual kindergarten, we can see signs that our conscious contact with God is already improving. When we started our journey in spiritual kindergarten, most of us reached out to God out of desperation. Now we turn to God not so much out of desperation but out of a desire to know him better. God has already helped us, and it is normal to want to know more about this Higher Power that has been so helpful. As we discover how much God loves us, we will draw near to him because of the serenity we experience in his presence.
When we develop a routine of seeking God’s will for us, our ability to experience God’s presence in our lives will increase. We know that God is always with us, but we are often blinded to his presence. The more time we are able to spend in conscious contact with God, the more we will be able to “see” God–to experience God’s presence in the ordinary events of our daily lives. As we work on Step Eleven we will find ourselves saying with the psalmist, “The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind” (Psalm 146:7, 8).
As We Understood Him
This phrase is the same as we found in Step Three. In Step Three we noted that this phrase was not intended to imply that our understanding about God was very complete. It was intended only to suggest that we were to proceed on the basis of what we had learned in Step Two. We can now look back and see more clearly the truth of this. Our understanding of God then was quite different from what it is today. We have now seen God’s power to help us. We are growing spiritually. Our relationship with God is changing. Our understanding–our experience–of God is not stagnant. This is very good news! The phrase “as we understood Him” in Step Eleven is another reminder that the Twelve Steps are a spiritual kindergarten. We are seeking to improve our conscious contact with God because we know that our understanding of God is incomplete. Here in spiritual kindergarten we need to be reminded again and again that our focus is to build our personal conscious contact with God. Our goal is not just to learn more about God; our goal is to be in conscious contact with God.
Praying Only for Knowledge of His Will for Us
Step Eleven is quite specific about the kind of prayer that is appropriate for us. We are to pray only for knowledge of God’s will and for the power to carry it out. This is quite different from the way many of us are accustomed to praying. We may have prayed: “Oh, God, don’t let me get caught!” or “God, please fix my spouse so that I can be happy.” Some of us even prayed to be freed from our problems so that we could continue to act in the same way without any consequences! In these and many other ways we have used prayer as a tool to manipulate God. We wanted God to answer our prayers according to our wills and to increase our power so that we could carry out our wills. This kind of prayer is part of the problem.
In Step Eleven we learn a completely different approach to prayer. We pray to know God’s will, not for God to know our wills. The first ten Steps have taught us that we are not wise enough or powerful enough to come up with an appropriate agenda for God to carry out. In Step Eleven we learn to pray for knowledge of God’s will and the power to carry it out. This helps us remember that God is in charge, and it is our responsibility to align ourselves with God’s will. God’s agenda is what we need to seek and to follow. The Apostle Paul put it like this: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
And the Power to Carry That Out
In Step Eleven we pray for power to do God’s will. We are not asking for a recharge of our batteries, so that we can keep on trying harder to do things according to our agenda. No recharging of our batteries will give us the power we need. We learned in Step One that we are powerless to do what needs to be done. In Step Two we learned that God is more powerful than we are. The power to do God’s will must come from God.
God has a long history of demonstrating his power through the weakness of his people. Most of us would certainly prefer that God use our strengths, our giftedness, our abilities–or that he make us stronger, more gifted, more able. But it is our weakness that God uses to demonstrate his power. God tells us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We pray for power to carry out God’s will. But God chooses to empower us in surprising ways. In the vulnerability of confession we see God’s power at work, transforming our hearts. In the humility of making amends we see God’s power at work, transforming our lives. The slogan “Let go and let God” captures what is important here. Letting go does not usually leave us feeling powerful; it usually leaves us feeling vulnerable. But it is only in the vulnerability of letting go that we are able to let God’s powerful and loving will be at the center of our lives.