As 2014 approached, a young pastor sincerely asked me what he could do to help bring about greater peace in the life of the community. "Well, how about getting to know the Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) groups?" I asked sincerely. "Seriously, figure out what they do."
In my view, the A.A. community gets it because they fundamentally understand that people are broken and desperately need the help of other broken people.
As the pastor and I talked about peace, I asked him to consider what it would mean in 2014 for him and his parishioners to be at peace — with God, with themselves and with others.
"Well, for starters some people would have to quit pretending, hiding and denying they have problems," he said.
"Exactly," I said. "All the more reason to explore local A.A. and other 12-step groups." In hundreds of one-on-one meetings with people in 2013, I was struck with the desire people have to be at peace with God and their fellow humans.
Twelve-step programs understand that the peace process centers, above everything else, on admitting to being powerless and on saying that because of certain behaviors our life has become unmanageable. You cannot be at peace until you give up, until you surrender and until you say, "Not my will but your will be done."
Sadly, many people never make it to step one. But step one is the heart. I like to say step one like this: "I admit I am powerless over the effects of my separation from God — that my life has become unmanageable." I recognize and admit my own brokenness, knowing there is no true peace with God unless I first admit that I am broken and powerless.
Step two presses in farther toward peace with God by saying, "I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity." If you are serious about finding peace with God, you must begin your journey by admitting, "This cannot be about me. If it were, I would have changed by now. The power I need is far beyond me."
That leads to deciding to turn our will and our life over to the care of God as we understand Him. Step three involves a decision to let God be in charge. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, "I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1.
Peace with God always is the door to peace with yourself. Peace with yourself starts by looking in the mirror and saying, "Search me, O God. Examine me. Test me." Thus, step four says we "made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
Honestly, is any of us the person we want to be? Who of us does not have skeletons in our closet? And yet, fear grips us so we pretend that something does not exist when in fact it really does. We minimize and blame and excuse and dodge the real issues.
But a prayer from "Prayers for the Twelve Steps" says, "Dear God, it is I who have made my life a mess. I have done it, but I cannot undo it. My mistakes are mine, and I will begin a searching and fearless moral inventory. I will write down my wrongs, but I will also include that which is good. I pray for the strength to complete the task."
Peace with ourselves, then, begins to truly take hold when we "admitted to God, ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our character." A friend tells me he believes confession is the road to peace. James 5:16 is his favorite Bible verse. "Confess your sins to each other and prayer for each other so that you may be healed."
Thus, in your journey to peace you decide to let someone see you as you really are. Can you imagine being that vulnerable with another human? Many can't and never live the kind of transparent life that would set them free. But if you will humbly confess your issues to another person, you are ready to make peace with yourself.
In the faith community we say this confession begins an inner transformation we call repentance. Repentance is doing a complete 180. We change direction; we confess; we own our stuff. We say with the Psalmist, "Against you and you only have I sinned and done that which is evil in your sight." We then humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings and begin to purify our character.
True peace always begins by making peace with God. Then we move to making peace with ourselves. And only then can we take the steps to be at peace with others where we willingly and seriously examine our relationships by making "a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them."
When I made that list I ask myself, "Am I truly willing to treat others the way I want them to treat me?" It takes courage to humbly approach someone and ask them to forgive you for the specific ways you have hurt them.
Yes, it's true that you might find a little happiness making a resolution to lose 10 pounds and start exercising three times a week. But those who want to help bring greater peace to our community would do well to pay more attention to the A.A. groups and other 12-step groups in our area.
They have room for courageous people who will be loved and accepted as they are. Try to imagine the courage you might experience when you hear others admit they are powerless over their shortcomings. And then try to imagine the peace that comes, in saying yourself, maybe for the first time, "I am utterly powerless and my life has become unmanageable."
Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 35 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via blog.pastortopastorinitiatives.com. Contact him at email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.