Recovery Myth-Buster: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Recovery Myth-Buster: God Helps Those Who Help ThemselvesWe’re all familiar with the common adage, “God helps those who help themselves.” Maybe it was a lesson you learned from your parents, or a mentor, or even within the recovery community. It sounds legitimate and believable; we know that recovery does indeed require work and we know we are to expect God’s help with it. But this statement is fundamentally flawed. Rather than a recovery-promoting truth, it is a myth that distorts the reality and power of God’s grace.

“When we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God’s hands were better than anything we could have planned.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 100)

The problem with this statement is how easy it is to believe and how easy it is to misunderstand. We know that there is no free lunch, that everything we want, whether material or intangible, has some cost. People take ‘help themselves’ to mean ‘fix themselves’ or ‘make themselves better. As if to say, if you will work hard and bring about the miracle of your own recovery, God will bless it and then you will have earned His favor and His help.

But the reason we have come to A.A. is we have seen and become willing to admit that we are completely powerless over alcohol, that we have lost the power of choice, and that we are willing to try a different way. All of our efforts and attempts to free ourselves from the bondage of alcohol have ended in utter failure. A.A. provides a different way. Instead of presenting one more self-help method, A.A. finally allows addicts the opportunity to admit that they cannot help themselves at all. That is both the beauty and the crux of the program.

God’s help to you is His grace. And by definition, grace is something you have not earned, and indeed cannot earn. If you earned it, it would not be grace; it would be your due or your payoff. The world works this way; God does not. Recovery is not your payback; it is purely a gift.

And this is good news because we have seen where our own efforts have landed us. If freedom from the obsession and compulsion that has so destroyed our lives were contingent upon our own efforts or superpowers, we would be in a most desperate situation. A.A. does not ask us to fix ourselves; the entire premise of the Twelve Step program is that we are incapable of doing so. The program is unique in that it asks only that we admit it, and that we become ready to rely on God.

But ‘help themselves’ is not entirely without meaning. It is important not to fall off the balance on the other side. God’s grace does not give license to laziness and total inertia. Very little good will come to the one who refuses to desire, exert effort, and actually work the steps. Recovery will not drop upon the one who is complacent or cavalier.

We indeed need to work, to strive, to push ourselves, but it is not so that God will repay us with recovery or growth. This is a most important point to grasp. Rather, our efforts are our leaps of faith. We know we need help and we have seen that we cannot help ourselves. But we believe that God can. Thus we begin walking forward, doing what is in front of us to do, trusting that He will provide the strength that we need, and that He will bless us in the process. Instead of believing that if we just work hard enough God will make us right, we do what is in our power to do. And we pray that He will give us the help and strength that we do not have, but which we so desperately need.

One of the greatest challenges the recovering addict will face is learning to be honest, step out in faith, and then trust that God will provide the wisdom, guidance, and strength we need to work the program and finally be free of alcohol. Many of us have been hard workers, but our hard work could never secure that kind of payoff. Do the work that is before you to do in the Twelve Steps and then faithfully expect God’s healing and saving grace.

“Such is the paradox of A.A. regeneration: strength arising out of complete defeat and weakness, the loss of one’s old life as a condition for finding a new one.” (A.A. Comes of Age, 46)