Richard D. Grant, Jr,. Ph.D., is a psychologist who had a private practice in Austin, Texas, for over 40 years. With Andrea Miller, he is the author of Recovering Connections, a book which combines recovery, Christianity, and Jungian psychology. He is very interested in The Twelve Steps corresponding to Biblical stories.
The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 6, verses 9-13, is based on the very instructions Jesus gave to his followers as to how they should pray. The first part of the prayer addresses God as Father and aligns the person praying with the will of God. The second part of the prayer involves a set of petitions to God, and the sequence of these petitions seem to be a remarkable parallel to the Twelve Steps of AA.
Here is the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
A number of early manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel add:
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
In relating the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is important to examine how the Twelve Steps, as a developmental sequence, address and direct the deepest developmental yearnings of human beings. Throughout childhood, humans experience survival-oriented needs triggered at different periods. These include, in sequence, the need for caretaking, relationships, effective power, and meaning. They are manifested in a child’s physical needs, boundaries, sense of agency, and ability to face new situations, respectively.
These deep developmental needs continue to be experienced as yearnings throughout adult life, but the needs can be misdirected into addictive yearnings for sedative, euphoriant, stimulant, and hallucinogenic effects of drugs or alcohol. The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous address these four areas and properly directs them into a corrective developmental sequence; to illustrate this, the Twelve Steps can be parsed into four sets of three steps each:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked God to remove all our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer seem to follow the same developmental sequence as the Twelve Steps:
Give us this day our daily bread (caretaking/physical needs, Steps 1-3)
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (relationships/boundaries, Steps 4-6)
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, (effective power/agency, Steps 7-9)
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever (meaning, a new ongoing Reality, Steps 10-12.)
Interweaving the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer with the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous might offer a deeper understanding of both, and thus address the lifelong yearnings of human beings.
The first three Steps begin a redirection of basic needs for caretaking to a personal Higher Power. The words “daily bread” can represent all our needs, particularly our most urgent ones (“daily” specifically recalls the daily manna provided by God for the Hebrews in the wilderness, who escaped the bondage of Egypt for the Promised Land). The story of the Exodus begins with an experience of powerlessness under Pharaoh, the beginnings of belief by the Hebrews in a Power that could restore their freedom, and the explicit turning of their lives and wills over to the care of God by following Moses into the desert.
Steps 4-6 deal with the developmental need for relationships and the inescapable reality of boundary violations. “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer explicitly addresses boundary violations, and provides us with a remarkable solution: our being forgiven by God for our boundary violations (“debts,” “offenses”) provides the model, incentive, and capacity for forgiving others. A searching and fearless moral inventory reveals our offenses, and then admitting these honestly to God, ourselves, and another human being initiates us into a new basis of relationship: we are able to forgive as we are forgiven. The very offenses that formerly excluded us from respectable relationship have paradoxically become the basis of a new community— “Hello, I’m ______, and I’m an alcoholic.”
What shamed us out of respectable relationship has become a doorway and capacity for new relationship with God, ourselves, and other human beings, and nothing can take it away. “Who can separate us from the love of God,” says Paul, “…nothing!” The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer describes the source and power underlying these new relationships of forgiveness: “For the measure with which you measure unto others will be measured out to you.” (Mt 5: 6) Our willingness to have God forgive and remove all our defects in character gives us awareness and capacity to be forgiving of others.
Steps 7-9 are the action phase. First, we ask for God’s action in removing our shortcomings, giving us gratitude which motivates us to make a list of all the persons we had harmed, and an ongoing willingness to make amends to them all. Actually making these amends requires prudence, an ongoing awareness of our motivations when reaching out to others, and our exercise of good boundaries in making contact. The Lord’s Prayer guides us to follow God’s lead in this process: “And lead us not into temptation (don’t let us get lost in extremes, or get in over our heads), but deliver us from evil (when we have the power to take action, keep us from injuring other persons).”
Steps 10-12 are the maintenance steps, consolidating and making sustainable what we have experienced in Steps 1 through 9. It seems that Step 10 makes us stewards of our own behavior through inventory and prompt admission of wrongs; thus we cooperate with God in our own caretaking. Step 11 is our daily guide for growing in a real relationship with God, by reason of which all other relationships come into proper perspective. Step 12 gives directions for our proper use of power and agency: reaching out to others based on our own recovery, and practicing these principles in all our affairs. Steps 10-12 are thus a realization of God’s Kingdom, just as the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer “bookends” the first part of the prayer: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” — a glorious new kingdom is where recovery and serenity can be realized.
Copyright, Richard D. Grant, Jr., Ph.D., 2019.