“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.”
Back in the 1930s, the definitions of common words were sometimes difficult to understand. My best evidence of that is found in a 1934 Webster’s Dictionary. One example is the word “Decision”. I myself might have defined that word as something like, “Making up your mind” or “Coming to a conclusion”. But back in the 1930s, when the Big Book was being drafted, the official definition was this:
Decision – n. the act of terminating by giving judgment on
That definition stumped me for a while. It wasn’t shocking or unexpected. I simply could not understand exactly what it meant. And what did it have to do with my 12-Step recovery? That word plays an important role in Step Three, which reads, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.”
Step Three is a pivotal one. In the earliest draft of the Big Book, Bill Wilson wrote that if the reader cannot comprehend and accept Steps One, Two, and Three, they might as well throw the Big Book away!
According to Joe & Charlie’s “The Big Book Comes Alive” lecture series, Step Three gives many in recovery a brief scare. The step seems to be making an ominous demand that the follower instantly surrender their entire will and their lives to God. On the surface it sounds like way too much, way too suddenly.
Fortunately, Joe & Charlie (and most 12-Step sponsors I know) point out the big difference between “decision” and “action”. For example, I can decide to learn to the French language but I will never speak it unless I take the actions necessary to learn that language. Likewise, I can decide to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand him, but that will only happen if I follow that decision with action.
I now recognize that the decision I made in Step Three was impossible to put into action without the important things I gained from working later Steps. So Step Three is a decision to change, which will (and MUST) be followed by the later action.
Since I was creating original drawings based on those 1934 dictionary definitions, I began thinking about how to illustrate the word “Decision”. The dictionary mentioned TERMINATING something by giving JUDGMENT. In my own words, “Terminate” means “end”. “Judgment” means drawing a conclusion. So, Step Three involved ending things by drawing a conclusion.
I stopped and considered my past in light of this definition of “Decision”. I had previously JUDGED that I should lose weight. Or get a better job. Or improve my house. Or be nicer to my wife. And with each judgment, I had made a dramatic vow that things were about to change based on my new decision.
Just one problem. I failed to follow those decisions with action. None of the things I decided on happened in exactly the way I intended. Like me, the person in my illustration was full of bold gestures but was needing to take prompt and decisive action.
Having understood the terms used in the dictionary, my drawing idea formed fairly quickly. I envisioned a figure standing on a railroad track who had clearly drawn a conclusion. By dramatically pointing their hand toward a side track, this person was indicating a clear JUDGMENT about what should happen next.
It is a fact that railroad trains go in the the direction that the tracks take them. A person’s decision, judgment, or finger-pointing doesn’t mean a thing to an oncoming train. That person needs to follow their DECISION with immediate ACTION if they want the train to change directions. They need to scramble forward to the nearby switch and change it to a new position. (An expert on trains assured me that the person in the drawing will surely be run over if they do not change the position of that switch.)
So, in Step Three I need to stop the endless debate in my mind (i.e., terminate through judgment) and take action. I already know where my previous will and my life led me—into addiction. I had to decide to change first, and then later take the actions of change. Based on that decision and action, my will and my life were carried to a completely new place.
The Step wasn’t so difficult once I understood what it was asking. And yes, I did vigorously work the steps which follow Step Three. And yes, I did wind up in a marvelously better place.