The third step of Alcoholics Anonymous requires each person wanting to make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” (W, Bill, 2002, p. 59) As with so many of the AA steps, there is a prayer to accompany this step. In this case, there are many, but they share a common denominator.
This article takes a broad look at this third-step prayer.
The site Friends of Bill W contains, if I counted correctly, nineteen prayers appropriate to the 3rd step. (Friends of Bill W. - Third Step Prayers, n.d.), including the serenity prayer, but this article will be based on the prayer given in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
God, I offer myself to Thee To build with me & 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 & Thy way of life. May I do Thy will always. (W, Bill, 2002, p. 63)
The prayer reflects the intention of the step accurately and importantly details the breadth of the Higher power referring to God’s power, love, and way of life.
God, I offer myself to Thee
The prayer starts with the alcoholic who having admitted their powerlessness over drink hands themself over to the care of God. The statement reflects a conscious decision to engage in positive action in the remediation of alcohol abuse. This offering is the confirmation of the spiritual awakening that began in step 2 when the alcoholic realizes the true meaning of powerlessness, coming to believe that a power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity. (W, Bill, 2002, p. 59)
God is a forgiving God and an understanding God. These are tenets on which 12 step recovery programs are based. The Higher Power alone is capable of transforming life on a daily basis. The alcoholic offers themselves to God and offers themselves a chance to become God’s handiwork.
To build with me & to do with me as Thou wilt
Not only does the alcoholic commit themself to the care of God, but also to the service of their Higher Power as they understand that power to be. This offers the alcoholic to God’s way and asks that the Deity will lead them to distinguish the right thing from the wrong things of the past.
The important word here is “build.” The newly admitted alcoholic does not, after this step, become a complete work. Moving forward to the next step and each step beyond this builds the sober alcoholic into a new being. This step creates the foundation on which to build.
As the alcoholic becomes increasingly addicted. It seems as though their growth as people and as children of God becomes arrested. This line restarts the growth,
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
Every alcoholic is in thrall to their need to drink and to satisfying their desires. The bondage of self is the egocentricity of “Me first” or “Me only” that drives addictive behavior. It removes tolerance of others and is the foundation of any defects of character. It reinforces the confusion of daily life that is the lot of the still suffering alcoholic.
The key idea in this step and this prayer is transition. The alcoholic begins to move on from the imprisonment brought about by the disease of alcoholism into a place of spiritual wisdom as they begin to conquer their greatest enemy.
It is a simple prayer here that encompasses the aims of the third step. It is a prayer for change in the life of someone still drinking. It is a prayer of moving on.
Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love & Thy way of life.
This is an act of humility as the alcoholic in asking this acknowledges their inability to achieve the right attitude. Later on, the Higher Power will be asked to remove every single defect of character. This line in the prayer is a prelude to that.
It is the promise of complete inner harmony, despite unforeseen events, that can arise with a commitment to a new attitude and with a clear mind. God wants us to become part of the good of this world. This is not just wishful thinking but an idea that can be held with firm conviction.
The action of God on the alcoholic’s life becomes an advertisement for the possibilities that stem from recovery. The victory that God helps the still suffering alcoholic achieve over their difficulties becomes a living example of what can be done through the Higher Power’s intervention.
May I do Thy will always
Here each alcoholic seeks the “way of my usefulness” that they may serve their higher power. One of the elements of this is to consider God’s will and the key to that is that the reformed drinker seeks inner peace through daily prayer and as a result the guidance of correct thought.
As the foundation becomes a house and the alcoholic is built as a new person, the desire to act as a conduit for God increases. A conduit for the Higher Power needs to be in tune with what God wants them to be and what God wants them to be. Slowly, the God of a person’s understanding now offered a foundation, rebuilds and recreates the person in the image that God perceives for that individual.
A Note on Prayer Variations
There are many variations of the 3rd step prayer, each reflecting different understandings of God. These prayers run the range from Eastern Orthodox, Wiccan, Native American, and Jewish. Even if these do not reflect someone’s understanding of God, there is still a beauty in many which make them worth reading even if the reader will not use them as a prayer.
Here are some examples including a personal variation.
· To ease their burden when I can and touch them with a smile of peace (Buddhist Prayer)
· Let my body & soul unite in love & peace to do Your will sincere (Jewish 3rd step prayer)
· But this I know. You do not give love, you are love. (Unitarian Universalist Prayer)
· Fill me with your love and Holy Spirit and make me know Your will for me. (Dr. Bob)
Each of these variations may bring something to a person’s understanding of the Higher Power and that adds to the spiritual foundation that is currently being created.
The prayer from the big book was chosen as it is generic and is easily applicable to all the ways in which God can be understood. Because it is from the major text of the step program it can also be considered to be canonical.
Of all the steps of A.A. other than the first, the third step may be the most important. It is a transitional or gateway step where for the first time the alcoholic performs an active step towards breaking the hold the disease has on their life. This is not to diminish any step of the 12-step program, but simply to emphasize the enormity of the decision to turn problems.