Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

Step Three – Excerpts

Quotes in Brief

“Playing God: therein lies our disease. That is the natural impulse to which we are all subject, and often enslaved.” – p. 155

“AA is a spiritual program and Step 3 is a quintessentially spiritual Step. It is the ultimate anti-self Step. Thus, in a very real sense, we cannot practice the 12 Steps of AA merely as self-help. They are not intended to be.” – p. 159

“But Step 3 resists deconstruction and reduction, however much we may tinker with those famous last words: ‘as we understood Him.’ We still have to contend with the sixteen unequivocal words that precede those four. Any entity to whose care we can meaningfully surrender our will and our life has to be, by that very fact, nothing less than God. The words are nonsense otherwise, and so is the Step.” – p. 159

“In the end, recovery can have no higher goal than this: to recover that image and likeness and thus to be restored to our true, to our real, to our original self. It is how we can live in harmony with God and with all of his creation. It is how we can attain to our full humanity.” – p. 161

“The essence of humility in Step 3 is acknowledging and accepting our dependence on God. The essence of faith is trusting God.” – p. 167

“The agnostic or the atheist who has assented to the proposition that God exists and who has now become a believer in this preliminary and rudimentary sense, is still confronted, like all believers, with the central question of faith: the question of trust. The issue becomes no longer the reality of God, but his reliability.” – p. 167

“Faith properly understood is trust that is warranted, whether by reason, authority, or experience. On these grounds we trust that something is probably true even though absolute proof or certainty may be lacking and indeed may be impossible to achieve.” –       p. 167

“Certainly ‘to the care of” suggests that we are to understand God as a God who cares. In specifically practical terms a God we can trust to do what we came to believe that he could do, to restore us to sanity. What we are being asked to do is to take a step toward greater faith, from passive belief that he could, to active trust that he would.” – p. 172

“God as we come to believe in him in Step 2 is a God of power and might. With Step 3 we begin to gain a view of him that ultimately finds its highest expression in AA’s understanding of ‘a loving God’ who restores and guides the individual alcoholic, protects and preserves the Fellowship, and informs the conscience of the group. A God thus understood we can trust completely. We can ask ‘His protection and care with complete abandon.’” – p. 172

“My understanding of God has to be compatible with or at least amenable to the idea that somehow he cares about me for me to surrender to him. Otherwise I can’t and I won’t.” – p. 173

“Thus ‘as we understood Him’ stands in its seeming ambivalence as a twofold invitation: start with your own understanding of God, just as we did, but be open to grow in that understanding, just as we were, for therein lies our common solution. If it worked for us, it can also work for you.” – p. 175

“In AA we don’t come to God through theology but through experience, mostly of the humbling and humiliating variety, often reluctantly, and sometimes even kicking and screaming.” – p. 179

– From Chapter F. The Turning Point


“In the business of recovery, faith cannot be divorced from works, nor works from faith. A faith that is not vigorously exercised withers and becomes sterile. Works that are not founded upon and directed by faith degenerate into self-reliance and self-will. In either case there is no spiritual harvest.” – p. 187

“If we turn our will and our life over to God, he will direct and guide us in our recovery.  But, again, we have to put in the effort, because the effort is what he will direct and guide. We row. He steers.” – p. 188

“As many of our stories show, we were often addicted to change and to the novelty and excitement and anticipation that came with it, even as often we were also filled with apprehension about how things might turn out. This all made for widespread instability, emotionally and otherwise. We just couldn’t stay still for very long. True, many of us were less prone to upsetting the apple cart, but that was mostly a manifestation of our passivity and fear, not of our acceptance. It certainly did not bring peace, for we were often just white-knuckling it through life, the victims of circumstance, able neither to change nor accept.”  – p. 198

“Sometimes people won’t give us what we would like and could reasonably expect from them not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have it in them to give. It is not who they are. This may or may not reflect any character defect in them. But in any case, it is not there and the sooner we recognize that and accept it the better for them and for us.” – p. 207–208

“More often than not our expectations are misplaced, and we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration, thereby making our spiritual and emotional well-being dependent on people rather than on God. We will find no emotional sobriety down that road.” – p. 208

“Sometimes we are disappointed with ourselves. We don’t measure up to our own expectations of who we think we should be or what we think we should accomplish. Even in sobriety we continue to make unreasonable demands upon ourselves. This is a sign that we need to check our humility gauge. If we don’t measure up, it is probably because we are not sizing ourselves up accurately, not accepting who we are.” – p. 209

“It ought to be clear that self-acceptance is not equivalent to self-complacency. To accept myself doesn’t mean that I overlook, downplay, or resign myself to my shortcomings. On the contrary, those are the things I will do if I don’t accept myself. Self-acceptance is a necessary condition for change. As in Step 1 regarding alcohol, we have to admit and accept before we can change. We have to accept who we are if we are to become who God wants us to be.” – p. 209

“We do a good job at work and do the right thing in every department of our lives because we see ourselves as working for God. Or, in the language of Scripture, we do it for the glory of God. Nothing can be more liberating, for we are beholden to no person, organization, institution or circumstance for approval or reward. We are invested in God and God alone.” – p. 210–211

“Letting God be God and moving off center stage, abdicating our self-appointed role as arbiters of other people’s beliefs and behaviors, relinquishing the reins of power and control over others, accepting our creaturely dependence upon our Creator, acknowledging our common condition as fallen human beings in need of redemption and deliverance, trusting God’s providential care of our lives and of the universe—these are the things that will bring us mental tranquility and stability. They are grounded on a spiritual, God-centered view of ourselves and of the world that makes possible the peace of mind we long for.” – p. 214

“Having interiorized and become wholly disposed to peace, we can then become peacemakers. Our internal strife gone, we are able to impart to others the peace that we now have in us.” – p. 215

“For us, then, willpower is not a vehicle of recovery. In this AA is unique. Programs and therapies outside of the 12 Steps all seem to offer solutions that are based on the will to power. Having more power and control appears to be their answer to every problem. Not so with us. Lack of power is our dilemma, yes. But, in another paradox, it is not solved by a reach for power but by its surrender.” – p. 217

“We will continue to be tempted to take our will back, and many impulses will continue to surface that would lead us back to self. But we will become better at detecting these even as they arise, and letting them go. At times we will smile in recognition of those things that once we were, but are no longer. We will be well along the path of a faith that works.” –     p. 217–218


– From Chapter G. Working the Steps, Practicing the Principles

(For fuller excerpts from Step Three, please click on subtabs.)