3 Questions for Finding a Higher Power

OA makes no bones about it. You’re gonna need a Higher Power if you want to recover from compulsive eating. Why? Simple, because if we can’t do it ourselves, and if no human being can do it for us, then by process of elimination, we need something more powerful than we are to do the heavy lifting for us.

Notice, we didn’t say God in that last paragraph? That’s because we needn’t define a Higher Power in those terms if we don’t want to. For some of us, it’s best if we don’t because that word rankles us.

On the other hand, for those used to religious worship, the term Higher Power may feel unspecific. Folks with a current conception of a God figure might well want to stick with it.

In OA we don’t have a horse in the gods race. Or lack of gods race. It’s about getting us through the 12 Steps so that we can enjoy a happy, joyous, freedom filled life. That’s why we encourage every member to define their idea of a Higher Power on their own. This is a program of action, and when you boil it down, a Higher Power must have just two attributes:

a. A willingness to free us from our obsession with food.
b. The ability to do so.

Of course, for us to get better and stay that way, the program instructs us to trust and rely on our HP for everything, not just food. So in reality, we need to add another trait to the mix:

c. Trustworthiness and reliability.

But we probably also need to add another ingredient. None of us wants to count on a crumb-bum Higher Power of dubious merit. We don’t want to get in with a HP that’s just doing tit for tat and wants us for its own creepy gains. Just because It can help us and does, doesn’t mean that Higher Power is worth following. So a fourth attribute would be

d. Worthiness of following.

After that, our concept is up to us. What do we want “a God personal to us” to be like? Here’s a few questions that can help us track down the answers.

1.) Do I already have a Higher Power in my life that I’m comfortable with?

We might have spiritual practices in place that can help us. If so, great! We will soon find that we can access this HP more than ever, once we have unblocked ourselves via abstinence and the 12 Steps. If not, we move on. We don’t want to get stuck in this spot. Feeling shame or guilt because we think we should believe in a certain Higher Power that isn’t comfortable for us will retard our progress. We have to keep asking questions.

2.) Am I OK with an anthropomorphized Higher Power?

In other words, do we want to picture God in our lives as having a human-like presence, or appearance? If so, we might ask ourselves additional questions such as

  • Do I need to know exactly what this Higher Power looks like to relate to it?
  • Does it need to be gendered for me to accept It?

If we aren’t interested in a human-like Higher Power, we can ask ourselves this: Am I OK with the idea of any kind of Being as a Higher Power? If so, we might ask ourselves the same two questions we just mentioned.

But if neither of these concepts works for us, then we need to get to the bottom of things. It’s not prohibitive for recovery if our HP isn’t a Being or even isn’t precisely sentient. Here are examples of Higher Powers we’ve heard about in meetings that had a decidedly non-standard flavor:

  • The fellowship of OA: When we choose the fellowship as a Higher Power, we may be able to relate when members use the G-word by in our minds hearing an acronym such as Group Of Drunks or Good Orderly Discipline.
  • An ideal such as truth or love: We may believe that universals like these or others are shared by us all and can lift us from our misery if we can tap the energy behind them through the Steps.
  • Nature or the universe: Thinking of the amazing vastness of our universe or the incredible living diversity, many of us can’t help but feel awe, wonder, and a sense of power that can help us.
  • “The Force”: While we don’t necessarily adopt this Star Wars idea for our HP, many of our members do use a similar idea, namely that we are bound to one another and the world and the cosmos through a positive, animative energy source that may not have intelligence but does possess great helping strength. We can then use the OA program to focus its healing power on our illness.

This question of what a Higher Power is or isn’t can also be a trap, if our stinking thinking gets wrapped around its axle. So some members have simply thrown up their arms and said, “I don’t know! But I believe!” They’ve considered what the minimum attributes for their Higher Power are and then let that simply be enough. The so-called “God of my not-understanding” can be an effective way out of analysis paralysis.

3.) What other traits do I want in a Higher Power?

Once we have an idea of what sort of Higher Power we will work with, we can consider the characteristics we want in our God. This is when we imagine ourselves looking through the God Catalog.

A plan for every single thing that is happening in the world? We can have that in our Higher Power. Or we can have a Higher Power that keeps its hands out of things.

Logical, rational, and consistent? Those are all available. So are sympathetic, cheerleaderly, and parent-like.

Talkative or intuitive? Leading or nudging? Whispering or shouting? If we’re going to listen to our Higher Power, how do we want to do so?

And just like how the typical American changes jobs seven times and careers three times during their working lifetime, we OAs are likely to amend, update, revise, or overhaul our concept of a Higher Power during our journey through recovery. The important thing is that we develop a conception that works for us. Because after all, if we can’t work with our Higher Power, how will our Higher Power work on us?