We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. — Step 4 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
“E” is for “Evaluate.” After we recognize our restlessness for what it is, we then evaluate the nature of our restlessness, by undertaking a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Rest only follows after a brave and honest assessment of our restlessness and its origins.
- What’s at the root of my restlessness, really? What, in other words, am I really seeking? Am I seeking financial security? Status? Sexual or relational gratification? Or am I seeking the Way, the Truth and the Life who is God Himself?
- What keeps me from finding spiritual belonging? Do past hurts and suspicions about organized religion and its power plays? Do fears of intimacy — that if other people really knew me, they’d judge or dislike me?
- Where have I experienced spiritual rest, if ever? What was it like? Have I found it since?
- What does spiritual “rest” look like for me and why am I not finding it? Is guilt or regret about past mess-ups standing in the way? Is an inability to forgive those who have hurt me?
- What am I afraid to see in myself that’s keeping me from finding spiritual rest, in the form of surrendering to God’s purposes and belonging to a community of people seeking the Way, the Truth and the Life?
We’re used to making evaluations of various kinds in just about every other realm of life: at work at least once a year with that dreaded performance evaluation; at school; in sports; on boards; in relationships.
Iowa voters made their evaluation in last night’s caucus — and the morning after, the candidates (both the winners and the losers) are undertaking their own evaluations with the recognition that their circumstances are probably not solely the result of dumb luck, regardless of the coin tosses. Even Donald Trump is uncharacteristically speechless on Twitter — for 13 hours the Republican candidate reportedly stopped tweeting to the dismay of his 6 million followers. Even his concession speech was remarkably gracious. A lone moment of self-evaluation from a candidate seemingly lacking this form of humility? Maybe.
Heck, even the polls that spelled a certain win for Trump must be doing at least some soul searching, asking how it was they got their predictions so wrong.
Each week, I reckon we make dozens of evaluations, right or wrong, about all sorts of things, both big and small — and we don’t even realize it.
Simply living in this world, not to mention making progress of any kind, requires making evaluations. Why, then, do we find it so foreign or difficult to evaluate our spiritual life, I wonder? Is it our knack for self-deception? Or fear about what we might find when we really do stop to look more closely at the inner workings of our soul? Maybe it’s a combination.
I’ll be honest: what can often stop me from embarking on a “searching and fearless moral inventory” is the fear my list will be so long that I won’t even know where to begin in asking God for help — and that, in turn, is only a hop, skip and a jump away from spiritual despair. I’m afraid to end up in despair.
Yet the lesson of the 12 Steps is that our despair is God’s birthing place, our “end” — God’s “beginning” (to put a new twist on the familiar line by T.S. Eliot). 12-Step recovery thus begins with a willingness to lay all these fears and obstacles aside and look squarely at the ways we fall short, are misdirected, or fail to live up to our ideals, so that God can begin to heal us.
Similarly, when it comes to our restlessness, it’s not enough to recognize we are restless. We must take the next step of examining the roots of that restlessness. We must evaluate our spiritual condition with the assumption that we will come up short somewhere in that inventory process. And, I suspect that it’s precisely in those places where we’ll most benefit from the rest that only God can give.