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Step Six

"Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

"This is the Step that separates the men from the boys." So declares a
well-loved clergyman who happens to be one of A.A.'s greatest friends. He goes
on to explain that any person capable of enough willingness and honesty to try
repeatedly Step Six on all his faults--without any reservations
whatever--has indeed come a long way spiritually, and is therefore entitled
to be called a man who is sincerely trying to grow in the image and likeness of
his own Creator.
Of course, the often disputed question of whether God can--and will, under
certain conditions--remove defects of character will be answered with a prompt
affirmative by almost any A.A. member. To him, this proposition will be no
theory at all; it will be just about the largest fact in his life. He will
usually offer his proof in a statement like this:
"Sure, I was beaten, absolutely licked. My own willpower just wouldn't work on
alcohol. Change of scene, the best efforts of family, friends, doctors, and
clergymen got no place with my alcoholism. I simply couldn't stop drinking, and
no human being could seem to do the job for me. But when I became willing to
clean house and then asked a Higher Power, God as I understood Him, to give me
release, my obsession to drink vanished. It was lifted right out of me."
In A.A. meetings all over the world, statements just like this are heard
daily. It is plain for everybody to see that each sober A.A. member has been
granted a release from this very obstinate and potentially fatal obsession. So
in a very complete and literal way, all A.A.'s have "become entirely ready" to
have God remove the mania for alcohol from their lives. And God has proceeded
to do exactly that. Having been granted a perfect release from alcoholism, why
then shouldn't we be able to achieve by the same means a perfect release from
every other difficulty or defect? This is a riddle of our existence, the full
answer to which may be only in the mind of God. Nevertheless, at least a part
of the answer to it is apparent to us.
When men and women pour so much alcohol into themselves that they destroy
their lives, they commit a most unnatural act. Defying their instinctive desire
for self-preservation, they seem bent upon self-destruction. They work against
their own deepest instinct. As they are humbled by the terrific beating
administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their
obsession. Here their powerful instinct to live can cooperate fully with their
Creator's desire to give them new life. For nature and God alike abhor
suicide.
But most of our other difficulties don't fall under such a category at all.
Every normal person wants, for example, to eat, to reproduce, to be somebody in
the society of his fellows. And he wishes to be reasonably safe and secure as
he tries to attain these things. Indeed, God made him that way. He did not
design man to destroy himself by alcohol, but He did give man instincts to help
him to stay alive.
It is nowhere evident, at least in this life, that our Creator expects us
fully to eliminate our instinctual drives. So far as we know, it is nowhere on
the record that God has completely removed from any human being all his natural
drives.
Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn't
strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they
drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more
satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at
which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on
earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our
sins.
If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions. But in no case does He
render us white as snow and keep us that way without our cooperation. That is
something we are supposed to be willing to work toward ourselves. He asks only
that we try as best we know how to make progress in the building of
character.
So Step Six--"Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of
character"--is A.A.'s way of stating the best possible attitude one can take in
order to make a beginning on this lifetime job. This does not mean that we
expect all our character defects to be lifted out of us as the drive to drink
was. A few of them may be, but with most of them we shall have to be content
with patient improvement. The key words "entirely ready" underline the fact
that we want to aim at the very best we know or can learn.
How many of us have this degree of readiness? In an absolute sense practically
nobody has it. The best we can do, with all the honesty that we can summon, is
to try to have it. Even then the best of us will discover to our dismay
that there is always a sticking point, a point at which we say, "No, I can't
give this up yet." And we shall often tread on even more dangerous ground when
we cry, "This I will never give up!" Such is the power of our instincts
to overreach themselves. No matter how far we have progressed, desires will
always be found which oppose the grace of God.
Some who feel they have done well may dispute this, so let's try to think it
through a little further. Practically everybody wishes to be rid of his most
glaring and destructive handicaps. No one wants to be so proud that he is
scorned as a braggart, nor so greedy that he is labeled a thief. No one wants
to be angry enough to murder, lustful enough to rape, gluttonous enough to ruin
his health. No one wants to be agonized by the chronic pain of envy or to be
paralyzed by sloth. Of course, most human beings don't suffer these defects at
these rock-bottom levels.
We who have escaped these extremes are apt to congratulate ourselves. Yet can
we? After all, hasn't it been self-interest, pure and simple, that has enabled
most of us to escape? Not much spiritual effort is involved in avoiding
excesses which will bring us punishment anyway. But when we face up to the less
violent aspects of these very same defects, then where do we stand?
What we must recognize now is that we exult in some of our defects. We really
love them. Who, for example, doesn't like to feel just a little superior to the
next fellow, or even quite a lot superior? Isn't it true that we like to let
greed masquerade as ambition? To think of liking lust seems impossible.
But how many men and women speak love with their lips, and believe what they
say, so that they can hide lust in a dark corner of their minds? And even while
staying within conventional bounds, many people have to admit that their
imaginary sex excursions are apt to be all dressed up as dreams of romance.
Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way we can
actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it
brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a
polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us,
too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to
proclaim our own righteousness.
When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we
call it "taking our comfort." We live in a world riddled with envy. To a
greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it. From this defect we must
surely get a warped yet definite satisfaction. Else why would we consume such
great amounts of time wishing for what we have not, rather than working for it,
or angrily looking for attributes we shall never have, instead of adjusting to
the fact, and accepting it? And how often we work hard with no better motive
than to be secure and slothful later on-- only we call that "retiring."
Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five
syllables. Nearly anyone could submit a good list of such defects as these, and
few of us would seriously think of giving them up, at least until they cause us
excessive misery.
Some people, of course, may conclude that they are indeed ready to have all
such defects taken from them. But even these people, if they construct a list
of still milder defects, will be obliged to admit that they prefer to hang on
to some of them. Therefore, it seems plain that few of us can quickly or easily
become ready to aim at spiritual and moral perfection; we want to settle for
only as much perfection as will get us by in life, according, of course, to our
various and sundry ideas of what will get us by. So the difference between "the
boys and the men" is the difference between striving for a self-determined
objective and for the perfect objective which is of God.
Many will at once ask, "How can we accept the entire implication of Step Six?
Why--that is perfection!" This sounds like a hard question, but
practically speaking, it isn't. Only Step One, where we made the 100 percent
admission we were powerless over alcohol, can be practiced with absolute
perfection. The remaining eleven Steps state perfect ideals. They are goals
toward which we look, and the measuring sticks by which we estimate our
progress. Seen in this light, Step Six is still difficult, but not at all
impossible. The only urgent thing is that we make a beginning, and keep
trying.
If we would gain any real advantage in the use of this Step on problems other
than alcohol, we shall need to make a brand new venture into open-mindedness.
We shall need to raise our eyes toward perfection, and be ready to walk in that
direction. It will seldom matter how haltingly we walk. The only question will
be "Are we ready?"
Looking again at those defects we are still unwilling to give up, we ought to
erase the hard-and-fast lines that we have drawn. Perhaps we shall be obliged
in some cases still to say, "This I cannot give up yet...," but we should not
say to ourselves, "This I will never give up!"
Let's dispose of what appears to be a hazardous open end we have left. It is
suggested that we ought to become entirely willing to aim toward perfection. We
note that some delay, however, might be pardoned. That word, in the mind of a
rationalizing alcoholic, could certainly be given a long term meaning. He could
say, "How very easy! Sure, I'll head toward perfection, but I'm certainly not
going to hurry any. Maybe I can postpone dealing with some of my problems
indefinitely." Of course, this won't do. Such a bluffing of oneself will have
to go the way of many another pleasant rationalization. At the very least, we
shall have to come to grips with some of our worst character defects and take
action toward their removal as quickly as we can.
The moment we say, "No, never!" our minds close against the grace of God.
Delay is dangerous, and rebellion may be fatal. This is the exact point at
which we abandon limited objectives, and move toward God's will for us.

 

 

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