At the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous is its Twelve-Step program. The 12 steps are guiding principles outlining a course of action from addiction, compulsion, and other behavioral problems.
The first step is the critical one: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Going down, losing control, and admitting that loss, is the prerequisite for healing.
In our main scripture text for Sunday, Nov. 16 from 2 Kings 5, Namaan, the powerful and victorious commander of the Syrian army, finds himself in a perilous situation he cannot control. He must embark on a painful journey downward—down to the prophet Elisha in Israel, down from his prideful attitude to humility. Only when he admits his powerlessness is he able to take steps toward healing.
Namaan can be a parable for the spiritual life. Classical and modern spiritual writers talk about how, at some point in our lives, we too need to “go down” if we are to grow. There almost always has to be a crisis, a stumbling, a loss of control, a “necessary suffering” (as Fr. Richard Rohr puts it) to shake us to out of our complacency, comfort zone, and pride, if we are to move upward on the difficult but ultimately rewarding journey toward spiritual growth. As in AA, having the humility to admit that something in our lives has become unmanageable is the essential first step toward finding greater wholeness, and to discovering the God of grace.