The Way of Bill W.

Even though I am not a member of a Twelve Step fellowship, I believe deeply in AA and “the program” because I have seen what it does for people who really follow it. In fact, I think there is more training in spiritual growth at AA meetings than at most worship services, any given week.

Why does Christian tradition teach us that we need to confess and be forgiven? Wouldn’t it be better and easier to just move on from our mistakes and resolve to do better in the future? Why not accent the positive and leave all that gloomy rumination behind? Why wallow in the past?

Self-examination that leads to understanding is the most difficult task we face as we strive for spiritual maturity. Looking at our lives is often painful work, if we do it honestly, because all of us have areas of our lives that we would prefer not to ponder. It can also be joyful work, if we remember to celebrate the qualities in ourselves that are amazing.

But experience has taught those who are seeking wisdom that the journey of self-examination is necessary. In Twelve Step programs, the Fourth Step is to make “ a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”.

At this step, the one who wants to achieve sobriety looks not only at drinking, but all the other character flaws they possess. Why? Why not just stop the drinking behavior? Because without understanding, we cannot change. Or to quote the Big Book “whatever the defects, they have ambushed us into alcoholism and misery”. What insight to realize that we have been “ambushed” and we need to figure out how that happened!

And so, in order to find the spiritual fulfillment that we seek, we need to understand ourselves and our failings by reviewing our lives regularly and trying to learn how we “tick”, so that we start to understand how to change our behavior. We are, each of us, absolutely unique, and so, it takes study and concentration to try to figure out why we do what we do. This kind of self-understanding is not just “going over our sins”, but really looking with the eyes of love at the person we have become, and moving toward the person God created us to be.

If charts and structure will help you, here are some from AA, used to assist members in completing their Fourth Step.


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