Monday, March 04, 2013

Repentance: Sinners Anonymous?

Most people have at least heard of "Twelve Step" programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. While alcohol may not be the thing we have trouble with, I have to wonder if the general approach would be helpful to other problems. Someone would have a sponsor or mentor, would disciple someone else and be a disciple, would be accountable to someone else for tackling a problem, would meet regularly to support each other. It seems like it might be useful for any spiritual problem that we struggle with.

What would my 12-step group be? Sarcastics Anonymous? Depressive-Thinking Anonymous? Way-Too-Analytical Anonymous? I'm sure the people who know me best could suggest others. There's no reason everyone would have to share the same struggle; we each have our own.

Churches have Bible study groups, prayer groups, fellowship groups, service groups ... why not 12-step groups? Here are the 12 steps, according to Wikipedia, with some very slight changes to make it broader than just alcohol: 
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol sin - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The references to God "as we understood Him" is Christian, if that is how we understand Him.

I didn't have to cross out "alcohol" and "alcoholics" very often; the steps could apply generally to any spiritual struggle. When we try to tackle a spiritual problem, we could really benefit from taking steps #8 and #9 seriously. In order to make a change, we need to open our eyes when our actions harm people and actually set about fixing things. This is is not merely trying to earn favor or get some credit back. It makes us more aware of the effects on those around us, giving us additional incentive to resist. It is also actively unlearning the bad habits, developing a better way, restoring the love, and reconciling the relationships.