Step 4 of 12: Searching and Fearless

You wear a mask, and your face grows to fill it.

--George Orwell

Step 4: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

In my experience with 12 Step programs, participants invariably start flaking out at Step 4. Christians particularly can fake the first 3 Steps, as we know the language and can wear the contrite mask. When that happens, the program becomes merely a 12 Step waltz where we repeat steps 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3; never making any significant progress. However, if we're serious about recovery, Step 4 is a necessary result of turning our lives over to God's care. It's hard work, and it's not uncommon for 25-50% of a 12 Step group to go AWOL in Steps 4 and 5.

There are obvious reasons for that attrition. Introspection is not that much fun. At least it isn't for me. There's just a lot of stuff deep inside me that I'd rather not be reminded about. I've worked too hard to bury it. Of course, that way of living hasn't worked so well for me, either. It's one of the reasons I'm single and now here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. To the contrary, the best path to a healthy emotional and spiritual life is honest introspection, and Step 4 recognizes that truth.

While it could get ugly, the purpose of a searching and fearless moral inventory is not to beat ourselves up. The purpose is to struggle with our inconsistencies, contradictions, confusion, or any of the thoughts and feelings that give rise to our addictive and compulsive behavior. Christians call this "sin" while Buddhists call it "suffering," but the goal is not the avoidance of sin or suffering. That's not possible. The goal is simply the struggle itself. That struggle will ultimately be the source of insight.

Step 4 is about taking the risk to remove our masks so that we can honestly see and let ourselves be seen clearly, but in the light of God's love and forgiveness and mercy. This is difficult but meaningful work that, in hindsight, we will never regret because of where it leads us.