New Light on the Twelve Steps
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The Fourth step reads, "made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." I had to know exactly what that meant before I could do it. The dictionary says searching means "to make a thorough examination of, to prove carefully, scrutinize in order to find something." Fearless is "the absence of agitation that is caused by imminent danger to one’s self." A moral inventory is a list of our fair dealings with ourselves and others. To my understanding, this means that I had to write out a list of every incident I could remember where I had treated another person unfairly, or been dishonest, or acted in a selfish, abusive manner toward others. I knew that there were many of these. Most incidents I wanted to justify. It was okay if I had hurt someone who had hurt me first. Or if something hadn’t been fair (by my standards), that gave me the right to cheat and it didn’t count against me. The more I saw the list adding up–little lies, big lies, little dishonesties, great big cheatings, and just plain meanness and get evens–the more I wanted to run. How would I survive without all of these coping methods I had learned in an effort to get my own way and control my world to suit me and serve me? I started feeling scared and angry.
For Bill W. and Dr. Bob to specify "fearless" makes it pretty clear they knew fear would come up in response to making this examination of my faults. To specify "searching" shows that they knew I would try to get out of owning up to as many debts as possible, trying to blame them on others, a typical behavior I had been practicing throughout my life. Make it someone else’s fault and then no one can blame me, or stop me, from doing what I wanted to do. Satan would be sure to use every trick in the book to avoid exposure.
Roman’s 1:16-26 makes it very clear that I do know inside myself what fair dealings with others and God are. What happens when we try to go through life unaccountable for what we know is right behavior? " for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men because what may be known of God is manifested in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributers are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." It was written on my heart to know that what I was doing was wrong and would have to be accounted for an resolved with God. I was well aware of the fact I could not fix myself. I had tried, failed and admitted powerlessness.
I was not asked to look at myself until I had fully seen my powerlessness. My fourth step was owning up to God what I had done–recognizing it as sin I had committed and that needed forgiveness. It was for healing. James 5:16 tells us "Confess your sins one to another that ye may be healed!" Not condemned or sentenced to hell. But for healing, for myself and the others I had harmed.
The inventory can be fearless because of God’s righteousness, not because of any good thing that I am trying to find in me. There simply is no good in and of myself. Matthew 19:7 says, "There is none good but God." John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." That is God’s promise, and it is infallible. So we have an infallible answer to the fear that arises in us in response to working our fourth step.
Working the fourth step was my walk into a freedom I had never known possible. It was a very painful walk, but it was not the fourth step that caused the pain. The pain was what was already in my guy, a consequence of what I had already done; the pain exposed the need for the fourth step. It exposed the truth: that I was already in pain, and I needed a way out. Once through that pain the other steps showed me the path to follow, even as the first three steps had prepared me to see my inventory fearlessly because of God’s promise to forgive me whatever I confessed. Like a set of clogged pipes, the destructive results of my behaviors clogged my living, making a testimony to God impossible to flow out. The removal of the clogging made a clear flow possible again.
Like a kettle that had exceeded its capacity, the overflowing "inventory" of my past had surpassed my tolerance level. I was overflowing with emotions that I had to keep numbed. My inventory was what kept me acting out. I had to get rid of it if I were to be able to stay "sober."
In the last several months I have heard a very casual attitude about working a fourth step. I do not see how any one can "stay sober" if they have not resolved the issues that used to "drive them to drink." The excuse that is offered most often is fear. "I am afraid to see just how bad I was," is what I hear.
I can only say that for me, I used fear as an excuse. Although I did have fear to some extent (and rightly I should have), it was not the hear that kept me from working a fourth step. It was self-will trying to hang on. I knew that if I admitted that what I was doing was wrong and abusive, then I would have to give it up, quit doing it, and lose my stash that I have used as an excuse to return to my addictive behaviors when the chips are down. I simply did not want to give up my right to return to these behaviors when I wanted to ease my pain.
Yes, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to stop acting out. After all, I had tried to be good before and failed miserably. What guarantee did I have that Christ by me was going to make a difference this time around? This is where I repeatedly have to review Steps 1, 2 and 3. It is God’s responsibility to keep me safe now.
By giving God my will and turning my life over to Him, I have agreed to give up more than just "my will" (which is really Satan operated self). I have agreed to turn my "arsenal" over to God. Many of the behaviors that I had to make amends for were really weapons that I used against others to get my own way. I would try to make others feel guilty until the backed down and I could feel justified. In justifying myself, I could blame them and use their behavior as an excuse to act out. "Look at what you did to me. Anyone would drink (eat, lie, etc.) if they had to live with a job like this or a boss like that, etc."
Letting go of this inventory was a letting go of my power, my justification to act out when I wanted to and make it someone else’s fault. I had to own my own responsibility and see what I had done to others. This humbled me. For the first time I became aware of my need for God for something other than my own forgiveness. I needed Him to fix the damage that had been done through my selfishness. I was not only powerless over my behavior, I found, to my great pain, that I was also powerless ot mend the pain I had caused others.
Do not make the mistake of thinking this is an Indiana Jones crusade looking for the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail. An inventory of the wrongs I had done was really no great mystery. All I had to do was look around me. The damage was obvious. I knew very well what I had done. After all, I hadn’t stopped! I was still doing 99% of the insane behavior at this point. All that had really stopped was my more obvious addictive behavior. The reasons why I acted out were all waiting to be dumped in my fourth step. Which is why I believe step four is crucial.
You can not work a step 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 until you have reconciled with God through step 4. If you are still carrying around secrets and unconfessed sin, you are still blocked by this very sin from knowing God’s total deliverance form the addiction. I believe it is impossible to stay sober from any addiction until you have thoroughly worked this step. As Bill W. said in How it Works, "those who do not get well are those who will not be honest with themselves."
If you are still not convinced that step four should be taken as critical, read Matthew 23:23-28. "
Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of extortion and self-indulgence
for you are like white-washed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead man’s bones and all uncleanness
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 10 No 6
- Postscript to Yes I Am
- Jeremiah 29:11-14
- Editor’s Note
- The Devil–Down for the Count
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- Moments with Meryl
- The Letter to the Romans
- To Think About
- The Next Right Thing
- Minnesota Fall Mini-Weekend
- The Disease of Resentment
- Questions and Answers
- Autumn England Conference Report
- God’s Faithfulness
- The Mailbox
- New Light on the Twelve Steps
- A Look at a Book
- Words to Live By