Step 6: “We were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character.”
To summarize where we are:
We realized that we were powerless and that our lives have become unmanageable.
Whether it is a straightforward addiction, a socially acceptable preoccupation, or a neediness that we are trying to satisfy in our lives that keeps us from the peace and serenity we most fundamentally desire, we admit that we do not have it within ourselves to manage our lives toward that end.
The life of addiction (or attachment) is the life of needing something that will not fulfill the needing, that ultimately drains our energy and consumes our life. It is living out of our ego (small self) and our small self’s attachments.
So whether our problems are ego attachments to win that drive us, or straightforward addictions, the essential problem is the same, we cannot keep ahead of them to find the peace/serenity we seek.
2nd step: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Open ourselves up to encounter reality
Get in touch with our deepest desire/longing and have hope. We are not all there is and we can connect to a deeper love.
3rd step: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
Surrender to one who loves us
God is not our enemy, God is our companion, friend who wants our healing and wholeness
4th Step: We made a courageous and searching moral inventory of ourselves
This searching and fearless moral inventory is not the judgment of an adversary, but the counsel of a friend as we become a friend to ourselves when we recognize that we are not living in a way that will bring us to peace. We can be our own worst enemy when we refuse to pay attention to our lives. Not to mention the enemy of those around us.
This moral inventory is the process of diagnosis to put us in a position to put in place the therapy that will make us healthy and whole. This should take us out of the moralistic frame that actually inhibits our paying careful attention to our lives for fear of being blamed and then punished.
5th Step: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This life in the Spirit is really the only plausible way forward. This life opens all of itself to the embrace of all of creation as the way forward. As Rohr puts it: “Only mutual apology, healing, and forgiveness offer a sustainable future of humanity.”
This core of Jesus’ teaching is the path that reconnects us to love when we go astray. Sharing our stories of failure to another person frees us from shame and isolation, restoring us to belonging in the community.
So far the steps have been about being honest about our situation and about turning our will and our lives over to God. Step 6 invites us to dig a bit deeper and at the same time it highlights the paradoxical nature of how we relate to God.
Step 6 actually invites the question of who’s step it is: is it our step or is it God’s step? We say we’re ready for God to remove our defects. Who’s in charge: us or God? We’re ready for God to do something. Whose responsibility is it? Us to be ready, or God to act? As Richard Rohr puts it, “We must first fully own and admit that we have ‘defects of character,’ but then equally step back and do nothing about it, as it were, until we are ‘entirely ready’ to let God do the job!”
An image: We’re in a box. We don’t like being in the box. It’s not particularly comfortable. It’s cramped. It’s lonely. But we know the inside of the box. It’s familiar. We can’t be sure what’s outside of the box. Are we ready for God to release us from the box? Yes. But that’s not the question.
The heart of Step 6 is: are we ENTIRELY ready for God to remove ALL defects of character.
Step 6 is asking us after a fearless and searching moral inventory and after an admission of the exact nature of our wrongs to ourselves, to God and to another human being whether or not we wish to cling to any of the defects of character that have gotten us into trouble. Or do we still maybe want to hang on to some of them?
Do we want to be entirely out of the box? Or do we want to keep some of ourselves in the box?
This is very much like step 3 of surrendering to God. The difference is that at the point of step 6 we have become more deeply and completely aware of the realities about who we are and how we have been. We are more thoroughly in touch with our lives. It is time to figure out whether we are entirely ready to be entirely free.
Our Bible reading today tells us about Jesus’ celebratory procession into Jerusalem. The reading from Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus was accompanied into the city with a band of followers. As they enter the city these followers wave palm branches and spread their garments before him on the street in his honor. As they enter, they encounter the rest of the city which gets all stirred up in response. They are caught up in wondering who this one is coming into the capital, the holy city, at the most important religious festival of the year.
Yes, they are all interested. Jesus’ followers, the rest of the city. They are caught up in the drama, the excitement, the challenge that Jesus represents to the oppressive, corrupt collusion between the occupying Romans and their own self-serving religious and political leaders.
As the week goes on – this week in Jerusalem between Palm Sunday and Good Friday – both the crowds and Jesus’ followers drop away from him, until Jesus stands alone. The danger of overturning the way things are is overpowering. Not ready yet.
They do not want to be out of their box. They are not entirely ready to be completely out. On sober second thought, maybe it’s safer in the box. Maybe we’ll wait.
A few weeks ago our Bible reading told us of a conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a religious leader. But he had become intrigued with Jesus and the astonishing things that Jesus said and did.
Nicodemus wanted a better view and a closer look. So he went to visit Jesus one night, out of sight of his friends and colleagues, not wanting to arouse suspicion that he was being won over by this upstart young teacher and miracle worker. It was clear to Nicodemus that there was something of God in this Jesus of Nazareth, but he couldn’t quite piece it together. It didn’t quite make sense.
Nicodemus seeks some particular clarification. He seeks an explanation. But Jesus offers no explanation. He offers no clarification. Jesus simply says to him, “You must be born anew.”
But Nicodemus, with his self-satisfied teacher’s closed mind and his religious purity closed down heart, and his skulking about at night defended body cannot believe it. He sputters it is not possible.
But Jesus insists: You must be born anew. You must be born anew, reborn of the Spirit and the Spirit blows where it will. This is not about what you can do or can’t do, Nicodemus. Are you ready, Nicodemus? Are you completely ready to be entirely new?
The Spirit Wind is blowing, Nicodemus. It’s whistling around your box. You can hear it, Nicodemus. Whoosh, Nicodemus!
Sometimes it feels easier to stay in our box to keep out of the wind. That may seem safer. But it’s not the answer.
We need to open the windows or go outside and let the spirit wind blow new life into us. Blow us open, blow us into reality. We know that wind can sting, but it’s our only hope. Are we entirely ready to be completely blown away?
But maybe it was just a matter of time for Nicodemus. Because he shows up two more times in the story.
The next time we hear of Nicodemus is a little later. Some of his fellow religious leaders are scolding the police that they hadn’t arrested Jesus for saying controversial things. The police counter that no one had ever spoken the way Jesus does. The leaders tell them that no respectable scholars agree with Jesus.
But Nicodemus- whom the Bible reminds us “had come to Jesus by night” speaks up and says that no one should be judged without hearing from them and learning what they are up to. The other leaders dismiss him.
Nicodemus is still waiting. He still needs evidence; he still wants a reason to decide, but he can’t quite get there. He is not entirely ready to be completely blown away.
We encounter Nicodemus one last time in the Bible. It is after the crucifixion.
Pilate had given Joseph of Arimathea permission to take Jesus’ body after the crucifixion to bury it. So Joseph, who was a secret disciple of Jesus, took the body. And Nicodemus, “who had come to Jesus by night” the Bible again reminds us, was with him. They prepared Jesus’ body with fine linen and Nicodemus brought an abundance of expensive myrrh and aloes to prepare him for burial. They laid him in a new tomb.
Perhaps Nicodemus thought, as they sealed the grave, I was right not to be ready. I was right not to be ready to leave the shelter of my box. This man’s life has blown out. It’s blown over. The calm has come back.
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus back in a box. What could go wrong? Or right?
As we’ll see next week. That box, that tomb, was not the end of the story.
We don’t finally know what happens to Nicodemus. We don’t know if he ever becomes entirely ready to be completely blown away.
But what about us? Am I entirely ready for God to completely be at work in me?
And in that mixture, that dance of my readiness and God’s work how do I sort out who is who? Who has to move first?
As Richard Rohr puts it:
Step 6 “recognizes that we have to work to see our many resistances, excuses, and blockages, but then we have to fully acknowledge that God alone can do the “removing”! But which should come first, grace or responsibility? The answer is that both come first.
All we can do is get out of the way and then the soul takes its natural course. Grace is inherent to creation from the beginning, just like springtime; but it is a lot of work to get out of the way and allow that grace to fully operate and liberate.”
Am I ready to get out of the way?
Richard Rohr concludes:
“God is humble and never comes if not first invited, but God will find some clever way to get invited.”
God does not come to overpower, but sneaks in. Even by death if that’s what it takes.
When we are entirely ready, we find that God has already been at work. Time to live outside the box.