The A.A. twelve steps are a spiritual program, and it is not surprising that it should involve prayer. Most of the prayers are not in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous but are rooted in the ideas and the words of the book. This article looks at the role of prayers along the path to sobriety and spiritual progress.
What Do the Prayers Do for Us?
There are variations of the prayers, but they all focus on the same thing for each step, and all are based on the ideas and guidance that come from the A. A. Big Book
Prayers serve two purposes. They are:
1. ·A request to our higher power
This is the conventional idea behind prayer. We ask God for something. It may be something selfish like a DeLorean or something compassionate such as that Uncle Eddie’s foot heals. Here in the A.A. prayer becomes part of our spiritual practices and the focus will be on sobriety and doing the right thing going forward.
In this way, prayer becomes a way of acknowledging the God of our understanding that is the source of our strength. We cast ourselves upon the care of God.
2. A form of focus on our present step
As we move from step to step, we need a way to focus on each step as we move along the path of spiritual progress. Let me look at this third step prayer:
God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!” (p. 63 BB)
God, Take my will and my life. Guide me in my recovery. Show me how to live. AMEN (the step on p. 59 BB) – (https://silkworth.net/alcoholics-anonymous/the-page-of-prayer/)
- There is so much to focus on in this prayer, so much to think about:
- The need to be built
- What is the bondage of self?
- What difficulties do we have and how can we be given victory over them?
- What will it mean if we hand our lives and our wills over to God?
These are just a few of the elements of this prayer. There are others too.
Prayer when used like this becomes a form of meditation, a way of quietly reflecting on and seeking knowledge of his will.
The Source of The Step Prayers
Each of these prayers is rooted in the ideas in the Big Book. Three of the four sources at the bottom list the page numbers and/or paragraphs that the prayers are based on. It is well worth turning to those pages and reading them in conjunction with the prayers. This can act as further inspiration for that step.
A Sixth Step Prayer
The AA Source Thought
“God, Thank you for removing my fear and for showing me the truth about myself. Father, I need your help to become willing to let go of the things in me which continue to block me off from you. Please grant me your Grace Lord and make me willing to have these objectionable characteristics, defects and shortcomings removed.” (76:1 (http://friendsofbillw.net/twelve_step_prayers)
If we can answer to our satisfaction, we then look at Step Six. We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all – each one? If we still cling to something we will not let go of, we ask God to help us be willing. (https://anonpress.org/bb/Page_76.htm)
This is an example of the relationship between a step prayer and the paragraph that the prayer stems from. The source asks a very important question as we say this prayer –
Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? If not, we need to ask ourselves why we are not ready to take that step.
Why will we not let go and let God?
There is a synergy between the Big Book and each step prayer.
This post is about step prayers, but it feels wrong not to mention that our journey is also helped by other prayers. The most notable of these, of course, is the serenity prayer. The long version makes interesting reading. The other that springs to mind is the St. Francis Prayer with its immortal opening lines, “Make me a channel of thy peace.” It is often used as one of the 11th step prayers.
Use any prayer you wish as a recovery prayer. If necessary, look at the sources for any step prayer that you don’t like and write your own. This can be a fantastic exercise for any step because it acts as a focus.
Writing your own step prayer becomes a form of meditation and can be a wonderful way of focusing on what the step requires.
The Prayer Program
If we prayed as much as we drank, we would be praying most of the day, but that is not realistic. Set aside a time each day and try to stick with that schedule. As you approach the next step, speak to your sponsor about a prayer for the next step. There are some sources at the end of this post to help you find some options.
The way I manage this is at night. It may not be the way that suits you, but it may help as a starting point. Some prefer morning meditation. This approach is a personal approach and is an adaptation of the Ignatian Examen which forms a part of my spiritual heritage. I find it helps me monitor my spiritual life.
The Friends of Bill W website has an 11th step nightly review prayer which seems to reflect this approach very well. It reads
God, help me to constructively review my day. Where was I resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do I owe an apology? Have I kept something to myself which should be discussed with another person at once? Was I kind and loving toward all? What could I have done better? Was I thinking of myself most of the time? Or was I thinking of what I could do for others, of what I could pack into the stream of life? Please forgive me for my harms and wrongs today and let me know corrective measures I should take. (86:2)
Here is how I do it.
- Become quiet and become aware of God’s presence. Seek to make conscious contact with our higher power. Remember that we are in the company of a God of compassionate understanding. Move away from the sinful world and seek to keep an open mind.
- Think back on the day with gratitude. Think about God’s handiwork. Think about when you needed help today and how you received it.
- How are you feeling? What emotions are you experiencing? Did you have problems today and how did you react? How is your mental health? Did we follow the way of patience?
- Consider your actions during the day. What could you have done better? Think about every single defect of character you displayed and how you might have done the right thing. Did we live the day in a spirit of forgiveness or were we quick to pick on the wrong-doing of others.? When did we have self-seeking motives? Every time you recall a specific matter or a questionable situation helps in eliminating defects of character. Notice how this phase of the prayer process is the fearless moral inventory of the fifth step.
- We are now in the presence of God. Say the step prayer. It doesn’t have to be the same prayer every day. Meditate on it. What is God saying to you through the prayer? What is the way of my usefulness now? How does the prayer guide you in approaching the step?
- Slowly ease out of the meditative state back into the everyday world, but as you do know that God is still with you to guide you and keep you. Our higher power is not just someone present when we pray. Know that always we live in God’s world and know the true meaning of powerlessness, for without God we are slaves to our own selfish ends
The step prayers are an amazingly invaluable tool. They are a form of positive action as we seek spiritual awakening in every part of our step program. Prayer should become part of our spiritual practices.
Make no mistake, prayer is a valuable part of step work amidst the confusion of daily life.
It is prayer, I believe, that helps us truly become children of God filled with right thought.
Note: Except where specified all quotes are from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous