Step Six We were entirely ready to have God (Higher Power) remove all these defects of character.
In John 5, we read the fascinating story about a man who has been paralysed for 38 years. We find him lying next to the pool of Bethesda which was believed to have healing powers. But the proviso is you needed to be the first in when the waters stirred. We read that he had no-one to help him in and so someone else would always get in ahead of him… that story sounds hauntingly similar to trying to phone in to get an appointment at the local doctors surgery. Who can get in there first.
Jesus, seeing the man then asks him an interesting question: Do you want to be made well?
Why does Jesus ask that question? Surely after 38 years of being afflicted by his ailment the man wants to be made well? Surely everyone wants to be made well?
But in the story Jesus seems to have deeper insight into what actually makes human beings tick. If truth be told… not everyone necessarily wishes to be made well.
Growing up in South Africa it was a common thing to see people begging on the streets. Unemployment is high because there are not enough jobs to go around. It is extremely rare to see a sign outside a business indicating a vacancy. It was one of the things that shocked Wends and I when we first arrived in the UK. Jobs were and are freely available. They may not always pay well, but there are there for the taking. Not so in South Africa. If you have even a very low paying job you are one of the lucky ones. And there is little to no social support for the unemployed and for those who have disabilities that prevent them from working. Today you would receive a maximum of around £100 per month in South Africa as a disability grant. During the Apartheid years things would have been even worse if you were a person of colour.
Growing up in South Africa in a town called Pinetown (about the size of Lisburn), I remember a man who would sit in the main street begging. He had what is commonly called elaphantitus… His one leg was swollen large, a bit like an elephants, and it had rough nodules or warts and often looked raw and to constantly oozed with fluid and blood. It was a very unpleasant sight to see. And also not a very pleasant thing to smell when walking past. I struggle to imagine what it was like for the man himself.
Interestingly, at some point we had heard that someone in the community had offered to pay so that he could get his leg medically treated. During apartheid in South Africa, the healthcare system was deeply segregated and discriminatory, with people of colour facing significant challenges in accessing medical care.
Unexpectedly we heard that, he had declined the offer to receive medical treatment. One can only speculate what his reasons might have been? Probably first among them was that prospects of financial security with a healthy leg were in fact less favourable for him and by implication his family than if his condition was left untreated. Would he even be able to get a job in a country where job’s especially for the lowest paid are scarce. And if he got a job, would he ever earn as much money for his family if he was made well?
It is a distressing story but it does illustrates the fact that Jesus question to the man in John 5 was in fact quite insightful. As human beings, we don’t always want to get well, whether that be physically or emotionally because sometimes there is a pay off of one kind or another for remaining unwell.
And that takes us to the 6th Step on the 12 Step Program. Over the course of October and November we were exploring the 12 Step program, and we got up to Step 5. A quick recap of the first 5 Steps might be helpful:
In Step 1 we were invited to identify that one issue or struggle in our lives that we feel powerless over and that makes our lives feel unmanageable.
In Step 2 we were invited to consider the possibility of a Higher Power that can restore us to wholeness, balance and sanity. Some might call that Higher Power God, others might call it their Higher Self, some who are not conventionally religious might speak of the Universe as their Higher Power.
In Step 3 we were invited to hand over the care of our wills and our lives to that Higher Power, or God, as we understand God.
In Step 4 we were invited to take a moral inventory of ourselves, listing as honestly as possible our virtues as well as our weaknesses.
In Step 5 we were invited to admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
And today in Step 6 we are invited to ask of ourselves if we entirely ready to have our character defects removed?
In essence, the 6th Step is asking of us the same question that Jesus asked the paralysed man. Do we want to be made well?
It sounds quite passive… asking God to remove our character defects from, but that wording is important in the 12 step program because in Step 1 we admitted that we were powerless over some part of our life. In other words, we had tried to change some aspect of our lives and found ourselves repeatedly failing.
Sometimes we have dysfunctions that go deeper than our ability to change them ourselves… Sometimes we need help. Perhaps we need help often than we would like to admit.
But the bottom line of Step 6 is the question Jesus asks the paralytic, “Do you want to be made well?” Do we really want to change? Are we entirely ready to have our dysfunctional thinking and behaviour changed?
In other words, the bottom line is simple change begins with a willingness and a desire to do so. How willing are we? How much do we desire it? Am I entirely ready to have my character defects removed, or have I grown quite attached to them?
Trevor Hudson makes the point that being entirely ready to have one’s character flaws removed does not mean that we are suddenly going to become perfect people. Far from it. He reminds us that even Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, battled with his weaknesses until the day he died. He says that it goes without saying that to be human is to be imperfect. We grow and mature throughout our lives. But what it means to be entirely ready to have our character defects removed means is that we are fully prepared to give up any destructive pattern of thought or behaviour that is stopping our spiritual progress, and thus it is a statement of our openness and willingness to change.
Trevor Hudson gives an illustration. He asks the question, ‘What is the first thing that we need to do if we want to buy and new car? Some might suggest going to a local car dealership or looking online for car sales websites. But he suggests that even before we start looking at dealerships and car sales websites, right at the outset we need to be entirely ready to give up driving the old car. Only then will we be able to start out on the journey towards acquiring a new one.
He says it is exactly the same when it comes to wanting to change ourselves. We can only change when we are entirely ready to do so.
Dr. Phil however suggests that often we hang onto our dysfunctional behaviour and thinking because we get some kind of a reward for it. Perhaps we are attached to our dysfunctions because they give us an excuse to not grow because growing can feel like an overwhelming task. Perhaps we are attached to our dysfunctions because through them we hope to receive sympathy from others. Or perhaps we hang on to them because they might be familiar and provide a sense of comfort and security. Change can be uncomfortable and uncertain and so we resist it because we are not sure what it is going to ask of us? We have a fear of the unknown.
Others may hang onto their dysfunctional behaviour and thinking because of denial and a lack of awareness of just how destructive our dysfunctions are. For others there may be short-term benefits in dysfunctional thinking and behaviour such as a temporary escape from stress or discomfort which may lead us to prioritise immediate relief over long-term well being.
For others there may be social reinforcement. We fear criticism or rejection if we were to change and sometimes friends and family members are invested in us remaining the way we are. They do not wish us to change, because it might mean change for them too. Sometimes we resist changing our dysfunctional behaviour because we just haven’t yet learned healthier alternatives and we don’t even know what those might look like.
There are a lot of reasons why we are not always entirely ready to give up our character defects or dysfunctional thinking and behaviour. And so, how can we get to this point? What if we are still very attached to our dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaviour?
Trevor Hudson suggests that a few things might help:
I. We can begin by imagining what life might look like if we did change? How might my life be positively different if my dysfunctional patterns were removed? A positive picture of the future can inspire us to change in the present.
II. We can think about the pain that our character defects cause to ourselves and others. What impact do my dysfunctional patterns and character defects have on others, especially those we love and cherish. How might their lives be different if I was different?
III. We can consider what the future might look like if we do not let go of our character defects. How bad might things get? Who or what might I lose If I stubbornly refuse to give up my dysfunctional behaviour and thinking?
IV. Lastly, if we are still not entirely ready to change, Trevor suggests we can ask God, or our Higher Power, or even our Higher Self to create that desire within us.
What is interesting about Step 6 is that it is not yet a Step in which we actually engage in trying to make changes. It is not even a Step in which we ask God or our Higher Power or Higher Self to actually change us… that will be left for Step 7.
Step 6 is the prior step where we are invited to consider if we really want change to happen at all? In the words of Jesus “Do I want to be made well?” We are not talking physically. We are talking about a wellness of spirit. “Do I want to be made well in my spirit and in my relationships?