A New Life House father explains what the third step means to his personal program, breaking down the prayer and explaining the importance of letting go.
At first glance, the phrase “take away my difficulties”, taken from the “third step prayer” found on page 63 of the Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous, seems to ask God to take away the loans, the stress at work, the annoying habits of teenagers and spouses and the strain in the budget until payday. It’s easy to read the first part of the Third Step Prayer that way. If only God would take all that stuff away I’d have no problem dedicating more of my time to meetings, service, working with newcomers and prayer and meditation.
But God won’t take away what we struggle to hang on to. So if you want your job and your family and your home, God is going to let you do the footwork to keep those things. Of course if you don’t want those things anymore and you keep doing the footwork to lose them, like lying, getting loaded and disrespecting them, then God will gladly remove those things so that you may come to him as quickly as possible.
The real difficulties in the third step prayer are “MY difficulties”– the way I make it difficult to commune with my Higher Power and do His will. My difficulties are my shortcomings or character defects. They are the things I use to block God from working in my life. When I try to control and strategize and plan and scheme so that things will work out a certain way, they rarely do, or stay that way for long. My difficulties are exactly the things that make me so discontent with the state of my life and the people around me. Of course my first and worst difficulty was my obsession to drink and use. Once God has removed the obsession, I am dry in a sea of shortcomings and I need a life raft to get me out of it.
The third step prayer helps me prepare to walk a spiritual path and trust God with my life and my desires and dreams. God’s will for me is peace of mind and happiness. My own true will is for the same things but my disease has a will of its own. The disease wants to take away everything I love and leave me with all my difficulties. The disease is exactly the opposite of God’s will and my own true will. The disease of self centeredness causes unhappiness by removing my trust in God and my fellows. It paralyzes me with fear and fills me with self righteous anger. Faced with enough of these difficulties I will drink and use again. The burden becomes too much to bear and since I am blocked from God and unable to give him my burden I throw everything away. My back is not strong enough to carry my ego and my integrity. I have to drop one or the other.
The third step is about willingness. It is about trust and faith. It has to be based on a belief in a Higher Power and the willingness to put my trust in that power to help me carry the burden. There is no sense in trying to sort these character defects out and try to remove them myself. When I am in a state of anger and distrust I can’t make sense of the real problem(me) or my actions and reactions. By placing my will and my life in the care of a Higher Power I can take a breath, step back and do an inventory of those difficulties. That is why I need the freedom; not so I can dump all of my ills in God’s hands and create more chaos but so I can look at them through His eyes and see them for what they really are.
The third step is the point in my journey where I unpack my bags and settle in to do the work. If I truly believe that my Higher Power can restore me to sanity (Step 2) then I can make a leap of faith (no evidence yet) and then, as my difficulties are removed in the following steps, I will develop a trust in God. Once my faith turns into trust I will be entirely ready to let Him do His work and I will have the humility to properly ask (pray) for these shortcomings to be replaced by love, compassion, tolerance and joy. Then my Higher Power’s will for me becomes my own true will.