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Trevor Hudson writes that some time before he wrote the book One Day at a Time, he sat with a middle aged man who had come to him to speak about a problem that was slowly destroying his life. It had already cost him his marriage and left him estranged from his children and left him filled with a deep sense of shame and guilt. He had repeatedly failed to overcome this struggle leaving him in the darkness of extreme despair. As he finished telling his story, the man looked straight at Trevor and asked: “Do you really believe that anything or anyone can help me to change?”
Trevor Hudson says that this question often comes to the surface when we begin to face up to those weaknesses and self-defeating tendencies that are getting the better of us.
Maybe your weaknesses have not yet got you to the brink of despair yet? Maybe for many of us its just a case of hobbling along. But there are many who, having repeatedly tried to get on top of their problem and failed, have been brought to the brink of despair and left wondering: Is there anything or anyone that can help me to change?
Trevor Hudson says that the second step in the 12 Step Program can begin to shine a light into this darkness as it boldly declares that there is a solution – a solution that can empower us to deal creatively with our weaknesses; a solution that can help us to live with a new sense of freedom, joy and sanity.
The second step reads as follows: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Trevor Hudson paraphrases it as follows: There is a Higher Power available to each of one of us that can help us to live more freely and fully.
One of the criticisms of the 12 step program by more evangelical and fundamentalist Christians is that it makes use of the phrase Higher Power. Most people would indeed understand this phrase to mean God. But the beauty and the helpfulness of this phrase is that it offers some flexibility in how different people might understand the concept of God. For some who do the 12 step program, the word might not actually mean God for them. For some their Higher Power might be the recovery group itself. For others it might mean the power of the universe, (which I would suggest is simply another contemporary, non-religious way of referring to God as a wisdom or power greater than ourselves.)
For some people, traditional God language has been sullied and discredited by painful and traumatic experiences of Church. For others, traditional Christian ways of speaking about God may just not resonate with them. And so for such people, referring to a Higher Power rather than to God in a traditional sense enables them to reap the benefits of the 12 Step Program and to draw strength from a Power greater than their small ego driven selves.
The phrase Higher Power can be helpful in a number of ways. As Einstein is often quoted as saying: “You can’t fix a problem with the same thinking that got you into the problem in the first place.” It is going to require a new way of thinking. And so speaking of relying on a Higher Power to help restore one to sanity, implicitly suggests that one is going to be required to draw on Higher Thoughts than the thoughts that have been creating the problem in the first place.
Secondly the phrase Higher Power invites us to consider the possibility that we are not completely isolated individuals left to struggle through life on our own. There are greater resources available to us than we have previously realised. And for those who interpret the phrase from a religious perspective, whether Christian or non-Christian, the phrase reminds us that there are unseen spiritual resources that we can draw on to find strength in life.
Trevor Hudson suggests that in this day an age, when people tend to refer to God in very familiar and superficial ways, using the phrase Higher Power can be a helpful corrective to our tendency to fashion God into some kind of manageable deity that we can control whenever we want to. It is also a helpful corrective to the superficial way in which we imagine God to be just like a magnified version of a human being somewhere above the sky.
Personally I understand God not as a big human being projected onto the sky, but rather as the Wisdom and Intelligence of Life itself. God is not a being amongst many other beings, not even the Supreme Being amongst many other lesser beings, but rather God is Being-Itself and all individual beings are simply partakers of the One, Who is Wisdom, Intelligence and Being itself. And so Trevor Hudson suggests that the term Higher Power helps to preserve the mystery of the Divine inviting us to consider that there are unseen spiritual resources available to us if we can begin to take the step of faith to believe and trust in a Higher Power.
The phrase Higher Power is in fact quite biblical if you ask me. One of the Names of God in the Old Testament is El Elyon – which is often translated as “The Most High”. It is Jesus who suggests that the Most High is also Most Loving. In suggesting this, Jesus was essentially suggesting that this Higher Power is in its essence infinitely Good and there for it is a Power that is for us a not against us.
This is important because many people carry very negative pictures of God with them. They see God as being vengeful, vindictive and punishing. And if this is your picture of God then you will probably want to keep God at a distance. Such a God is certainly not Something or Someone that one could feel any real trust towards.
Like Jesus, The Second Step on the Twelve Step Program also suggests that the Higher Power that many of us call God, is essentially good, and has the ability to restore us to sanity and change us for the better. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Reflecting on that word Sanity, Trevor Hudson writes that usually the word insanity conjures up images of Jack Nicholson playing the part of a mental patient in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. We may have problems and weaknesses we may think to ourselves, but we are certainly not insane.
But the essence of the word Sanity describes a state in which we think and behave in balanced, healthy and life-giving ways.
The word Insanity on the other hand describes when we think and behave in ways that are not balanced and healthy and when we constantly make choices that undermine our own well-being. And so insanity is when we live in continually repeated destructive patterns of thought and behaviour in spite of the problems it may cause us.
And so Trevor Hudson writes that this definition of insanity takes it outside of the world of padded cells and white-coated doctors and puts it right back into the middle of ordinary life. It invites us to call to mind all the self-defeating things that we keep thinking or doing that spoil our lives and our relationships. And so Trevor lists some of the more ordinary insanity that many of us engage in on a daily basis:
• Blaming everyone and everything else for our problems
• Trying desperately to control those around us to get them to do what we want
• Giving our loved ones the silent treatment when we are angry with them
• Constant procrastination, putting off important things that need to be done
• harbouring hate and thoughts of revenge over things that have been done or said to us
• blowing up angrily when things haven’t gone our way
• talking incessantly and seldom taking the time to listen to what others are saying
• gambling obsessively to the detriment of caring for our families
• taking on more and more commitments at work even when we are already over-committed.
• Buying things that we do not really need and which place our lives under increasing financial pressure. (The list could go on...)
Do you recognise inklings of some of the insane behaviour that all of us can engage in? Patterns of thinking and behaving that leave us living in unhealthy and unbalanced ways. Any counterproductive and self-destructive or self-sabotaging behaviour has a degree of insanity to it. The truth is all of us live with varying degrees of insanity because all of us have counterproductive tendencies and none of us lives a completely healthy and balanced life. (It could be said that humanity is living through a collective insanity as we destroy the planet and yet want to continue to live as though nothing is happening).
Getting back to the level of the personal, what are some of your subtle tendencies towards insane living! It is easier to see it in others isn’t it.
The Second Step invites us to entertain the possibility that there is a Power (or a Wisdom) beyond our small ego driven selves that can restore us to sanity, that can help us to live more balanced and less self-destructive lives. There is a Higher Power that wishes to help us live more balanced and harmonious lives and to be less self-defeating. The Big Question is: “Are we willing to believe this?” Are you willing to believe that there is a Higher Power that has your deepest and best interests at heart? Can you believe that there is a Wisdom that is Higher than the level of Wisdom you and I are currently living in?
The Second Step in the 12 Step program tells us that whatever our self-defeating behaviour or thinking is, there is hope for change. And it begins with a step of faith… We came to believe there is a Power greater than ourselves that could help restore us to Sanity. Hope for change…
I Close with two verses from Mark 9:23-24
Jesus replied, “Why do you say ‘if you can’? Anything is possible for someone who believes!”