Poor Step Six. The short, short step. I sometimes see it and Step Seven clumped together in certain literature. It is as if taken alone, the Step is not worth much so it settles for an undignified "Buy One Get One Free" deal. Step Six reads as follows:
"We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."
To those outside the program, it may sound like a fairly substantial undertaking. Removing all of someone's defects of character certainly sounds like a big job. Strangely, to my recovery-minded ears, the Step sounded like a no-brainer piece of fluff. Of COURSE I was ready to have God remove my defects. That's what I had been waiting for ever since I walked into my first meeting.
At the time, I breathed a sigh of relief and breezed right past Step Six. I didn't slow down for Step Seven either—more on that later. I thought perhaps the Fourth Step was like a big hill on a roller-coaster and the following Steps were much smaller, easier ones. Surely another REAL Step would come into sight soon.
I cannot recall what turned my thinking around on this. But today, I would call Step Six the most important of all the steps. What.... say again? Yes. I consider Step Six the MOST IMPORANT Step of all.
How so? I will do my best to answer.
Until that Step, I had been "talking the talk" and was beginning to "walk the walk". In the first three Steps, I had admitted, believed, and decided....all activities of the mind. In Step Four, I had created a factual record of past actions and unearthed my blame in many of them. In Step Five, I had dared to confess the whole truth outside of myself.
So, now what? Now would I FINALLY take some real action? Would I be given access to secret Recovery meetings where the most potent secrets of the program would be revealed at last? I imagined I might finally be asked to drink some sort of potion or submit myself to a painful initiation rite.
None of this was true. Instead, Step Six was a chance to ask: "Am I ready to change my entire attitude? Am I ready to stop expecting God to do MY will? Am I ready to face the world without an imaginary shield of imaginary perfection? Am I ready to face my entire life (including loved ones, co-workers, strangers, enemies, family, etc.) without hiding behind my regrets of the past or my fears about the future?"
These questions mystified me. But what was truly painful was whether I would allow God as I understood Him to do these things for me. When I was tempted to resume fear, was I ready to let God (not me) prevent that? When I felt the urge to be dishonest, inconsiderate, or selfish, was I ready to let God (not me) guide my next action? Steps Six was asking me a tough, tough, question: "Was I READY to let go of my will and plunge into the unknown that was God's Will?"
I wanted to express this difficult challenge in a drawing titled "Ready", but my mind was blank. Showing the shift from my failed will to a greater Will was beyond me. I doodled and sketched, without much luck. It turned out that inspiration waited just outside my window.
Where I live, there are many squirrels. They routinely take daredevil leaps from one tree to another, despite various lurking cats waiting to take advantage of any accidental falls. I assumed the squirrels had identified a few safe routes and were sticking to those. Perhaps they faced very litte risk in their adventurous plunges. But when I looked more closely, I realized their leaps often involved a large measure of....well....faith. A squirrel would crouch on one trembling branch before rocketing itself across an abyss into the vicinity of a nearby tree. Since tree limbs soften or thicken or stiffen or even disappear with the seasons, I realized that no surefire routes were possible. As I examined the critters in their spectacular mid-air moments, they looked wildly frantic as if they were questioning whether their leap had been well-aimed.
Such moments of uncertainty reminded me of my own emotions. By Step Six, I was an experienced Step-worker. I had admitted, decided, etc, but I didn't truly know where all of this was heading. I was leaping (with good guidance from literature and sponsors), but each action was still was a very private and even modest leap.
My attitude at this altitude was expressed well by my drawing. It shows a squirrel at the very moment of release from a familiar tree. Before him stretches a large and forbidding expanse of empty space. The distances involved seem immense and his attitude appears completely courageous or entirely foolish, depending on an outcome he cannot fully control.
He has left behind the old; he is hoping for the new. But in this singular moment, he has few choices other than being ready or to blindly panic. Given the choices, it just makes sense to become entirely ready. What's the point in panicking? If the next tree branch comes within reach but the squirrel has clenched himself shut out of panic, he will miss his safe landing crash to the ground. So, why NOT be ready? Why not have all claws out and eyes wide open? Why not have your body tense and you tail whipping around like an improvised rudder?
Why NOT be ready to have a new Power? Why not believe a Greater Power can help me? Why NOT turn my will and my life over to Him?
I finally saw it! I really saw it! This was the Step where I finally had a chance to change. Not merely in my actions, but in my every attitude. All along, that was where the real need for change had been hiding; at the very center of me—where I was clinging fearfully to control, yet hopelessly running out of power.
Be ENTIRELY ready!
I really I got it! I really GOT it! The next 24 hours is my next big, incredible, uncontrolled, and thrilling next leap into faith. Half-measures could be fatal. My readiness had to expand out to its fullest possible size! Ironically, the "smallest" of all the Steps was really my biggest leap in the entire Twelve Step program.
It still makes the hair stand up on my neck.