Tag Archives: powerlessness

The Contradiction between Values and Behavior

“Some people recognize the need to be free from addiction but are not yet willing to begin. If you are in that situation, perhaps you can begin by acknowledging your unwillingness and considering the costs of your addiction. You can list what is important to you. Look at your family and social relationships, your relationship to God, your spiritual strength, your ability to help and bless others, your health. Then look for contradictions between what you believe in and hope for and your behavior. Consider how your actions undermine what you value.” (A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing, pp. 1-2)

Image of lined writing paper with a heading of Step-1 Inventory, followed by 2 colums: Values and Behavior. The purpose of this inventory is to identify contradictions between values and behavior.

I once participated in a marriage enrichment seminar. One of the exercises was to make two lists. On the first list we each wrote down the things that were important to us; the things we believed and hoped for. On the other list we wrote how we actually spent our time. The leader of the activity shared that when he first did this exercise, he listed “relationship with children” as one of his values. When he actually looked at what he spent his time doing, he realized with chagrin that his behavior indicated that watching old Star Trek reruns was more important to him than building his relationships with his children. That is the kind of contradiction I think the passage I quoted from Step 1 in the Guide is talking about.

For me, part of working Step 1 is this kind of inventory. How does my behavior compare to my beliefs and values? If I say I would like to have a good relationship with my husband but my behavior tells me that I judge or belittle him, I need to admit that there is a contradiction between my behaviors and my values. The same thing applies if I don’t spend time with him, or I ignore his needs and expectations.

I say that I would like to be healthy and maintain a normal weight. If an inventory of my behavior tells me that I am obsessing about food, eating food I have not planned, letting portion sizes get out of control, or eating foods that I know are not good for me, my behavior is undermining what I value.

Becoming aware of these contradictions does not mean that I can immediately fix my behavior. In fact, that is why I am embarking upon a 12-Step journey: because I have not been able to change my own behavior despite my best efforts. That is OK. The good news of Step 1 is that I can have hope. I need to be willing to admit that I am powerless and work the 12-Step program as honestly and faithfully as I can. If I do these things, the Lord, through the power of the Atonement, will either remove my weaknesses and shortcomings or give me the power I need to turn them into strengths.

  • Try writing a Step-1 Inventory listing your values and beliefs on one side and listing your relevant behavior on the other.
  • Are there any contradictions between your behavior and what you say your values are?
  • Do you have hope that it is possible for you to overcome these contradictions with the Lord’s help?
  • What will you do today to make progress?

Please share your thoughts about this post by commenting below.

Related Posts: Steps 1, 2, and 3: I Can’t, He Can, I’ll Let HimCan God Understand My Powerlessness?



Christ is the Power Source

And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me. (Moroni 7:33)

Image of the Son as a power source, with the Sun rising behind Him.When I first began to understand that I was powerless, and that any and all power that I have is given to me by Christ for the purpose of carrying out his will (see Moroni 7:33), the picture I had in my mind was of me as a little old lady, leaning upon the arm of Jesus who was guiding me across the street like a boy scout. As I continued to ponder the idea that Jesus is the source of all power, it came to me that power source is also a term that could be used to describe an electrical outlet or a battery, or even the sun.

So how is it that I receive power from a power source?  I plug in to it!  As I read the scriptures, ponder and pray, attend Church and serve others; as I am obedient to the Lord’s commandments, I draw near to Him.  When I lean upon His arm rather than my own understanding and seek His counsel and guidance; when I ask Him to grant unto me the power to carry out His will, I am plugging myself in to the ultimate power source, the Son.  And His power flows into me and through me and I can do all things which He directs me to do!

The Lord would never set us up to fail.  He loves us more than we can comprehend.  Whenever He asks us to do anything, either by direct personal revelation or through our (His) Priesthood leaders, He is willing to give us the power to carry out His will. We must prepare ourselves to receive it by becoming humble and teachable. We must sincerely do all that we can do, in faith relying upon Him to provide the power we need to complete our tasks, overcome our obstacles, or reach our goals.

  • What are you powerless over?
  • Are you willing to do the things that are described in this metaphor to “plug in” so that you can receive the Lord’s power to do what you cannot do alone?
  • What action will you take today?

Please share your thoughts about this metaphor by commenting below.


Problem Solving Flowchart

Flowchart for problem solving based on whether I have control over the problem.

What goes on in your mind when something “goes wrong?” I started thinking about this not too long ago. Some people obsess about why it happened. I don’t. So what do I do?

Is It Something I Can Control?

I go through a kind of flowchart in my mind in these situations. It actually happens pretty quickly most of the time. The first thing I ask myself is, “Is this something I can control?” This is a key question because if it is not something I can control, no amount of anguish, effort or frustration is going to change anything.

If the Problem or Situation is Not Under My Control

If the problem is something that I cannot control I quickly do Steps 1, 2, and 3:

  • Step 1: Admit that I am powerless over the matter.
  • Step 2: Acknowledge that God can handle it.
  • Step 3: Make a decision to turn it over to Him and trust His timing.

I have written several other posts on how to let go and trust God. For example, “Learning to Let Go.” Once I have turned it over, I need to be willing to trust His timing. If I find myself obsessing about the matter again, it is probably related to His timing more than anything else.  I want the problem solved immediately.  He has a perfect sense of when the necessary lessons have been learned and will resolve these things in His own way and time. I need to remember that I turned it over and decide to let it go once more. ( See more on the “God Box” ).

If It is Something I Can Control

Sometimes a problem is something I could do something about, but should not. It might be outside of my area of stewardship – in other words, none of my business. Or it might be better for the other people involved if I let them figure out a solution for themselves. Even if it is my problem to solve, it is often the case that the immediate and obvious answer that pops into my head is not the best one. I have found that praying for guidance is always worth the time.

Praying for Guidance

“Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” This is the humble prayer the Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing says to use in Step 7 on page 42.  I usually write this type of prayer (see more here), and list out the options that I can think of, describing the pros and cons, trying to think ahead to what the outcomes (including possible unintended consequences) might be. I believe this is in harmony with the Lord’s direction to Oliver Cowdery in the 9th Section of the Doctrine & Covenants.

Doing the Footwork

Sometimes the footwork is to watch and wait and continue to pray. Other times it requires more action. If I need to take action I want to feel comfortable that the action I am going to take has the approval of the Lord.  And sometimes I need to have the courage to take the action the Lord gives me to do. I may feel fear. When this happens I try to remember two of my favorite scriptures:

  • “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” (Moroni 7:33)
  • “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Trust in the Lord’s Timing

In the end, whether it turns out to be something I have no control over or something I need to act upon, it all comes down to trusting the Lord and His timing.

  • Is there something going on in your life right now that should be put through this process?
  • Are you willing to let go of it and turn it over if it is something that is not in your area of stewardship, or if the Lord tells you just to be patient right now?
  • Are you willing to ask the Lord, with an open mind and heart, if there is any footwork that you need to do?
  • Are you willing to do the footwork He has given you?
  • How do you feel about accepting His timing in the resolution of this matter?


I Am Powerless: Step 1 Reflections

Mom and Dad holding handsMy parents have just moved into a skilled nursing facility for long-term care near my brother’s home, in a city far from where I live. As I have been visiting with them I have found myself reflecting on what it means to be powerless. I have previously had the opportunity to experience and embrace powerlessness in other aspects of my life, both large and small, but this has presented a new, and in some ways deeper and more difficult experience with powerlessness.

My mother just turned 88 and she suffers from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. She was falling frequently while in their senior independent living apartment. She is doing better with her walker now that she is here, and hopefully she will not fall anymore.  I praise God that she didn’t break anything.  She is physically quite healthy, but gets confused sometimes, and struggles for words frequently. When she realizes that she has been confused she berates herself and feels guilty. It is very hard to see her suffer emotionally like this, and at times there is nothing I can do to comfort or console her.

My father is 92 and in perfect mental health, but his body is giving out on him.  For a man who has lived his whole life with complete self-sufficiency, this is very challenging. He had been the primary caregiver to my mother until his body started giving out on him.  It is very difficult for him to see her so confused. He feels badly for me and my brother that we have to see them both like this.

Neither of my parents have any belief in God or in an afterlife. It is hard to comfort someone who has no belief beyond this life and this world.  I have been a member of the Church for many years and all of my words of comfort and my sources of peace are related to my faith.  I know that the Lord is the source of any and all power that I have in my life, and that he has control over all things – including my parents, their health, and their future.  They have lived a good life of laughter and service and accomplishment. He loves them. But they don’t know it, refuse to believe it and don’t want to hear about it.

So, I am powerless. I am powerless to share my hope of the resurrection and eternal life. I am powerless to ease their pain or restore their health.

On the other hand, there are some things over which I do have power. I can turn them over to the Lord and his tender mercy and care.  I can serve them to the best of my ability without doing for them what they can do for themselves.  I can talk to them, ask them questions, smooth the path before them, and advocate for them. Most importantly, I can love them.

  • What situation in your life are you powerless over?
  • What do you have power over in this situation?
  • What are you willing to do?
  • When will you do it?




Working One Step at a Time

Working the StepsIt is easy to get discouraged, working the 12-Step program, if we obsess about a step we are not ready for.  Think about it.  Wouldn’t it be horribly discouraging to start obsessing about passing a college chemistry class when you are taking 7th grade science? Thinking ahead can paralyze you and keep you from making progress on the step you are working right now.  This is especially true if we start worrying about Steps 4,5,8, or 9.

Here is some good news! Each step prepares you for the next. The output of a step becomes the input for the one that follows it. When you are ready to move on to the next step you will WANT to do it. You may not be excited about the footwork you have to do, but you will be very excited as you anticipate the results of doing it.

If you are a newcomer to the 12-step program, you are on Step 1, admitting that you are powerless over the behavior or substance that brought you to the program. Since most of us spent years thinking we were in control and not powerless at all, and trying to prove it by our actions, that can be a tall order! Focus on Step 1 if that is where you are.  Read the step in the ARP manual, He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, or one of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions books. (See my Resources page for more info on these books.) Use the tool of writing to identify material that you can apply to your own life. Colleen Harrison, the author of He Did Deliver Me from Bondage  calls it “Capturing”. Here is an abbreviated explanation of how I use this tool.

  1. As you come across a passage that you feel inclined to highlight, copy it into a notebook.
  2. Write about what you think the passage means.
  3. Pray for guidance on how to apply this passage to your life and then write about the impressions you get.

Take the time to thoughtfully answer the questions that appear in the book you are studying. Talk to your sponsor and/or other people who are working the steps about what you are learning. When you think you have learned all you can from this step (this time around), prayerfully ask the Lord if you are done with it and ready to move on.  When you get a confirmation, start working the next one.

Getting Stuck

If I am stuck on a step and can’t seem to find the willingness to move on, it usually means that I probably wasn’t really done with the previous step when I started this one.  For example, if I am working Step 3, and just can’t seem to find the willingness to turn my will and my life over to the Lord and trust Him so I can start Step 4, I might need to go back to Step 2, and dig deeper for the ability and willingness to embrace the fact that He really CAN deliver me from my situation. If I really believe that He can and will deliver me then why would I be reluctant to ask Him to do so in Step 3?

Input and Output

What did I mean when I said that the output of one step becomes the input for the next? In Step 4 you make an inventory.  That inventory contains the things you confess in Step 5.  As you work Step 5, and give away your inventory, the person who receives it will be able to help you identify patterns and put together a list of your shortcomings and weaknesses.  In Step 6, you become willing to ask the Lord to remove them.  Truly, every one of the steps prepares us to work the next step, if we give ourselves to the work with humility and persistence.

  1. What step are you working on?
  2. Are you doing it with humility and persistence?
  3. Are you making progress?
  4. Are you using the tool of writing?
  5. Are you talking to others about what you are learning?
  6. What are you willing to do to move forward?


Can God Understand My Powerlessness?

Picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking.In the Church we are taught that in some unfathomable way in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus somehow experienced and took upon Him every sin, transgression, challenge, feeling, and experience that has ever been or will ever be experienced by any child of God.  Every feeling? What about powerlessness? How could the Lord Omnipotent possibly fully experience powerlessness?  It seems like a contradiction in terms, a paradox.

I was reminded of one of my first profound experiences with powerlessness.  One of my children was refusing to get out of bed and go to school.  There really wasn’t anything she cared enough about for me to be able to use it as an enticement, or even as a threat.  As I stood looking down at her lying in her bed, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness.  How had it come to this?  She was my child.  I was her mother.  Yet there was nothing I could do to “make” her behave the way I wanted her to.  It occurred to me that once children grow too large to physically carry, we really don’t have much control over them at all unless we resort to threats of physical violence or emotional abuse, neither of which was an acceptable option to me.

And so it is with Jesus.  He stands at the door and knocks.  He whispers to me through the still small voice.  He longs to bestow upon me every blessing I could possibly want.  Yet He cannot make me open the door.  He cannot make me open my ears or recognize His voice.  He cannot make me open my spiritual eyes and recognize Him at my side.  He cannot force me to receive the blessings He is holding out to me.  He cannot do any of those things without compromising my agency, which would defeat the whole purpose of His mission.  Is this not powerlessness?

He needs me to be His hands, feet and voice in the lives of others.  How does He feel when I am too busy, or afraid? What about Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother?  How do They feel when They watch us stumble and fall?  Do Their hearts cry out to be able to pick us up and comfort us?  What if we don’t recognize Their hands in our lives, and refuse to be comforted?  Do They weep for our sorrows and pain?  Do They long to be able to just hold us?  Rock us?  Tell us it will be alright?

Yes, God knows what it feels like to be powerless.  And as we learn to accept our powerlessness, along with all the feelings associated with it, we grow to become more like Them. Are you ready to give up the illusion of control and confess your powerlessness? It is the first step to freedom.

  • What are you reluctant to let go of – to admit that you are powerless over?
  • Write about how you have tried to control this matter and what the results have been.
  • Are you satisfied with the results?
  • Are you willing to let go and trust the Lord in this matter?
  • What footwork do you need to do in order to let it go?