by Dale and Juanita Ryan
In the Steps which precede the Tenth, we have been dealing with the past–cleaning house, so to speak. We have searched the corners of memory for grievances to be adjusted by means of our new view of our role in life. Now, with Step Ten, this procedure becomes a daily ritual, a housecleaning that takes place in a nightly review of the day’s happenings.
-Anonymous, One Day At A Time in Al-Anon
Working the steps is a daily struggle; the Christian walk is a daily struggle. These two manners of living are the same, a common path that must be walked one day at a time. The essential nature of the daily struggle is implied in Step Ten as we continue to implement the spiritual principles developed thus far. Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). To take time away from the true path of recovery is to invite relapse and regression into active addiction.
–Martin M. Davis, The Gospel and the Twelve Steps
The Twelve Steps are not a “cure” for anything. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes a more modest claim for the Twelve Steps: “We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” What is true for alcoholics is true for all of us: without continued efforts to maintain our spiritual condition we will return to our old way of life. Step Ten begins this maintenance part of the process:
Continued to take personal inventory and,
when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
We use Step Ten to preserve our progress by reviewing our actions on a daily basis. We need to be patient with this process–and patient with ourselves. In Step Ten we develop a daily discipline of reflecting on the events of our day and making note of things that need corrective action. When we identify behaviors that were inappropriate, we take corrective action as soon as possible. Step Ten, in essence, is an abbreviated version of Steps Four through Nine, done daily. When done regularly, the continual inventory in Step Ten can help us develop a day-at-a-time lifestyle and provide us with a daily reprieve from our old ways of life.
Step Ten: A Closer Look
Step Ten encourages us to practice the spiritual disciplines of the Twelve Steps on a daily basis. Most of us would prefer to be healed permanently with no need to “continue” on a daily basis. All of us experience our healing as taking longer than we would prefer. But the behaviors we want to change have been with us for a long time, and change does not usually come quickly. It may be painful and sometimes embarrassing to admit that the same old issues keep resurfacing over and over again. But continuing to take our personal inventory keeps us honest–and humble. Patience may not be our favorite virtue, but it is essential for the healing process:
A patient man has great understanding,
but a quick-tempered man displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
An alternative to patience is pretense. But if we pretend that we don’t need to continue the work we have started, we are deceiving ourselves:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:8-10)
To Take Personal Inventory
The purpose of a daily inventory is to help us develop a disciplined program that includes the examination of conscience, confession, and making amends. These disciplines become part of the basic structure of our lives. By now we have used the spiritual disciplines of the Twelve Steps long enough to recognize that we easily retreat into old patterns of behavior. We forget easily. It’s like looking into a mirror and then turning away. It takes only a few minutes to forget what we saw.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23, 24)
Step Ten offers a daily look into our spiritual mirror. When we find things that need to be changed, we make note of them and take action promptly. Taking a regular inventory of our activities helps us to see how we are behaving. If we are obsessing about things again, comparing ourselves to others, trying to control things, or engaging in other types of old behavior, our daily inventory warns us that we are reverting to old patterns.
The advantage of continuing to take an inventory on a daily basis is that we will be able to see our mistakes before we have a major relapse. In A.A. you sometimes hear the slogan that makes that point: “Relapse starts long before the drink is drunk.” A regular inventory can also help us to identify areas where we are developing new strengths as God responds to our Step Seven prayer to remove our shortcomings. Our regular inventory should include a record of these signs that God is changing us.
And When We Were Wrong, Promptly Admitted It
There will be times when we will be wrong. We are fallible human beings, and we can expect to make mistakes. We need to realize that we will experience failure and lapse into old behavior patterns. Step Ten suggests that, when we recognize our wrongs, we promptly admit them. It is this simple spiritual humility that will save us from falling into the downward spiral of relapse.
Promptness in admitting our wrongs is important. One of the things we identified in Steps Eight and Nine is that postponed amends become much more complicated and difficult to make. We know from experience that holding on to anger and resentment is counterproductive and can be harmful to our physical and mental well-being. The quicker we resolve issues, the quicker we will find relief. Jesus tells us, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way [to court]” (Matthew 5:25).