“We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Though each of the Twelve Steps is a separate process unto itself, they all blend together to some degree as their parts interact with one another aspects of Step One fusing into Step Two, components of Step Four meshing into the following steps. Perhaps the finest line between two steps is the one between Steps Six and Seven. At first glance, Step Seven may seem almost an afterthought to Step Six. We spent a great deal of time and effort raising our awareness of our character defects in Step Six and getting to the point where we were entirely ready to have them removed; now all we need to do is ask, right?
Not exactly. There’s much more to this step than just filing a request with our Higher Power and waiting for a response. There’s spiritual preparation. There’s the need to develop an understanding about what “humbly” means in this context. There’s the need to find a way of asking that fits into our individual spiritual paths. And there’s the need to practice spiritual principles in the place of character defects.
We’ve already done much of the spiritual preparation we’ll need to begin Step Seven. It’s important that we draw the connection between the work we’ve done and the results that work has produced.
The previous steps have all served to sow the seeds of humility in our spirits. In this step, those seeds take root and grow. Many of us have difficulty with the concept of humility, and while we began addressing this issue in Step Six, it merits attention in Step Seven, too. We need to understand what humility is for us and how its presence is revealed in our lives.
We should not confuse humility with humiliation. When we are humiliated, we are ashamed; we feel worthless. Humility is almost the complete opposite of this feeling. Through working the steps, we’ve been stripping away layers of denial, ego, and self-centeredness. We have also been building a more positive self-image and practicing spiritual principles. Before, we couldn’t see our strengths because the good, healthy part of us was hidden behind our disease. Now we can. That is humility. Some examples of how humility is often revealed may help us understand this concept.
We started out in recovery with fixed ideas. Since we’ve been in recovery, everything we believed in the past has been challenged. We’ve been barraged with new ideas. For instance, if we believed we were in control, just the fact that we’ve wound up in NA admitting our powerlessness was probably enough to change our outlook. Because of our addiction, we failed to learn the lessons that life itself would have taught us about how much control one individual has. Through our abstinence and the working of the first six steps, we have learned a great deal about how to live.
Many of us came to NA with a certain “street” mentality. The only way we knew to get what we wanted was by approaching it indirectly and manipulating people. We didn’t realize that we could just be forthright and have the same chance, if not better, of fulfilling our needs. We spent years learning to blank our facial expressions, hide our compassion, and harden ourselves. By the time we arrived in NA, we were very good at it—so good, in fact, that novice addicts were probably looking to our example the same way we looked to older addicts when we first started using. We learned to suppress all humanity and became, in many cases, completely inhuman.
Removing ourselves from the arena in which such games are played exposed us to new ideas. We learned that it was okay to have feelings and to show them. We found out that the rules of the street only made sense on the street; in the real world, they were crazy and often dangerous. We became softer, more vulnerable. We no longer mistook kindness for weakness.
Changing these attitudes has a dramatic effect. Oftentimes, it even changes our physical appearance. Knotted brows and jaws relax into smiles. Tears flow freely out, uncovering our drowning spirit.
Many of us arrived in NA convinced that we were victims of bad luck, unfavorable circumstances, and conspiracies to thwart our good intentions. We believed we were good people, but profoundly misunderstood. We justified any harm we caused as self-defense, if we were capable of realizing that we caused harm at all. Feelings of self-pity went hand-in-hand with that attitude. We reveled in our suffering, and we secretly knew that the payoff for our pain was never, ever having to look at our part in anything.
But the first six steps get us to begin to do just that—we look at our part in things. Once we thought that certain situations happened to us; now we see how those situations were really created by us. We become aware of all the opportunities we’ve wasted. We stop blaming other people for our lot in life. We begin to see that where we’ve ended up has been determined mostly by the choices we’ve made.
Humility is a sense of our own humanness. If this is our first experience with the Seventh Step, this may be the point when we first feel a sense of compassion for ourselves. It’s deeply moving to realize for the first time that we’re truly just human and trying our best. We make decisions, both good and bad, and hope things turn out okay. With this knowledge about who we are, we also realize that just as we’re doing our best, so are other people. We feel a real connection with others, knowing that we’re all subject to the same insecurities and failings and that we all have dreams for the future.
Now we need to acknowledge our own humility and explore how it makes itself known in our everyday lives.
• Which of my attitudes have changed since I’ve been in recovery? Where has the overblown been deflated, and where has the healthy part of me been uncovered?
• How does humility affect my recovery?
• How does being aware of my own humility help when working this step?
Our work in the previous steps has helped us build a relationship with a God of our own understanding. That work will pay off in a big way as we proceed with Step Seven. In Step Two, we first began to think about a Higher Power that could help us find recovery from our addiction. From there, we went on to make our Third Step decision to trust our Higher Power with the care of our will and lives. We called upon that Power many times to get us through Step Four, and then in the Fifth Step shared with that Power the most intimate details of our lives. In Step Six, we discovered that the God of our understanding could do more for us than just keep us clean.
• How has my understanding of a Higher Power grown in the previous steps? How has my relationship with that Power developed?
• How has my work on the previous steps made me ready to work the Seventh Step?
So how do we ask the God of our understanding to remove our shortcomings? The answer is likely to depend a great deal on what kind of understanding we have of God. There are many, many different ways to understand God, so many that we couldn’t possibly provide examples in this guide of how each person’s individual spiritual path would influence his or her Seventh Step work. Suffice it to say that our step work should reflect our own spiritual paths.
As individuals, we might pick a particular personal routine or ritual as our way of asking our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings. For the purposes of this guide, we will call that “prayer.” The word “prayer” is widely accepted in our fellowship as a description of the way we communicate with our Higher Power. The tone of asking is captured in the word “humbly.” Coming from the place in ourselves that is most honest, the place that’s closest to our spiritual center, we ask to have our shortcomings removed.
• How will I ask the God of my understanding to remove my shortcomings?
• Can other recovering addicts help me figure out how I’m going to ask? Have I asked them to share their experience, strength, and hope with me? Have I asked my sponsor for guidance?
As with any other aspect of our program, we’re not going to ask just once to have our shortcomings removed. We’ll ask again and again throughout our lifetimes. The way we ask is certain to change as our understanding of God changes. Nothing we do at this point locks us into one way of working the Seventh Step forever.
Most of us realize that we probably need to do something more in this step than just pray for our shortcomings to be removed. We need to take some action that will invite the God of our understanding to work in our lives. We can’t ask God to remove a shortcoming, then hang on to it with all our might. The more distance we keep between ourselves and our Higher Power, the less we will feel that Power’s presence. We have to maintain the awareness of ourselves that we gained in the Sixth Step, and add to it an awareness of God working in our lives.
• How does the spiritual principle of surrender apply to getting out of the way so a Higher Power can work in our lives?
• What might be the benefits of allowing a Higher Power to work in my life?
• How do I feel, knowing that a Higher Power is caring for me and working in my life?
In the Seventh Step, we will focus on surrender, trust and faith, patience, and humility. In the Seventh Step, we take our surrender to a deeper level. What began in Step One with an acknowledgment of our addiction now includes an acknowledgment of the shortcomings that go along with our addiction. We also take our Second Step surrender to a deeper level. We come to believe that our Higher Power can do more than help us stay clean. We look to that Power to relieve us of our shortcomings as well. As time goes by, we place more and more of our trust in a Higher Power and in the process of recovery.
• Have I accepted my powerlessness over my shortcomings as well as my addiction? Expand on this.
• How has my surrender deepened?
The spiritual principles of trust and faith are central to the Seventh Step. We must be sure enough of our Higher Power to trust that Power with our shortcomings. We have to believe our Higher Power is going to do something with them, or how can we ask with any faith that they be removed? We must avoid any tendency to keep score of how we think God’s doing in removing our defects. It’s not too hard to see where this kind of thinking can lead if we find we still have certain character defects after some arbitrary amount of time has passed. Instead, we focus on the action we must take in this step: humbly asking, practicing spiritual principles, and getting out of God’s way. The results of the Seventh Step may not materialize immediately, but they will in time.
• Do I believe that my Higher Power will remove my shortcomings or grant me freedom from the compulsion to act on them? Do I believe that I’ll be a better person as a result of working this step?
• How does my faith in the God of my understanding become stronger as a result of working this step?
Trust and faith alone can never carry us through a lifetime of working this step; we need to practice patience, too. Even if it’s been a long time since we started asking for the removal of a shortcoming, we still must be patient. Maybe, in fact, impatience is one of our shortcomings. We can look at the times when we have to wait as gifts—the times when we most need to practice the principle of patience. After all, one of the surest ways we progress is by rising up over the barriers we run into on our spiritual path.
• Where have I had opportunities for growth lately? What did I make of them?
Finally, we need to maintain our awareness of the principle of humility, more than any other, as we work this step. It’s fairly easy to see if we’re approaching this step with humility by asking ourselves a few questions:
• Do I believe that only my Higher Power can remove my shortcomings? Or have I been trying to do it myself?
• Have I become impatient that my shortcomings haven’t been removed right away, as soon as I asked? Or am I confident that they will be removed in God’s time?
• Has my sense of perspective been out of proportion lately? Have I begun thinking of myself as more significant or more powerful than I really am?
At this point, we may wonder how we’re supposed to be feeling. We’ve asked the God of our understanding to remove our shortcomings; we’ve faithfully practiced the principles of our program to the best of our ability; but we may still find ourselves acting out before we’ve had a chance to think, and always struggling with our defects. Sure, we’re no longer using, and many of the outside circumstances of our lives have probably gotten better—our relationships are more stable, perhaps—but have we changed? Have we become better people?
In time, we’ll find that God has worked in our lives. We may even be startled by the level of maturity or spirituality we’ve demonstrated in handling a situation that in years past would have had us acting very unspiritually. One day, we’ll realize that some of the ways we used to act have become as alien as spiritual principles were when we first started practicing them. After such a revelation, we may begin thinking about the person we were when we first came to NA and how little we resemble that person now.
• Have there been times when I’ve been able to refrain from acting on a character defect and practice a spiritual principle instead? Do I recognize this as God working in my life?
• Which shortcomings have been removed from my life or diminished in their power over me?
• Why does the Seventh Step foster a sense of serenity?
We begin to live more spiritual lives. We stop thinking so much about what we’re going to get, even from our recovery, and start looking at how we can contribute. The things we do to sustain and nourish our spirits become habits; we may even look forward to them. We find that we’re free to choose how we want to look at any situation in our lives. We stop grumbling about small inconveniences as if they were major tragedies. We become able to hold up our heads with dignity and maintain our integrity, no matter what life presents us. As we begin to get more comfortable with our spiritual selves, our desire to heal our relationships will grow. We begin that process in Step Eight.