If it is easier for you to listen to this post instead of reading it, here you go!
After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Step 1: We admitted that we are powerless [over alcohol] and our lives have become unmanageable.
I want to start this by explaining a little bit of my own connection to the 12 Steps. When I was 20 years old I started attending Alanon meetings. Both of my parents were alcoholics, and as I was trying to navigate adult relationships (specifically one of a romantic nature) I was starting to feel like perhaps my upbringing in an alcoholic family system was starting to play a role in my thoughts, feelings, and actions.
While I had been exposed to the 12 Steps through family members before, I couldn’t believe the impact they had on me as I started going to meetings myself. I can say without hesitation that I would leave a meeting, and for reasons I couldn’t even totally explain life would just be a little bit easier. I learned about how I can’t control other people (in Alanon we often change “alcohol” to “people, places, and things” in the first step), I learned the importance of keeping my side of the street clean, and I learned about putting my whole life in God’s hands. It was truly life changing.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I should also mention that I haven’t been to a meeting in a long time. So I want to reiterate what I said in my last post. I’m doing this because I believe that the 12 Steps are wonderful tools to draw us closer to God and to set the stage for a spiritual awakening. But I am not an expert and we are not working the 12 Steps together during Lent. I simply want you to know more about them, so you can do with them as you please.
So that’s where I’m coming from when I say the 12 Steps have had a profound impact on my life. I grew to love them through family members who changed their lives through AA and NA, and I experienced them myself. The tools I learned in Alanon still inform so much of my life today.
This week we’ll begin with the Step 1 and only Step 1. Honestly we could spend all of Lent on this step but I thought I’d mix it up a little. The very first part of this program is as follows: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.
I think it’s important to reiterate that “alcohol” can be filled in with almost anything else. For a long time for me this was most useful by substituting “people”. I was powerless over other people. It’s so easy to believe you can change someone else, and so hard to fully realize that the only person you can change is yourself. But again –it could be anything. You could be powerless over sugar, shopping, social media, drugs, food, alcohol…the list goes on and on. I’m not suggesting everyone is an addict, but I am saying that it’s part of the human condition to think that we can be in control of things when really we just can’t.
Trying to control things we can’t control though – well that’s when we wind up in the wilderness. Which is where we find Jesus in our scripture this week. Here he is for forty days and nights with no food and he is constantly being tempted by the devil. The devil wants him to believe he has the power, constantly trying to lure him in.
Now I want to stop for a second and say that I get a little tripped up when we talk about the devil because I’m not actually sure if I believe in evil as one being the way we talk about it in scripture. So because I’m not sure about that, I try not to speak definitively about Satan. But I do think that evil is real, and that temptation is real. And I know all too well the feeling of being exhausted and overwhelmed trying to get out of the wilderness when suddenly some kind of short cut pops up and causes me to believe that there’s an easier way out rather than doing the hard work. How many times have I tried to calm myself down at the end of a tough day with a new outfit, a glass of wine, or a tray of brownies? And I’m not saying one glass of wine is Satan – but I am saying that if we aren’t careful and we constantly rely on these outside things to make us well, then suddenly life might start to look a little unmanageable.
That’s where the second half of this Step helps us to determine if we are in the wilderness. Because we look around and see that life is starting to look really unmanageable.
Unmanageability can be a slippery subject too. There are certainly lots of very real reasons why life can become unmanageable. But we have to be cautious about always having excuses for why our lives continue to unravel. The beauty of the first step is that it can help us to identify when life is unmanageable because of our own behaviors and choices. Maybe life is unmanageable for me because I have a baby right now and he doesn’t always sleep well. But maybe life is unmanageable because I stay up really late every night because I need “me” time because my attempts at caring for myself during the day aren’t really all that caring. Time on Facebook does not help me to feel deeply connected to God the way exercise, meditation, or even a nap does. But damned if I don’t scroll my newsfeed in the few quiet moments I have every day. Friends – I am powerless over Facebook and it is causing my life to become unmanageable.
So our work is to take a look around and see where our lives might be unraveling. We might not be as strong as Jesus who is able to so quickly see through Satan’s allure and point only to God. But with practice we might be better able to recognize the temptation for a quick fix that will only serve to make us feel worse about ourselves in the long run, and maybe that recognition can help us to make a better decision.
This week, I want to invite you spend some time thinking about the two parts of this step. First, what are you trying to control in your life that you simply cannot control? And second, where are you seeing glimpses of unmanageability? If you are seeing glimpses of unmanageability, maybe consider whether or not the two might be connected.
This work might lead you to a major “aha” moment in your life. More likely, it might help you to realize something new about how you try to make people, places, and things fill the space in your life that only God can fill.
Next week we’ll spend more time talking about how God can fill that space. But this week, take a look around and see if maybe you find yourself in the wilderness. Then consider how you might have gotten there.