My Behavior is My Prayer.

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 7, 2017 10:02:46 AM / by John MacDougall



Many guests come to The Retreat after first attending clinical treatment centers, and then experiencing a relapse.  When we ask why they are choosing The Retreat now, they often answer that they are coming to The Retreat “To plug into The Retreat’s spirituality.” They believe that the clinical program they attended lacked spirituality, and that The Retreat has it.

Once at The Retreat, they attend the spiritual blocks group, they read and study the Big Book, and attend meditation sessions. In addition, some have spiritual care consults with me, to find their recovery spirituality. Whenever someone says they want to “plug into The Retreat’s spirituality” I imagine a big wall socket, right under the fire extinguisher by the back stairs, that they could plug into.

For me, spirituality is not a belief. It is not a prayer, a meditation, a religion, or a philosophy. It is a set of behaviors that are meant to align us with God’s will. When I was drinking, and taking drugs, all my behaviors were aligned with the disease of addiction. All my behaviors were aligned with protecting my supply of alcohol, diazepam, butalbital, and oxycodone. Obtaining chemicals, using them, and managing their effects was my god. Now, the loving God as portrayed in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is my God, and my spirituality increases or decreases to the precise extent that I am doing what God wants me to do right now. My spirituality is a set of behaviors.

AA says that our only authority is a loving God. That loving God is expressed not only in our group conscience, but also in my own loving behavior. If my behavior reflects the presence of that loving God, I am spiritually connected. If my behavior reflects what our book calls “self-will run riot” then I have lost my connection with God, and I am spiritually unfit.

The first form of fit spiritual behaviors I learned were the Twelve Steps themselves. If we learn them and take them in rotation: one through twelve and then over again, we become more spiritually fit. Step Twelve assures us that we have a spiritual awakening “as the result of these steps.” We don’t have a spiritual awakening so that we can do the steps, we do the steps so that we can have a spiritual awakening. We do the behaviors first, then we wake up.

The next form of fit spiritual behaviors is to practice spiritual principles in all my affairs, in everything I do. The shortest version is honesty, openness, and willingness. The longer version has a spiritual principle for each step: honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, compassion, justice, perseverance, spiritual awareness, and service.

Daily, I simply pray that God’s will should be my desire and my action. In each block of time, my prayer is both that I will know God’s will for that moment, and that I will do it. My prayers are increasingly not things that I say, but things that I do.

I imagine my relationship with God is a lot like my relationship with anyone else. People don’t want to hear what I want to do, People want to see what I do. My intention to get sober didn’t matter. Getting sober mattered. If faith without works is dead, then willingness without action is fantasy. God doesn’t want to hear all my good intentions, God wants to see my good actions.

I try to live my life consciously in the presence of God. If, moment by moment I know that I live in the presence of God, then I act like it. My behavior is my prayer.

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Topics: Alcoholics Anonymous, AA Big Book, Older Adult Recovery Programs, Men's Sober Residential, Women's Sober Residential

John MacDougall

Written by John MacDougall

John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat.
His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available from

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