Humility and the 7th Step
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Many in recovery regard the 6th and 7th Steps as evidence of the program’s divine inspiration, for when the book Alcoholics Anonymous was written only two short paragraphs were devoted to these Steps. None of the contributors had been sober more than a couple of years at the time. They lacked the experience to appreciate the real value of these steps. But by the time Bill W. wrote Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions several years later, he had enough sober living under his belt to understand their importance and to give both Steps their due.
In the Big Book, the 7th Step is described as scarcely more than just one short prayer, known to many today as the 7th Step Prayer:
My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength as, I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.¹
But the 12&12 devotes eight pages to this Step. After characterizing humility as the essence of the 7th Step, it goes on to say that “the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.”² Rejecting the common misconception of humility as “a condition of groveling despair,” it describes humility as the key to attaining “true freedom of the human spirit” as well as serenity, strength, and character. And it specifies that “the desire to seek and do God’s will” is the essential ingredient of humility, without which we may never find relief from our most crippling and painful shortcomings.
It seems impossible for us to surrender completely to God’s will until we have seen and accepted the truth about ourselves, free from the delusions of both self-flattery and self-loathing. How could we possibly seek to give up a character defect or shortcoming that we fail to recognize as a fault, or cannot admit we possess? Thus we see that humility is the essence of the 7th Step, for it’s only the lack of humility that enables us to convince ourselves that, say, arrogance is just “healthy self-esteem” . . . or that predatory sexual behavior is nothing more than “a natural sex drive.” Similarly, regarding ourselves as too flawed to be fixed is nothing but reverse pride.
Learning to see ourselves accurately is a consequence of the self-examination that starts with Step 4. It’s seldom easy to face unflattering truths about ourselves. We must overcome the ego-protecting tendency to deny, distort, or minimize our failings before we can acknowledge them to our innermost selves and learn to accept ourselves exactly as we really are.
Some of us have a hard time with this because we’ve learned to be harshly judgmental of ourselves and others. If so, we’re likely to confuse beating ourselves up for the sort of clear-eyed honesty the Step requires to be most effective.
Others fear the harsh judgment of a vindictive God. They cannot face certain painful truths until they surrender their dysfunctional beliefs and learn to understand God as forgiving and unconditionally loving toward them.
The important thing is that we not give up but keep working to become ever more honest and accepting of ourselves, acknowledging both our strengths and our weaknesses. The 7th Step, like the 6th, is not one that we are ever likely to do “perfectly.” Yet there is much to be gained by persistent effort, peeling away layer after layer of our old selves as we work the Steps again and again. And each time we recognize another troublesome attitude or behavior and surrender it wholeheartedly as expressed in the 7th Step Prayer, we get to grow a bit more in humility.
Most of us experience this attitude of complete open surrender to God’s will when we first work through the Steps, at least briefly, even though we might not recognize it as humility at the time. However, as we grow more accustomed to sober living, we often begin to take our new way of life for granted. We become complacent and lackadaisical about the continuous step work necessary to keep growing spiritually, and we lose the enthusiasm of discovery that propelled us through the Steps the first time. Thus we put ourselves at risk for relapse.
This is why repeated application of the 7th Step is so important: First, for our sobriety, because when we stop actively seeking humility, we start feeding our egos . . . and once we break out in a rash of self-will, a return to drinking usually follows (or gambling, or eating, etc.). Second, for the sake of our continuous spiritual growth, because when we stagnate spiritually, we stop being helpful to others – families, friends, colleagues, and communities – and without that deeper purpose we deprive ourselves of the richest rewards life has to offer.
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¹Alcoholics Anonymous, New York: AA World Services, 1952, p. 76.
²Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: AA World Services, 1952, p. 71.
What are “shortcomings?” How are they related to character defects?
Which of my shortcomings have I already identified?
Do I understand what makes each of them a liability?
Are there any shortcomings that I’m not willing to give up at this time? Why not?
Are there some qualities I regard as virtues that others regard as shortcomings?
Do I see how others could be right about them? Have I honestly tried to see their point of view?
What does the word “humbly” mean?
What does humility have to do with God removing my shortcomings?
What do I have to gain from seeking humility?
Are there any drawbacks to becoming more humble?
What can I do to grow in humility?
Links to more information about Humility and the 7th Step:
12Step.org on Step 7
“Taking Step Seven,” from the Big Book Bunch
NAOnlineRecovery’s perspective on Step Seven
Roger G. sharing his experience with Humility
BellaOnline, “Humility and Step Seven”
Humility and the Seventh Step Exercise
“Step Seven,” by therecoverygroup.org
Todd W, Bill P & Sara S, Drop the Rock: Removing Character Defects-Steps 6 & 7
A helpful guide to the lifelong process of coming to grips with our character defects after getting sober.
Darren Littlejohn, The 12-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction
A guide to practicing the 12 Steps from a Buddhist perspective.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions The official Alcoholics Anonymous supplement to the “Big Book” explaining each of the Steps in greater detail.
Hubal and Hubal, Living with Yourself: A Workbook for Steps 4-7 The second of Hubal & Hubal’s study guides to the Steps, this volume takes readers from the 4th Step through the 7th.