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The Four Important Things

Apr 18, 2008
As a recovering Catholic (I last went to church when Nixon was president), I had a very hard time with the idea of prayer. In fact, I had a very hard time with organized religion in general. Rather than get into a discussion of all that, however, let me just say that while it works for lots of people and is responsible for a lot of good things in the world, religion just didn't work for me. No harm, no foul on either side.

So once upon a time I put down the bong and got involved with one of those "anonymous" programs - you know, the one with all the "steps." I hung around there for awhile, and people started talking to me about finding God - or, a "higher power" in case you didn't like the "G"-word. The idea was that I was supposed to try and operate my life on the guidance and direction of this omnipotent entity, instead of on my best thinking.

Keep in mind that at this particular moment "my best thinking" had brought my life to the point where I was wasted and alone almost 24/7. I was not pleasant company for anyone - unless you happened to be a drug dealer. Still, the prospect of "surrender" to some kind of outside guidance and direction from "G" made me very afraid - so afraid that I was at first almost ready to give up my young sobriety rather than do it. The reason was that the God I had in my mind was not someone you would want to meet in a dark alley - angry, punishing, and always ready to spring some kind of catastrophe on you when you least expected it.

This was the God I had been taught about in Catholic school. The nun who was my third-grade teacher described God as "holding us suspended over the fires of hell by a thread." This was the God I was supposed to let run my life? I had run away from this God as soon as I could - stopped going to church and instead invested my future in what I could see and think for myself. Not a very fruitful investment, as it turned out.

I was about ready to bolt when a couple of guys who had been doing this "anonymous" thing for awhile took me aside and asked me what the problem was. I told them about the fires of hell and the thread, and they laughed.

"We used to believe stuff like that too. But you don't have to believe it anymore," they said. "You can make up your own idea of God - whatever works for you. The only requirement is that you believe that there is some power in the universe that's greater than you. Can you do that?"

As it turned out, I could. My addictions had kicked me into a state where I was willing to do just about anything in order to change my life. If believing was what it took, I guessed I could do that too. There was this old guy named Bill in my group, a retired baker who had been sober for over 25 years. A big smiling man with a shock of snow-white hair. I liked the way he talked about sobriety. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd hold you over the fires of hell by a thread. He became my first image of a higher power. I have had many since.

Operating my life on guidance and direction from God (yes, I've come back around to that name again - it's spelled the same but my concept is very different) turned out to be much easier than I thought. The God I believe in now is benevolent - he has my best interest at heart and he doesn't punish me for making mistakes. In fact, I've come to believe that this God has a plan for my life, and that his plan is the best possible outcome my life can have. My job is to make my thoughts and actions line up with whatever that plan is. This generally takes the form of accepting the things that happen in my life as being OK just the way they are, and trying to change my thinking so I can be less interested in myself and more interested in being of service in every area of my life - work, family, friends, community. I find that if I do those things, the idea of slipping back into my old addictive ways doesn't even come up. While I wouldn't call this approach religious (I mean, it's not about going to a certain church or reading the Bible), I think it is by nature spiritual. That difference serves me well.

As I said at the beginning, I've never liked to pray very much. I grew up saying prayers that were repeated so often that the words themselves ceased to mean anything. What was the point? Years into my sobriety, a wise man told me that prayers are not for the benefit of God. God already knows he's in charge. The purpose of prayer, this man said, was for me to remind me of who was in charge. Because in the tumult of my day I can easily forget.

I've always liked that idea. So I set about writing my own prayer, something that would be meaningful to me and serve as my constant reminder of who is in charge. I call it The Four Important Things:

God, I want to remember the Four Important Things:

1. That I am powerless; you are the one with the power.

2. That my life is not manageable by me; you have the ultimate plan for my life.

3. That my thinking is not sufficient for this plan; your guidance and direction is.

4. And that I am one of your kids, you're taking care of me, and there is nothing to worry about.

Saying this prayer never fails to put me in a much better frame of mind, especially when things are getting chaotic. For a man as angry at God as I was, having this prayer (and believing it) is nothing short of a miracle.
About the Author
Emile Barrios has more than 30 years of writing experience in television news, advertising, public relations, and technical/scholarly publications. Following the completion of Nub: Story of an Ex-Cripple, Emile began a second career as a fiction writer and is now at work on a novel about Avoyelles Parish, a region in central Louisiana. Visit Emile Barrios.
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