A well-known saying asserts that in foxholes there are no atheists.
When we're in a position of pain, danger or need, something within us awakens and reignites a deep connection to our Source. And somehow, with this connection, we find strength we never knew we had and the ability to move forward.
A paradigm for this is the Twelve Step Program from Alcoholics Anonymous. This program is one of the most successful self-help models in existence, so successful, in fact, that it has been modified and adapted by other groups including Narcotics Anonymous, Al Anon for families of alcoholics, CODA for co-dependency, Self-Esteem Anonymous and more.
At the core of the program is the belief in a Higher Being who has the ability to help us overcome our "unmanageable lives."
In the words of the Steps:
Step 1: I admit that my life has become unmanageable and I have become powerless.
Step 2: I acknowledge the belief that a Power greater than I can restore sanity to my life.
Step 3: I turn my life over to this greater Power, however I want to define Him, and ask for His help.
In a nutshell, these three steps are saying: "I can't. G‑d, You can. Please help!"
What is it about the Twelve Steps that makes this program so versatile and successful?
And, why does the acknowledgement of a Higher Being--rather than, for example, looking inward and just encouraging one's own efforts--bring healing and solace when we feel overcome with addictions, suffering, stress or despair?
I think the emphasis on a Higher Being is a necessary balm for any broken heart in these three fundamental ways:
1) Recognizing Our Limitations
We live in a world of unprecedented human achievement. We've conquered so many frontiers and overcome limitations on so many levels including technology, medicine, and communication. We've become accustomed to controlling our realities.
Yet, ironically, we also take comfort in becoming aware of our own smallness. Despite our human achievements, despite the cosmic significance of our technological advances, despite the intricate complexities of the machines that we create, or the crushing power of the weapons we manufacture, when all is said and done, when we consider the vastness of our universe, we don't ultimately want to be in charge. We find it strangely comforting to believe in a Power that is much greater than ourselves who takes ultimate responsibility for our world.
We aren't accustomed to accepting limits, yet when we encounter circumstances over which we have no control, we are forced to face our limitations. Recognizing a Higher Power means acknowledging that we need the help of Someone outside of ourselves to overcome our struggle, whether in the arena of health, self-limiting beliefs, addictions or negative self-talk.
And that recognition is the comforting first step to our recovery.
2) We're Not Alone
Wherever we may find ourselves on this planet (and beyond), at all times of day or night, today's technology allows us to instant message, email, voice mail, and video conference with one another. And yet, more and more of us feel disconnected and intensely lonely. We're "in touch" and always just a click away from a whole cyber-community, but we don't feel "connected" on a more meaningful level.
This aloneness becomes all the more acute when we are fighting a formidable battle over an acutely painful situation.
Recognition of a Higher Being means that we are never inherently alone.
The Ultimate Being of compassion and wisdom has a real connection with you and is saying: I am near you. I understand your struggles even when you feel so alone. I am with you even before your predicament, providing you with the fortitude to continue. I will help you tackle unchartered territory. I understand you better than you understand yourself.
G‑d understands and is with us through our fears, uncertainties, failures and successes and makes us feel that much less frightened and isolated in taking steps towards our future.
While, to some, belief in G‑d means presenting a wish list of what we want or need, it is foremost the experience of being in the company of G‑d. At all times. In all struggles.
3) You Matter
And finally, being in G‑d's presence brings the recognition that despite my smallness, as G‑d's creation, I matter.
Have you ever strolled through a crowded shopping mall, or down a crowded pedestrian walkway, neck to neck with tens of others, sensing that your presence there doesn't matter at all? No one would really notice or care if you weren't exactly where you are, doing what you're doing. Your presence doesn't matter. Not to anyone.
And yet, belief in a Higher Power means you do matter and that your every action is significant.
There is reason for challenge. It is not a random happening, but a planned struggle necessary for our souls. There is a point and a purpose to our successes and our failures. On some level, the chaos of our world is not chaos, but makes perfect sense.
Whether we are dealing with an addiction to some negative substance, or whether we are struggling with a crisis or challenge, at some point in our lives, we all cry out from the depths of our souls.
Unfortunately, life is too full of moments when we acutely feel, G‑d, I just can't.
At those moments, we need to be able to find within ourselves the comforting words: G‑d, You can. Please help!