This is a recovery lesson about admitting that we’re powerless on our own to make the changes we need to make in our lives. This idea, which at first glance seems counterintuitive, is part of the first step of recovery. And here’s what I find pretty amazing. As soon as we take this step and admit that we’re powerless, things begin to change. This is because we begin to change. In other words, once we finally admit that we’re powerless, we can then find the power we need to restore our lives.
This lesson goes with Principle 1 of the 8 Principles of Celebrate Recovery:
Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.
“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.” (Matt 5:3)
And it goes with Step1 of the 12 Steps:
We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Rom 7:18)
There are four actions we need to take in order to complete Step One; two things we need to stop doing and two things we need to start doing. These are things we need to do before we’re going to be able to move forward in our recovery and begin experiencing the healing, hope, and promises that come with recovery. And speaking of promises, let’s take a quick look at the Promises of Recovery. They are important because they tell us what our lives could look like if we were to choose this journey. All 12-step recovery programs—Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, etc.—offer these promises to anyone who is willing to work the 12 Steps with honesty and rigor:
Promises of 12-Step Recovery
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in others. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
If (and only if) we’re willing to be rigorously honest and put in the effort, these promises are for us. So let’s tak a look at the four actions we need to take before we can
Stop Denying The Pain
When we’re in denial about our struggles and the pain we’re feeling, we are doing a lot more damage to ourselves than we realize. When we’re in denial it…
- Disables our feelings
- Wastes our energy
- Stunts our personal growth
- Isolates us from God
- Alienates us from our relationships
- Prolongs our pain.
How do we know when we’re ready to step out of denial? It happens when our pain is greater than our fear. When our hurts and frustrations become greater than our fear of doing something about it. In other words, when we’re willing to admit the pain, we’re ready to start the healing.
Stop Playing God
The second thing we need to stop doing is playing God. I’ll just be vulnerable here and tell you that this is scary stuff because letting go of control is not easy or comfortable. At least not for me. I’m sure some of you share that same struggle. It comes down to fear. In fact, the root of pretty much all of the issues we struggle with is fear. Why do we abuse alcohol or drugs? Why do we eat too much? Or too little? Why do we try to lose ourselves in harmful things like porn, or anger, or unhealthy relationships? It’s all because of fear.
Some of us are afraid of feeling those uncomfortable or painful or scary feelings. Some of us are afraid of not being loved or accepted. And when we’re afraid of pain our natural tendency is to try to avoid that pain. We often do it subconsciously without even thinking about it. We avoid that pain by “playing God” and trying to control our surroundings or our circumstances or the people around us. But the truth is that the only thing we can really control is ourselves, and even that doesn’t work half the time!
Not only is controlling external things not our job, the idea that we have any real control over those things is an illusion anyway! Our job, rather, is to surrender our life and our will to God. Why would we do that? Because we’ve already let ourselves call the shots and look where it’s gotten us. Nothing changes if nothing changes. If we really want to experience healing and hope and freedom in our lives—if we want to cash in on those promises of recovery mentioned above—we need to stop striving and straining in an effort to force things to turn out the way we want. Instead, we need to humbly submit to God and trust Him with the outcome. He knows far better than us what we really need. And when we stop playing God and instead let Him run the show, He will give us the rest for our souls that we so desperately need. In the words of Jesus:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
By the way, the Hebrew word for
Let’s look at the two things we need to start doing to move forward in our recovery.
Start Admitting Our Powerlessness
We’ll get into this in more detail below, but the idea here is that we can’t just white-knuckle it, keep everything to ourselves, and hope things get better. My wife has a saying she uses when teaching her spin classes, and it’s equally true for in terms of recovery: “The real magic happens when we’re uncomfortable”. No one learns or grows or gets better by remaining in their comfort zone. We need to step out into cold, uncomfortable reality, admit our human limitations and weaknesses, and quit trying to change things under our own feeble power. Yes, that is tough to do, but it’s not impossible! Jesus told us, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
Have you ever decided there is something you need to stop doing in life (overeating, drinking, smoking, lying, etc.) but then you kept on doing it anyway? Have you ever resolved to make a positive change and then failed to actually do it? These are major clues that tell us that we do not have the
Admit That Our Lives Have Become Unmanageable
The only reason we consider that there might be something wrong and we need to talk to somebody (or maybe look at recovery) is because we are finally able to admit that some area (or all areas) of our lives have become unmanageable.
In my own recovery, I had a real problem with the word “unmanageable”. I remember thinking to myself that, while things were maybe messy or stressful, my life wasn’t technically unmanageable. I was managing; I wasn’t getting fired, my marriage wasn’t falling apart, I wasn’t facing jail time. But I also didn’t have peace. I knew there was something wrong and that my life was unnecessarily messy and frustrating and painful. And I was sick of it. Eventually, I realized that getting hung up on the definition of the word “unmanageable” was just my proud, perfectionist mind trying to find a loophole or a way out of facing my fear of change. I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone. But the truth is that things will not improve until we admit that our lives have become unmanageable.
For better or worse, the Celebrate Recovery lesson format requires that we use an acrostic for each lesson. So let’s take a look at nine different “fun facts” about admitting that we’re powerless, one for each letter in the word powerless.
The P in “Powerless” stands for Pride.
When we’re too proud to ask for help or admit we have a problem, we may not see it, but we’re trapped by our pride. As long as we still think we can get ourselves out of the mess we got ourselves into, we’ll never find rest or healing or freedom. The Bible teaches us that “Pride ends in a fall, while humility brings honor” (Proverbs 29:23).
O is for Only If.
Only if they hadn’t walked out. Only if I had stopped drinking. Only if this. Only if that. Getting caught up in the “only ifs” prevents us from moving forward. There’s a very simple almost trite saying that contains a powerful truth. “It is what it is.” I used to think that was a really stupid thing to say! But I’ve come to appreciate it for the way it forces me to accept reality as it is, not as I want it to be. It is what it is, even if that’s not what I want it to be. Admitting we’re powerless is the first step in getting unstuck from the insidious trap of the “only ifs”.
W is for Worrying.
There’s a great quote from Tim Keller that speaks not only to the idea of worry but also to the “only-ifs” we just talked about:
Instead of worrying about things over which we have little to no control, we need to focus on what God can do. As the Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (it is what it is) and the courage to change the things I can…” There’s no worry in those opening lines.
Or to look at it another way, as French philosopher Michel de Montaigne famously said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” There is a study that claims 92% of the things Americans worry about today never happen. So every time we worry, there’s a 92% chance we’re wasting our time and energy! But most importasntly, Jesus told us, “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.” (Matt 6:34 TLB)
E is for Escape.
Before we admitted we were powerless, we tried to escape and hide from our hurts, habits, and hang-ups by acting out in harmful ways. Trying to escape pain causes us to spend all our time and energy on chasing our tail. In the end, we get nowhere and we’re exhausted from the effort. But when we take this first step and admit our powerlessness, God gives us a way out; we find our true and permanent escape. The Apostle Paul talked about this in one of his letters when he was describing his own personal struggles. We don’t know what the exact issues was—Paul simply said, “I was given a thorn in my flesh”—but the principle Paul taught us is universal:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12: 8-10)
R is for Resentments.
Resentments are emotional cancer. We need to be checking for them regularly and removing them at first sight. Paul tells us
L is for Loneliness.
In our denial we have all kinds lonely thoughts. We convince ourselves that we’re all alone in our struggles. We think things like “No one else struggles with this issue” or “No one understands what I’m going through” or “If they knew the truth about me they wouldn’t love me or accept me”. The minute we admit we’re powerlessness—out loud to someone else—we realize these are all lies. We discover that we’re not alone, and we aren’t the only one who struggles with our issue.
E is for Emptiness.
When we finally admit that we’re truly powerless, that empty feeling deep inside—that cold wind that blows through us—goes away. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”(John 10:10). Admitting that we’re powerless to fix ourselves allows Jesus to fill that emptiness inside us with His power. It allows us to start our journey toward a truly full life.
S is for Selfishness.
Selfishness is at the heart of most problems between people. Once we admit we’re powerless, we instantly start becoming less self-centered.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:16-17)
The “wisdom that comes from Heaven” that James describes above is a gift to us from God. He gives us that wisdom when we stop trying to do things under our own power and instead turn to Him.
S is for Sharing.
When we first start our recovery most of us are feeling some level of shame, guilt, remorse, or self-loathing. And by the time we’re ready to start considering recovery, we’ve gotten used to keeping secrets from pretty much everyone in our lives. So opening up and sharing with others about our addictions or compulsive behaviors is going to feel unnatural, even wrong. We probably won’t want to do it. But taking that step and sharing what we’re going through with others instantly relieves us of the burden of lugging those heavy secrets around with us everywhere we go. When we say to someone else, “I am struggling with such-and-such…” it frees us up to move forward with a different and better life. Time and again you hear in people’s testimonies how the simple act of sharing step o
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecc 4:9-12
The idea of “a cord of three strands” mentioned above is vital in our recovery journey if we ever hope to find real freedom and healing. In the realm of
Are you ready to truly begin your journey of recovery? Are you ready to stop denying the pain and stop playing God? Are you ready to admit your powerlessness and that your life has become unmanageable or too messy to deal with? The power to change comes from God. As soon as we take this step and admit that we’re powerless, things begin to change because we begin to change. In other words, before we can find the power we need to restore our lives, we need to first admit that we’re powerless to do it ourselves. And that beautiful change could start for you right now, even as you’re reading this article. I highly encourage you to choose it!