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The Primary Prayers of Alcoholics Anonymous: Purpose and Meaning

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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) relies heavily on prayer and spiritual connection to help members achieve and maintain sobriety. The 12-step programme has interwoven several core prayers that relate directly to key ideas and turning points along the recovery journey. For those working the AA programme, understanding the meaning and purpose behind these prayers can help fully utilise the spiritual tools to battle alcoholism.

The role of prayer in AA differs from traditional rehab programmes and centres in that it does not rely on psychiatric treatment plans or medication. Rather, it focuses on peer support networks, accountability through sponsorship, and spiritual growth achieved by working through the 12 steps. Prayer helps fuel this spiritual component.

Some argue that as AA has religious undertones, it may seem incompatible or difficult for atheists or agnostics. However, the “God” invoked in AA prayers and discussions refers to any higher power the member personally accepts, not necessarily the Christian conception of God. The only spiritual requirement is recognition that, as individuals, members cannot beat alcoholism alone; they need help from a power greater than human willpower. Prayer connects members to that higher source of strength.

Additionally, research on prayer’s effects finds that the supportive qualities of spiritual practices benefit well-being and can aid associated mental health conditions like depression and anxiety that often accompany addiction. Overall, AA seamlessly blends peer support, introspection, and prayer to promote recovering the whole self – mind, body, and spirit.

The 3rd Step Prayer: surrendering to the recovery journey

The first of AA’s key prayers emerges in Step 3, which asserts, “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” The accompanying 3rd Step Prayer reinforces this idea of relinquishing control and placing trust in a higher power, conceived however one wishes.

The prayer text references a willingness to have this power shape, build, and guide one’s life in alignment with its will. For those working the 12 Steps, this marks a pivotal moment of surrendering to the recovery process after Step 1 admitted powerlessness over alcohol and Step 2 declared hope that a higher power could restore sanity.

By praying the 3rd Step Prayer, members open themselves up to spiritual aid and grace. It also frees them from the weight and self-will that likely obstructed previous recovery attempts. This willingness plants seeds of humility that then grow with the later steps’ tasks of admitting past wrongs, becoming willing to make amends, and continuing moral inventory.

The 7th Step Prayer: creating humility to remove shortcomings

After the intensive work and self-examination of Steps 4 through 6, members approach Step 7, which involves asking God to remove character defects undermining recovery efforts. The accompanying 7th Step-specific prayer echoes this request to God to “remove from me every single defect of character that stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.”

The prayer includes a willingness to fully hand flaws over to the care and power of the higher entity. It recognises that these shortcomings, left unchecked, could jeopardise members’ sobriety or impact others. This prayer for humility, strength, and moral improvement opens the door for positive change through grace.

It also sustains the vulnerability developed by the previous steps; having the integrity to admit one’s faults means receiving guidance to overcome them. Progress requires rigorous honesty; the 7th Step Prayer nurtures that spirit, which members carry through subsequent self-assessment to hold themselves accountable for maintaining sobriety one day at a time.

The Serenity Prayer: accepting limits with courage and wisdom

Undoubtedly the best-known prayer in Alcoholics Anonymous, members and groups across the world recite the Serenity Prayer at every meeting. It condenses into a few short lines about the AA philosophy towards the hard truths members face in recovery. Specifically, it acknowledges the limits of human willpower and control while affirming trust that God grants what humans cannot manufacture alone, including serenity itself.

The prayer presents a threefold request: for serenity and acceptance regarding what cannot be changed, courage that drives change in what can be, and wisdom to distinguish these categories in various life challenges. Underlying the specific questions lies a foundation of humility, realism, and faith.

By praying this formative prayer, members open themselves up to a recovering attitude aligned with AA’s spiritual solution. The essence of the Serenity Prayer counteracts the self-reliance and denial that feed addiction. It embraces healthy surrender, bolstering commitment to growth and accountability day by day. This sustaining prayer shapes perspective to navigate the ongoing trials that recovery entails.

The Saint Francis Prayer: cultivating a selfless spirit

In discussing Step 12 and working with other alcoholics, the AA “Big Book” includes the well-known Saint Francis Prayer advocating selflessness through seeing God in others. Beyond personal recovery, AA also rests upon service in supporting fellow members, whether informally by attending meetings or formally by becoming a sponsor. The Saint Francis Prayer affirms that spirit by contextualising all people as equally precious children of the same Creator.

The prayer catalogues virtues to cultivate, including love, pardon, faith, hope, and light. It focuses on lifting up the fallen, consoling the grieving, developing understanding, and promoting peace in place of hatred and conflict. This applies to how members relate to still-suffering acquaintances battling addiction and to society at large. Their own imperfect pasts should inspire empathy rather than judgement.

Regularly praying these words realigns priorities towards sobriety, compassion, humility, and living by spiritual principles at the heart of AA. The prayer provides a moral compass to guide members in exercising their sobriety through hands-on service. It also reminds them of how far they have come through the programme, one day at a time.

Incorporating prayer into daily recovery

While no strict rules exist regarding how to practise prayer in relation to AA, most members discover certain methods that resonate individually as sustaining rituals. To begin, set aside a few quiet minutes each morning and night for prayer. If possible, find an uninterrupted private space to focus without distractions tugging at attention. Open with a short prayer, like the Serenity Prayer. Then speak candidly from the heart rather than worrying about proper words. Share gratefully what burdens feel lightened, then honestly lay current struggles before your higher power, asking for clarity and strength.

Before meals, offer a quick grace, thanking both God and AA for the necessary sustenance given the direct role food plays in physical and mental functioning. Allow prayers to open your eyes to small daily blessings that may otherwise go overlooked. Being conscious about incorporating prayer and meditation into regular routines will compound over time in anchoring your spiritual centre.

Additionally, make prayer an intentional part of attending AA meetings and participating in group shares. Join in spoken prayers as a symbolic gesture aligning your journey with fellow sojourners’. Hear the wisdom echoing behind these familiar refrains. Find monks chanting these words on Spotify or apps like Insight Timer to reinforce their messages subconsciously throughout your day.

Return to core recovery prayers during especially challenging periods when you feel your resolve waver. Recognise that their principles still apply, just as the AA community still supports you. Prayer helps sustain the humility to persist in asking for assistance rather than mistakenly relying solely on yourself until a crisis hits. You need not walk alone down this path; let prayer provide connection to the higher power lighting your way.




Margaret Williams is a health writer and AA advocate with 10 years in recovery.

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