Bart Ross, Recovery Services Manager, Hanley Center at Origins
God’s love is always unconditional. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done. This reassurance doesn’t mean that God loves everything that we do. But our Higher Power loves us no matter what. I particularly like the reference the Big Book makes: “He is the Father, and we are His children.”
As a father, I know I could never love my children any less than I do, no matter what they may do. I can be sad, disappointed, or maybe even angry. But the love I have never changes. I believe this is how God reacts and feels about us.
Unconditional love is a goal.
It’s a difficult thing to experience in all areas of our lives. Our selfishness and self-centeredness get in our way. Unlike God’s love, sometimes we put expectations on our love that can cause resentment.
Unconditional love also gets blocked off by fear. We sometimes erect walls with thoughts like, “If I love this person unconditionally, I’ll get hurt.”
This belief gets revealed to us each time we do our Step Four inventories. The most important part of the resentment inventory is the fourth column. We see where we are selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened. What becomes apparent is how we are misusing our will.
I often hear people say, “I took my will back.” I don’t think this is something that we can do. Our free will is a God-given gift at birth. Our free will is the best and worst attribute God has given us. It is not something we can take back because it was a birth gift. We can misuse free will or use it properly.
“Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee? Thy will (not mine) be done.’ These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our willpower along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will.” (Big Book, Page 85)
Living this way is not easy, but we get to practice it.
Step Ten continues to get much more consistent as we grow in our recovery. We find ourselves properly using our will more and more, turning to God more often, reminding ourselves that we are in this world to be of maximum service.
Turning to our Higher Power is much easier and sometimes the only way to properly use our will. This is definitely the case with alcoholism. It doesn’t matter how much desire we have to stay sober. Without turning to our Higher Power’s care, it won’t last. And this practice must extend beyond our alcoholism.
I was given the grace of relief from my alcoholism many times. I had no idea at those times it was grace
Today, I fully understand the difference between being given God’s grace and acknowledging God’s grace. The grace we get can be undeserved, something we receive without having to earn it. At some point, we begin displaying action on our part. All of us may have experienced grace many times in our lives without realizing it. Every time we had a dry spell, which sometimes could be a day, months, or possibly years, this was grace.
But we must acknowledge grace through action so that that it doesn’t run out. I believe blessings are earned, unlike grace. Through practicing the 12-Steps, we gain our freedom from the bondage of self and the disease of alcoholism. We realize our powerlessness and that our Higher Power is working in our lives.
We begin to earn blessings by the actions of Steps Two to Twelve. One of the many powerful blessings we receive is forgiveness.
Through Steps Four to Nine, we begin to experience this forgiveness. Forgiveness opens the door to unconditional love. Sharing in unconditional love means we must first experience total forgiveness.
“This was our course: We realized that people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended, we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”” (Big Book, Pages 66-67)
Recovery from our spiritual sickness begins with forgiveness and unconditional love. It’s impossible to have unconditional love without forgiveness, and it’s impossible to have forgiveness without unconditional love. Our Higher Power loves and forgives all of us always, so we must practice using our will in the same way. The process of Steps Four – Nine is our path to achieving this.
“God is either everything, or else he is nothing.” (Big Book, Page 53)
If we could truly realize this fact, we would see God in all people and experience unconditional love as God does. Forgiveness and unconditional love manifest through action. The first action is to know that our Higher Power forgives us for all our wrongdoings, and we must do the same. We have to be accountable but forgiving. The next thing is to be willing to repair all the damage we have created.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
When we don’t find forgiveness, we remain in some of the bondage of self.
As we develop empathy and humility, forgiveness follows. These are excellent seeds for unconditional love—so many of the great spiritual teachers of the world focus on the topic of forgiveness.
I’ve read some great books and gone on retreats that spend a reasonable amount of time on this important topic of forgiveness. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear and spend time with Ed M. He has a fantastic AA story on forgiveness. I suggest you check out one of his recorded talks.
Two of my best teachers on forgiveness are my dogs. If I step on their paws or tails by accident, all they want to do is lick my face!
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we can forget about or stop believing in justice. What it means is to have a loving heart free from hate. The world needs more of this. Just picture the world if everyone lived the 12-Step life.
We are the blessed ones. Our pain brought us to a fantastic way of life.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy reading your emails.
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