When I stumbled into a 12-step program in my twenties, in an effort to salvage what was left of my life, I found myself overrun by feelings of panic, remorse, and general anxiety. I sought out help because I was tired of feeling broken and was desperate for change. Thanks to some amazing stroke of luck or grace or both, I found lasting sobriety, and even some peace and freedom.
In those early days, I found that peace through doing “the work.” For me, this meant an honest dive into the 12 steps, but also through to re-engaging with life. I stayed busy washing the dishes, going to meetings, calling my mom, being of service, and taking the bus across town at 6 am to meet my AA sponsor. And for the first time in my life, by taking these seemingly irrelevant actions, I found sanity and some meaning. I found it by putting the basic tasks of recovery first and foremost and letting myself be regularly being inconvenienced by them.
And through taking these actions suggested by my recovery community – the small, daily tasks that added up to a good life – I somehow stumbled into a Higher Power. Without looking, I found God in the good, honest work put in front of me each day.
And ultimately, I found God through facing my discomfort. Walking up to a thousand fires and standing in front of the heat, until I changed. As time went on, whenever I felt restless, or unsettled, I took the route I had always traveled to get back in touch with my higher power: doing “the work.”
I was never able to sit still long enough to learn that God was just as available to me in stillness, in silence, and in rest. Now—to clarify: when we arrive at a 12-step program, we are usually filled to the hilt with so much anger, sadness, fear, and regret that it is difficult to find God in stillness. It is simply impossible for many of us to be still for any length of time without feeling like our demons will just swallow us on the spot. We need to work to clear a path. So action was a vital tool in keeping me busy long enough for the steps to work on me. And they worked by clearing out all that dust and grime that had blocked my higher power from getting in in the first place.
That model is good and true.
However, as time goes on, I’ve discovered that I still behave as if the only way to get to God—and the relief and freedom I find when I am truly connected—is by sweating. Blood, sweat, tears, and toil, as Winston Churchill would have it. Whenever I felt disconnected, I’d get to hustling. I’d hustle for God.
I did not know that if I could sit still for a minute, and get really quiet, soft, and receptive, God would be right there with me. For free.
All I needed to do was make room.
Grace is defined as an unearned gift, like something for nothing. And that is finally how it is between my higher power and me. I don’t need to work for God’s love. It’s available all the time, not only after I’ve gotten perfect and ticked everything off some imaginary list.
God is just as available to me in stillness, in silence and in rest. I practice this by turning my thoughts towards my higher power as much as possible in a given day, just like I would turn my face towards the sunlight. I don’t need to tell God what to do—I can just spare a moment to make myself open to God’s presence.
In the AA big book’s direction on Step 11, it tells us in myriad ways to turn to God. If I’m resentful, turn to God. If I’m unsure, turn to God. When I wake up, turn to God. When I go to sleep, turn to God. Just like I do with my significant other, I check in throughout the day. I invite God into my life. This is less about the hustle for God’s grace and more about the practical realization that it is there for the taking, as long as my palms are open.