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.”

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humility

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.

under-standing God

The founders of AA were wise in avoiding any language that would turn recovery into an exclusive theological debaters club.  God is defined as “God, as we understood Him.”  There are obvious positives for this move.  Let’s just focus on the essential spiritual principles of recovery!  What about any negatives?

People have a tendency to feed their resentment against religion (often Christianity), and reject its vision of God for their own personal, privately conceived deity.  One imagines thousands and thousands of such ‘gods’ whose existence depends entirely upon the creative thinking of the addicts that conceive of them.  But the language of the AA steps and the Big Book seem, actually to speak of God as a singular, universal – and yes male? – being.  “God, as we understood Him.”  The literature speaks of God as the “One” with all power and authority.  It seems that God is being spoken of not as a privately conceived lower-case ‘g’ deity, but as the highest possible, ultimate Creator.

‘Understanding’ a God is not to stand ‘over’ it, in a position of power and dominance (not to mention resentment); fashioning for ourselves a ‘god’ we ‘understand’ to be better than the one I despise.  To understand is more to stand ‘under’, in a position of humility and growth, never claiming to have God-like knowledge of God, but eating whatever crumbs we have been given.  AA was wise to coach addicts to ‘be quick to see where religious people are right’ (p. 87 of Big Book).

What’s the point here?  Simply this.  Understanding God is about humility and openness; standing ‘under’ the One who can never be fully ‘understood’, rather than standing ‘over’ a god you create with the fashionable power of your own brain.