What is free will?
This is an age old question and one I am not equipped to answer. But I am prepared to establish a good inquiry, because I think about it a lot. And I have some ideas, but they are by no means conclusions. It’s more of an ongoing dialogue and one that interests me quite a bit.
In AA there is a lot of talk about God’s Will. My understanding has always sort of been that God’s Will was the basic unfolding of life, without me trying to force my schemes and plans and such onto it. This seems pretty clear, right? But what if I exercised none of my own will, and operated only by God’s Will. Would God’s Will get me out of bed? Would God’s Will get my kids to school? Please understand me here, I am not IN ANY WAY questioning the beauty and grace of God’s Will. I am just wondering how it works with Free Will, with my Will. How they work together and how they don’t.
When I really give it some thought, it takes MY free will to do God’s Will. I have to freely succumb to the way life is unfolding, and it is my will that gives me the commitment to take on the next indicated action, my will that allows me to choose to pause when agitated, to recognize when my personality is trying to trump my principles. I read recently that in steps 6 and 7, becoming entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character and to humbly remove our shortcomings, the point is that we have to ask. We become ready to have them removed because we finally understand, after a thorough inventory, what slaves we have been to the damn things.
It has to be our free will that willingly asks for them to be removed. We have to want it. It was suggested that God can only work with our free will in that department—for our shortcomings to be lifted without our first asking would be sort of like a cosmic cheat. We have to be willing to let them go. WILLING. Without our willingness, none of it can happen. And WILLingness is our own Free Will in action, choosing the light over the darkness.
Free Will In Action
And at times our free will doesn’t choose the light. We all know this: it’s the basis of all religions and spiritual journeys. It’s the fundamental sticking point. It is what makes choosing the light such a diabolical challenge and also the single most relevant victory—because the dark can be so incredibly seductive and compelling. It knows our weak spots, maybe better than we do. My character defects are tools for the darkness—I get a feeling that my fears, my insecurities, my judgementalness or desire to be liked, my hanging on to old hurts and behaving from that wounded, entitled, place of long suffering victimhood will ultimately be my undoing, if left unchecked. It’s all Ego, or Disease, or whatever you like to call it. And it only wants one thing—to dismantle me until I am a walking black hole or six feet under—whichever comes first.
I don’t know with any certainty about any of it, I only know that I wonder about it. I can’t possibly know the mind of God. And I can only try to know my own mind, and to try to overcome my own errant and self serving belief systems enough to see the truth. It’s not a pretty thing, to do the work of getting to know how our minds operate. In my experience of step 7, asking God to humbly remove my shortcomings was not an instantaneous thing—I didn’t just ask, and then they were plucked out of my being like stray hairs. For me, I am constantly given situations that bring my character defects into the light, and if I do not examine them right then and there as they present themselves, then more of those situations will come until I understand the lesson, observe myself acting in the grip of said character defect, recognize it, and do something different. You have to be able to identify the broken part, to look at the damage, (Step 4 and 5) and then, at least for me, I have to see how they ‘work’ (or don’t) for me in my life—broken parts create broken results.
And like a game of Whack a Mole, they keep popping up, as there are a multitude of them, trying to run the show. Like the chapter of St Mark in The Bible, when there is a man who is known to be filled with unclean spirits, who no man could tame, no chains could bind, who spent all the time crying and cutting himself with stones- is that not like so many of us, in the depth of our despair? And he came to Christ, and Jesus asked of the man “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And so it is like that, we are possessed with so many defects and agendas and belief systems and fears and desires and addictions that when we are able to master the addictions to some extent, there is still the Legion, and only the light of truth is able to bring us back to a whole and holy state.
Here is another challenge, and it’s extremely tricky—we are very, very attached to the Legion. They have been ingrained in us, and we think they are intrinsic to who we are. What they do is rob us of the precious gift of Free Will. If we are behaving as puppets, reacting to external stimulus without thinking, just being ‘who we are’, then we are not in a state of choice. We are not practicing free will. We are just doing what we are programmed to do, like a microwave or a blender. We love our suffering and our chaos. We can’t live without our loneliness, our boredom, our dissatisfaction. We do things to create more suffering, more dissatisfaction—on autopilot, nonetheless. Autopilot! We don’t even know it. We just call it life. But there is so much more to it.
Steps 6 and 7 begin to really restore our free will to us. We get the opportunity to observe our actions and reactions, see what does not work, and choose something different. In that choosing, we are liberated from the slavery of our personal history, our robotic programming, our autopilot mode, our self sabotage. We have free will, and FREE is not an accidental designation; there IS freedom in it, there IS liberation in it. And that free will is free to choose to align itself with God’s Will. If it looks at all that is being offered, all the entire banquet of life with all its myriad choices, and chooses to act by principles in spite of the comforts the personality demands, then it has placed you squarely outside the prison walls, liberating you from the bondage of self. In that place, you can learn to trust that it is all unfolding just as it should and that there are no mistakes in God’s World. We pray for knowledge of God’s Will for us—that we will be guided and directed on our journey—And the power to carry that out—Our free will, used rightly, is that power. That is the ultimate freedom, more precious than any treasure. When you can walk in that truth is when you remember who you really are— “You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.”
You are a miracle. You are a gift. Believe it.