My sponsor once told me to pray for people who p***ed me off.
My immediate response was to pray for him for telling me to do that.
In any case, I already prayed for people who offended me. It usually went along the lines of, “God, show him the error of his ways. Show him how proud he is. Smite him if necessary. Smite him a lot. Teach him a good lesson so that he never acts like such an arrogant prig, especially to me.”
The spirit of it was essentially invoking God to take revenge for whatever slight I perceived to humiliate said offender, and preferably glorifying myself in the process.
Then my sponsor handed me a little blue card which (among other instructions), spelt out this “suggestion”. The fine print for this particular detail said, pray for their health, happiness, and success, instead of revenge and judgment upon them.
I told him I wouldn’t do it. Because my heart would not be in it. My motives would be wrong. I wouldn’t mean it. He didn’t want me to lie, did he? To be dishonest to God? After the long spiel he just gave me about “rigorous honesty” and “trust in our Higher Power” etc.
He just looked at me as if to say, “What are you still doing here? I gave you a Suggestion (capital S deliberate), go and do it!” Clearly, this was standard practice for the meeting I was in, to the point where someone actually typed out this Daily Actions card and bothered to print it. It was equally clear that this “praying for my enemies” was not an optional aspect of recovery.
Grumbling, I went off to live my life with this added burden on my back.
The first opportunity that arose was a few minutes later as I was driving back from the meeting. It was a familiar road and I knew the timing of the traffic lights well. Well enough to realize the ones in front of me would turn amber then red any minute, there was no point rushing for it.
Then a car surged past me on the left turn only lane, cut in front of me in time to beat the red light, leaving me stuck at the traffic light, utterly furious at the humiliation.
That I was prepared to stop at that light anyway had no bearing on my taking offence at what he had done to me. Nor the fact that, when I first perceived his movement on my left, I anticipated his attempt to undertake and had accelerated to cut him off. However, as a 1.9-litre standard diesel engine does not lend itself well to such manoeuvres, I failed.
My fury was at the perceived effrontery to my ego, not that he had delayed me. (As I said, I was already preparing to stop.) And my humiliation came from my failed attempt to cut him off, not that he had gotten in front of me. Which of course added to my fury.
As I was alone in the car, I could be freer with my language. If I leave out the swear words, then for the first minute, I said nothing.
After that came not just the anger at my humiliation, but the resentment that I now “had” to do what my sponsor told me to do. My self-pity was raging, my ego was howling in indignation, and actually so was my mouth. But in any case, I saw an opportunity here: To take the moral high ground and humiliate my sponsor by doing exactly what he asked me to do. So that, when it didn’t work, I could triumphantly go back to him and say, “Aha! Your stupid suggestion didn’t work, just like I said! You’re wrong, I’m right, I told you so, nyah nyah nyah.”
Yes, I actually fantasied about the conversation going like that. Including the unbelievably childish nyah nyah nyah at the end.
So I prayed for him.
With no higher motive than to prove my sponsor wrong.
It went like this:
“God, I pray for this f***ing d***head now who thinks he owns the road because he drives a f***king new B**. I hope he crashes at the next bend so I can drive past him and gloat. I promise not to take pictures of his charred carcass. He’s such an arrogant ass, like all B** drivers, burning up fuel and killing the earth with how they drive. BUT, as you’ve commanded me to do, via this blessed sponsor you’ve placed in my life, I will now pray for him as per requirements.:
I intoned out loud, “So God, I hereby pray for his health, happiness, and success. I think he deserves to crash and burn because he’s such an a***hole, but you bless him with the aforementioned good things. I hope you won’t. In your infinite wisdom, I hope the best and loving thing for him is to crash and burn and so he can learn a lesson. But otherwise, I do officially pray for his health, happiness, and success.”
I added sarcastically, “May his tires be correctly inflated, may the traffic lights be green, may he have excellent fuel economy, may he have a hot wife who worships him waiting for him at home, and may he have wonderful, healthy, and intelligent children who adore and respect him, may his life by simply wonderful!”
It took me a few seconds to stop my literal huffing and puffing from all the excitement of my rage. Then another minute to find that familiar anger and turn it into self-pity. The better to justify looking at porn when I got home.
But it didn’t work.
The rage had subsided. I couldn’t get it to rise up to justify self-pity. The self-pity… was still there. Somewhat, but a lot less than it would have been usually. The indignation… that was contaminated and spoiled by a thought that maybe that was someone with a pregnant woman in the car on the way to the hospital. Or someone rushing because they got an urgent call from the Intensive Care Unit about a loved one. Gee, what would they think of me stepping off the accelerator 50 meters from the traffic light when it was still green?
I was shocked.
This praying for someone’s health, happiness, and success… had actually worked. In fact, it worked so well, that by the time I got home, I had completely forgotten about the incident. (Until the next time I called my sponsor and he checked whether I was doing the actions on the Blue Card. At which point, I prayed for him.)
Now I was worried. If this part worked, what about the rest? Maybe there was something to this “taking action” stuff the more experienced addicts kept talking about.
In the end, there was a lot more for me to learn, but this was more or less the first lesson: For recovery actions – doing them was far more important than my motives, attitudes, doubts, intentions, state of mind, spirituality, connection with God/gods/whatever. And in the context of the Serenity Prayer, (which goes: 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,) this falls under the “change the things I can” category.
I can’t change how I feel. If I’m mad, I’m mad. If I’m offended, I’m offended. Whether it is justified or even makes sense is irrelevant. I can’t stop hating someone if I already do. But I can pray for someone, out loud, with my mouth, through gritted teeth if I have to. But I can do that.
And you know what? When I do, something seems to work.
As one brother said jokingly, “Do first, ask questions later.”
And more often than not, after I did it, the questions were answered automatically anyway.