Step Four: The key to the future

We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future.
We were prepared to look at (all of this) from an entirely different angle.”
(“Alcoholics Anonymous“, page 66)

We are ultimately headed toward new attitudes (“constant thought of others”) and actions (“how we can help meet their needs”) stemming from spiritual principles such as summarized here:

“Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others. Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.” (pages 19-20)
“At the moment (Steps Four through Nine) we are trying to put our lives in order. But this is not an end in itself. Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.” (page 77)
“Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle.” (page 128)

And to help us eventually get there, we are making a beginning by learning some things about ourselves, life and right living while seeking freedom from anger and resentment. While we had been practicing “constant thought of ourselves and how we can get our own needs met” in the past, “we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it.” (page 25) So now:

“We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future. We were prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle. We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us.” (page 66)

How is it that “the world and its people really dominated us”? First, we human beings all have the natural instincts, desires and needs we have listed in Column Three, and we have been trying to get other people to serve us while we have been practicing “constant thought of self and how we can get our own needs met”…and all of that has left us empty-handed in a never-ending stream of frustration and misery ultimately driving us back to alcohol for relief.

“In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill. How could we escape? We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how? We could not wish them away any more than alcohol.”

Next, did you notice “fancied or real” in the above? We have listed the attitudes and actions of others that have been the targets of our past anger and resentment, but the fact we have felt upset or hurt does not guarantee those attitudes and actions of others have always actually been wrong. For example:

Resentment List - Fancied

The fact that someone might get someone else’s job does not prove any wrong-doing on the part of anyone else, and neither does the fact that someone had been locked up to keep him from drinking himself to death. Then, is an employer automatically being unreasonable, unjust and overbearing while reprimanding us if we do not show up for work on-time every day and do what we have been hired to do? How about a wife wanting the family home in her own name before her alcoholic spouse might drink it away? There certainly are right ways and wrong ways for those kinds of things to be done, but the fact that we are affected by the actions of other people and end up angry and resentful does not prove other people have actually committed wrong-doings. Rather, the overall point here is that our own attitudes and actions helping to fuel our anger and resentment have not been making life any better either for ourselves or for anyone else.

We will learn more about discerning right from wrong as practiced anywhere by anyone as we continue on in our new “constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs” (page 20) manner of living, but for now we are getting started by learning new attitudes and actions toward other people even though some of them might actually have committed true wrongs against us:

“This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick.” (page 66)

We are not judging and condemning others while pondering this possibility of spiritual sickness, we are simply recognizing the fact that spiritual sickness lies behind wrong attitudes and actions.

“Though we did not like their symptoms (of possible spiritual sickness) and the way these (attitudes and actions listed in Column Two) disturbed us…” (page 67)

Let us give some careful thought to the second part of that:

“Though we did not like…the way these (attitudes and actions listed in Column Two) disturbed us…”

We are not trying to become free of being affected by the attitudes and actions of other people. To do that, we would have to either find a way to only ever experience good things from others or else become completely self-sufficient and never be dependent upon this world or other people at all. So while dealing with this matter of our past-or-present anger and resentment, and even though we have yet to look for any of our defects of character, we say this:

“…(other people), like ourselves, were (spiritually) sick…(so we) asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend.”

Rather than trying to remove or expel offensive people and/or their wrong-doings from our lives, we are now working toward being able to display for others the kind of witness for which we have prayed at Step Three:

“Relieve me of the bondage of (self-sufficiency, selfishness and/or self-centeredness), that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties (over the frustrations of my natural human instincts and desires), that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power [to deliver], Thy Love [in kindness], and Thy Way of life [in right fellowship with others and worship of You in place of worship of self].” (Step Three)

And so:

“When a person (next) offended (us) we said to ourselves, ‘This is a (spiritually) sick man (or woman). How can I be helpful to him (or to her)? God save me from being angry (and/or from wrongly acting in or upon my anger). Thy will be done.’
“We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.”

Consider these two excerpts once again:

Resentment Prayer Purpose

Resentment Prayer

We will see all of this again later and in more detail at Step Eleven:

“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where there is hatred, I may bring love—that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness—that where there is discord, I may bring harmony—that where there is error, I may bring truth—that where there is doubt, I may bring faith—that where there is despair, I may bring hope—that where there are shadows, I may bring light—that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted—to understand, than to be understood—to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.” (Prayer of Saint Francis)

Here is the same kind of prayer in the form of song:

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Jan-Lee Music

“Let there be peace…and let it begin with me.” We hope to help burn that prayer and its principles into your mind. In the past, some of us have actually enjoyed-and-employed our resentment-driven anger as a source of energy in life, but now the futility and our resulting pain of doing so have driven us to seek a new way. No matter how loudly our ego and/or pride might complain, self-reliance for security and comfort must now be replaced by reliance upon the ways of the One who created us, and that means our old attitude or idea of “constant thought of self and how we can get our needs met” must now be abandoned in favor of “constant thought of others and how we can help meet their needs” (page 20)…

…and now with that new attitude and approach to life and right relationships in place, we next begin looking for our own wrong-doings and defects of character still standing in the way of the very best our Maker intends for ourselves and others around us.

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