Tools for Living

Faith and the 3rd Step

Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.


Step 3 is where we plant our hope for recovery in the fertile soil of faith. We commit ourselves to the weeding and watering necessary for it to take root and grow in faith that’s built on practical experience. As long as we keep nurturing it with an open mind, we can be sure that it will keep growing until it bears the fruit of faith that really works.

Newcomers to recovery often think they must first have complete faith before they can take this step. Nonsense! No one comes to the program with that sort of faith. Most of us arrive with little or no faith at all. It’s only by taking the 3rd Step, and then following through with the other Steps, that we begin the lifetime practices on which real faith is built. Step 3 is the beginning, not the end, of our journey.

Let’s start looking at this step by asking ourselves what it really means to “make a decision.” The Latin root of the word “decide” means “to cut away.” Thus, when we make a decision, we cut away the alternatives and commit ourselves to a single course of action.

When we stand at the 3rd Step, we’ve reached one of the most significant crossroads in our lives. Here we must decide which way to go. We must choose one path and then commit by stepping out on it. Will we continue on the path laid out in the Steps, accepting the help of experienced guides who will show us the way? Or will we strike off in some other direction, trying once more to go our own way?

If we are truly ready to take this Step, the choice should not be too difficult.  Step 1’s hard and honest look at our own history should more than convince us that our way of living was hardly a success. Anyone having trouble deciding whether to take Step 3 should consider the question old-timers often ask doubtful newcomers in AA: “If your way’s working so good, then what are you doing here?”

When we take Step 3, we decide to commit ourselves to continuing on the path of the Steps, instead of turning back or striking off on our own. How do we commit? By working the rest of the Steps – just as a sky diver commits by jumping out of the plane. And if he doesn’t jump, he might believe that his chute will work, but only by jumping can he gain the experience on which real faith depends.

This commitment also describes the action we take to “turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” When we turn our will over, it means that we choose to stop living on self-will. We choose to be guided by the Steps instead. And when we turn our lives over, it means that we stop trying to decide what outcomes we must have and we stop doing whatever it takes to force them to happen. Instead, we simply act according to the principles we learn through the Steps-and then we trust that the outcomes will be good.

In other words, we take right actions consistent with time-tested principles and then leave the results up to God-or to the Good Orderly Direction of the Steps. As our experience applying these principles grows, we discover a way of living that’s simpler and less stressful than the way we lived before. We begin to enjoy real peace of mind. And we often discover that things turn out far better than we had imagined. Thus, the more we practice living by the Steps, the more we learn we can rely on them, and the more our faith will grow.

Finally, let’s take a look at the italicized phrase in the 3rd Step: “God as we understood him.” To millions of lost souls who enter recovery as the last house on the block, this phrase has literally saved our lives. Many of us arrive with minds closed shut against the religious concepts of God we learned in childhood. A judgmental God, a score-keeping God, a vengeful, wrathful God would drive us away and leave us without the hope offered by the program.

Fortunately, the Steps don’t require us to accept anyone else’s ideas about God. We are free to use whatever concept works for us, whether it be the religious picture of God we’ve carried since childhood, some other concept we’ve developed over the years, or no concept of God at all except as an amusing acronym for Good Orderly Direction or Group Of Drunks.

And no one need let their inability to understand God keep them from working this Step. You don’t have to understand God to do Step 3. No one understands God. As the old saying has it, “Any god small enough for me to understand isn’t big enough to be my Higher Power.” Just know that your understanding of God — whatever it may be — is good enough to start. And don’t be surprised if it changes as you work the rest of the Steps . . . and continues changing throughout the rest of your life.

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What does the word “faith” mean to you? What does faith have to do with reliance?


What does it mean “to make a decision?” How do you know if you’ve made one?


What do you think it means to “turn your will and your life over to the care of God?”


Are you willing to turn it over now? If not, what’s preventing you?


Do you already have a concept of God? If so, how did you get it?


Can you trust God as you conceive of Him? Does your God have your best interests at heart? Do you think of God as punishing and vengeful . . . or forgiving and loving?


If you cannot trust your God as completely as you would trust your best friend, then what would God have to be like to deserve such trust?


If you cannot conceive of God as some kind of power greater than human power, can you accept that the collective experience and wisdom of the group may be greater than yours alone?


If not, then what sort of Higher Power will work to help you recover?


Are you willing to continue with the Steps in order to discover and build a working relationship with your own Higher Power?

Links to more information:’s article about Step 3

The Big Book Bunch on “Taking Step 3”.

“The 3rd Step without Kneeling, without Prayer”, from MikeL’s Recovery Blog.

Serene Center’s 3rd Step worksheet.

A helpful forum post on working the 3rd Step at


Recommended Books:


Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions    The official Alcoholics Anonymous supplement to the “Big Book,” explaining each of the 12 Steps and the AA Traditions in greater detail.

Hubal & Hubal, Steps 1-3: A Guide to the Big Book’s Design for Living with Your Higher Power
A workbook to help guide you through the first three steps of AA’s twelve step program for recovery.

The Twelve Steps, A Spiritual Journey: A Working Guide for Healing Damaged Emotions
Based on Biblical teachings, this workbook presents the 12 Steps in a context especially helpful for Christians uncomfortable with the non-sectarian spiritual approach suggested by the concept of “God as we understood Him.”