recovery and the Lord’s prayer

There seems to be a great deal of harmony and interplay between the Lord’s prayer and 12-step recovery.

To state the obvious, both are spiritual in nature.  They are both concerned with a Higher (indeed, the Highest) Power, which enables and guides the journey.  The adoration which is so clear in the Lord’s prayer (e.g. “hallowed be Thy name”) is perhaps implied in the description of the power as “higher” and the notion of the “care of God”.

But this spirituality is not passive, it is active.  This Power seems to desire (or indeed require) our participation, rather than relate to us as a puppet-master.  So there are specific actions.  In recovery, we do things.  We make and share inventories, identify and surrender character defects, make amends to those we have harmed, admit when we are wrong, pray, meditate and share the message with others.  The Lord’s prayer also suggests activity:  honouring the Lord’s name, doing the Lord’s will “on earth as it is [done] in heaven”, forgiving those who trespass against us.

That work of reconciliation and forgiveness is one of the most striking parallels.  Our Step 4 inventories and our Step 9 amends making lead us to focus on our wrongs instead of the wrongs of others as we experience them.  We cannot wait for others to come to us seeking forgiveness; rather, we take the initiative in focusing on our part, and seeking reconciliation.  Likewise, the Lord’s prayer paints a picture of discipleship in which forgiving “those who trespassed against us” is the norm.

In all of this, the Lord’s prayer, like the Serenity Prayer of the recovery movement, has a two-fold nature: On the one hand, it invites us to worship-fully trust God with those things that we ought not try to control or change, such as the kingdom, power and glory.  On the other hand, it directs us to work for the change we were created to bring about, such as living lives of worship, obedience, gratitude, forgiveness, avoidance of sin and an overall surrender to the overarching sovereignty of God’s kingdom.

humble progress

Addicts are extremists.

We think we are the greatest or the worst.  Sometimes those thoughts follow one another in rapid succession.  This tendency plays out in many areas, not least the area of growth and progress.

On the one hand, there is a tendency to have expectations that are too high, that set ourselves up to fail.  We angrily punish ourselves for falling again.  “How foolish! You should know better by now!”

On the other hand, there is a tendency to have expectations that are too low, that are a self-fulfilling prophecy of not making progress.  We have failed before we even tried.  “Why even try?  You’re just doing to screw it up again.”

The former extreme is arrogant perfectionism, and the latter is lazy self-hatred.  Humility is able to have a more realistic, and at the same time hopeful, view.  We are indeed able to make progress, even if we remain imperfect.  “I can’t heal myself instantly, but with God’s help I can make real progress.”


Step 7 is a step where (as with the other steps) action is taken, but the emphasis is on how the action is taken.  We don’t roll up our sleeves and begin ridding ourselves of our defects of character.  We don’t make a demanding request of God to take them away.  We humbly ask.

Humility is often thought of in simple distinction from arrogance.  This binary distinction would imply that arrogant people think very highly of themselves and humble people think very lowly of themselves.

A synthesis of passages from Scripture (rather than only single passages treated as knock-down proof-texts!) would seem to suggest that a Christian understanding of humility is to think of one’s self wisely.  Neither too highly or too lowly.

In my own experience, and the experience I hear from others, thinking too highly of ourselves is very common, and possibly why it seems to get the most corrective in Scripture.  But I suspect that very often, if not almost always, the act of thinking highly of ourselves, or making ourselves out to be something great, is an act of compensation.  It is to counter beliefs or feelings that we are worth nothing or very little.  We feel low, so we perform, exaggerate, brag or draw attention to ourselves to compensate.

If this is true, then at least some of the time, the answer to narcissism is proper self-confidence.

fear & surrender

Many addicts in recovery will be familiar with the ‘H.O.W’ acronym, which stands for Honesty, Open-Mindedness and Willingness.  (The relevant quote is near the end of the ‘Spiritual Experience appendix in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions)  It is described as the spirituality of the programme of recovery.  In agreement, I would like to add a suggestion that this spirituality involves surrendering of fear at each point.

Honesty.  The opposite of honesty is dishonesty or lying.  Ultimately this is driven by fear.  In this case, the fear of being known as we really are, and not as we present ourselves to be.  It’s a terrifying thought.  Yet the very thing we crave.  In recovery, we surrender this fear and dare to be honest and be known as we really are, warts, scars, sins and all.

Open-mindedness.  The opposite here is closed-mindedness or arrogance.  Ultimately this is driven also by fear.  In this case, the fear of being wrong or ignorant.  We want to be in the know.  We want control.  We think we know best.  Even if we know we aren’t as smart as we make out, we still put on the con.  In recovery, we surrender this fear and dare to put our own ideas aside to listen – really listen – to others, and being open to the possibility that they are right.

Willingness.  This opposite here is willfulness or laziness.  Ultimately this is driven by fear as well.  In this case, the fear of not being perfect or doing it wrong.  We either want to change the game so we can play the part we feel more confident to play (willfulness), or we want to stand on the sidelines and watch (laziness).  We would rather criticize, or complain than do anything about it.  In recovery, we surrender this fear and learn to focus on the simple tasks that we can do.  We learn to accept “progress rather than perfection” and try to remember that recovery is a “programme of action”.