Pathways to a finding a Higher Power

The reality of Overeaters Anonymous is simple: It’s a spiritual program for people who are medicating their spiritual sickness with food. That means we turn to a Higher Power that we can trust and rely upon to live one day at a time without abusing food.

Bing, bang, boom, we’re done!

Well, if it were that easy, we’d have fixed the problem long ago. In practice, finding an HP we can count on is one of the most difficult trials we face in recovery, and most people fall into one of a few basic categories:

  1. The religious: We may belong to a religious organization already and have accepted its god figure as our own. Even so, religious knowledge isn’t enough, obviously, or those members wouldn’t need OA.
  2. The formerly religious: Lapsed church members have trouble because even though they want to be free of dogma, they seem unable to shake their religious upbringing.
  3. Atheists and agnostics: Those who believe there is no God or who are awaiting more evidence are immediately irritated by the necessity of a god in their life. As many others of us in OA can tell you, atheism and agnosticism are active stances in the same way that religiosity is.
  4. Those with no spiritual experience or inclination: In some ways these folks have it easiest since they may have no prior experiences or thinking to block their path, but they may also be the most dogmatic do-it-yourselfers in the room.

No matter which person we identify with the most, we have to find a way into spirituality…or else. We have to choose between dying miserably of our disease or trying out the spiritual solution.

As we noted earlier, every person finds their own way to a Higher Power. The one common truth we hear about each person’s journey, however, echoes what the Big Book explains in the chapter title “To Agnostics”: We cannot know a Power greater than ourselves, we can only experience It. The human mind is limited. Were we able to comprehend powers greater than our own, we would already be a Higher Power. And, believe us, we learn in OA that we are not.

So how do we get onto the spiritual path? Here’s a few common reflections we’ve heard over the years that might be helpful. Most members find their experience relates to more than one of these.

Actively searching for God

Some members begin their journey by using activities such as writing, discussion, reading OA (and non-OA) literature to seek a Higher Power. As they work, they gain insight about what they want and need from an HP and can then come to a conception that works for them.

Passively searching for God

Those of us who aren’t verbal processors might ask others in the program to talk about finding God, listening carefully for spiritual experiences that resonate with us. We attentively tune in during meetings to hear others’ perspectives. As we listen, we take what we need to develop a spiritual path and leave the rest.

Get willing, then wait and see

The Second Step only says that “we became willing” to believe in a Higher Power. The Third Step only says we make a decision about trusting and relying on God, but it doesn’t say we are required to have nailed down our concept of an HP. So, some pragmatic members decide to adopt a stance of willingness, go through the Steps honestly and carefully, and see what happens to them spiritually as they go along. We have yet to hear about a person who assiduously went through with the Steps and did not have a spiritual experience.

If it worked for them…

Closely related to the path above. In this model, we trust the spiritual experience of those whose stories of spiritual recovery we’ve heard. We forge ahead through the Steps, knowing that if those people got a spiritual awakening out of it, then we will too.

The God catalog

If we already know what we want from a Higher Power, but we don’t know of One in common circulation that fits the bill, then we can “order” One up. If we know that we want warmth, unconditional love, and support from an HP, we start right there. Those initial ideas may be enough. We might consider other properties of a god we could trust, and also of a god we would not trust, taking the former, declining the latter. We needn’t add a beard, a robe, earrings, a gender, hair color, anything if it doesn’t suit our purpose. And that purpose must always remain firmly in our mind. We are constructing a concept of a god that we will want to trust and rely on.

Prayer and meditation

Not surprisingly, these well-worn paths to a Higher Power feel least intuitive to many of us. We’re used to eschewing prayer, and we may only see meditation as a means of relaxation. These might feel to us like new-age mumbo jumbo or the long-rusted tools from a less scientific age. But after all, prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. We’re trying to find a God we can work with, so we might as well just go right to the source. “A little spiritual help here? Can you give me some clues?” Or why not just relax, close our eyes, connect with the quiet inside of ourselves, and see if any spiritual insights arise. The worst that might happen is that we have a quiet few minutes or fall asleep.

Try any of these or all of them. Adopt a stance of honest curiosity, and experience shows us that nothing can stand in our way. It’s been proven time and again among the ranks of Twelve-Step groups everywhere that we cannot fail to find a spiritual solution if we have honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. We don’t have to be perfect in all of this. We’re just looking for a spiritual light to lead us out of the darkness and toward the life we’ve always wanted to lead.

Step of the Month: 11 suggestions for prayers

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step 11 tells us to inquire about and listen for God’s will. The Big Book tells us that “better men than we are using [prayer] constantly.” After all, if we are turning our will and our lives over to the care of God, we need some guidance about what to do during our day. That’s what prayer and mediation does for us.

Hear are 11 prayers suggested in our program literature and that we’ve heard about at meetings. Each of them has a different purpose and can be used at any time to help us either stay away from food or to discern the next right step to take.

  1. Help!
    The simplest of all possible prayers. Useful in any situation!
  2. Please keep me away from the first bite.
    Cutting right to the chase, and asking HP to relieve us of the obsession with food and from unthinking eating.
  3. The Serenity Prayer
    God, grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change
    courage to change the things I can,
    and wisdom to know the difference.
    Probably the first prayer we learn in OA, and one that’s especially useful when we feel ourselves ramping up emotionally into the fugue state that has always led us to the food.
  4. The Angry Man’s Prayer (Big Book, p 67)
    This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.
    Resentment is one of the chief emotions that lead us to eating compulsively. Dealing with anger is hard, and many of us eat to escape it. But when we eat, we take the poison that we intend for someone else. This prayer can help defuse and diffuse our anger.
  5. The Fear Prayer (Big Book, p 68)
    Remove my fear and direct my attention toward what You would have me be.
    If we aren’t angry, then we’re afraid, and usually one comes with the other anyhow. This simple, fast prayer helps us pivot away from our down-sucking fear response to a situation and toward something more useful around us.
  6. The Third Step Prayer (Big Book, p 63)
    God, I offer myself to Thee–
    to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt.
    Relieve me of the bondage of self,
    that I may better do Thy will.
    Take away my difficulties,
    that victory over them may bear witness
    to those I would help of Thy Power,
    Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.
    May I do Thy will always!
    All twisted up inside? Don’t know what to do, but feel like everything’s going wrong? This prayer’s a gift in those situations. It reminds us of spiritual truths, of Who’s running the show, and that our job is to be of service to others, not ourselves.
  7. The Seventh Step Prayer (Big Book, p 76)
    I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding. 
    When character defects rear their ugly heads, this is the place to turn. In this prayer, we’re telling God that we want and ready to be changed by God. We’ve proven a million times over that we can’t change ourselves, and that’s why this prayer is vital to us.
  8. St. Francis’ Prayer (AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p 99)
    Lord, make me a channel of Your peace;
    that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
    that where there is injury, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
    that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
    that where there is error, I may bring truth;
    that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
    that where there is despair, I may bring hope
    that where there are shadows I may bring light;
    that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

    Lord, grant that I may seek rather
    to comfort rather than to be comforted 
    to understand rather than to be understood
    to be love rather than to be loved.
    For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
    It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
    It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

    A great one to start the day with because it helps guide us toward an altruistic helpfulness that we addicts don’t come by naturally. There are many different versions of this prayer floating around. Use the one that best helps you.

  9. God, I don’t know how you’re going to fix this one, but how can I be helpful?
    When things are getting complicated, this one keeps it simple. A great prayer for contentious business meetings….
  10. Please give me restraint of pen and tongue. (adapted from the AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p 91)
    The chief rule of getting out of holes is to not start digging in the first place. That’s where this prayer comes in handy. Thinking you might be about to blow your stack at someone? Or maybe you’ve rapped out an angrygram but haven’t yet hit send? That’s where this prayer is most needed. It’ll save you from making amends later.
  11. Thy will, not mine, be done. (Big Book, p 85)
    Your mind tells you that you really want to do something. Your spirit is telling you otherwise, and you feel that tension keenly. Try this prayer, wait one minute, and see if things don’t clear up a bit.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of prayers that work in the morning, at night, or anytime during the day. The key is to use them! Try these or any others that can help you in a pinch. Also, many of these prayers have alternative wordings, and you can adapt a prayer to your own situation or needs. The key is to use prayer in the first place. Try it, and it will soon become a habit you’re glad you picked up.