God and/or Higher Power - A Sponsor's View


by Rachel B.

Lots of people in OA struggle in one way or another with this idea of “God” or “Higher Power.” What is it? What do I believe? Do I have to pray? What if I don’t believe in God? What if I hate God? What if I hate the religion I was brought up in? How do I “turn my will and my life over” to something that doesn’t exist? Can I just work this program without this “God” stuff?

When a sponsee starts asking these sorts of questions, I know we are at the beginning of a really important conversation. Especially when there is some discomfort with the God and Higher Power language, I like to start with the basics:

  1. The only requirement for membership in OA is a desire to stop eating compulsively. There is no requirement about what you believe.
  2. Take what you like and leave the rest.
  3. This program is about figuring out what works for you.
  4. The steps refer to “God as we understood Him,” with the italics for emphasis. To quote an old-timer, this phrase means that “I get to make my God up.”
  5. And really, you get to make up meanings of “God” and “higher power” that work for you. There are lots of possibilities. See the list of some possibilities below.

One way to start thinking about “what is God” or “what is my Higher Power” is to read step 2 in the AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (12 &12). (The OA 12 &12 is also helpful, but I prefer the AA 12 &12.) Both talk about “maybe the AA/OA group is a Higher Power I can believe in, at least around my addiction.”

Another way to think about it is this: Maybe my “God” or “Higher Power” is what I turn to when I need help. So… what (or whom) do I turn to for help?

But this is just part of the conversation. So another thing some sponsees have found helpful is to write the story of their experience with things religious and spiritual and talk about that. What beliefs or attitudes to faith or spirituality was he or she raised with? What experiences or people shaped his or her beliefs? What changed over time?

But a sponsee doesn’t need to figure out “is there a God” or “what is my Higher Power?” in order to use it, so I encourage trying it out. If HP is “other people,” then talk to other people. If it is the mysterious something that happens in meetings, then go to meetings. If it might be an invisible, untouchable something, then write and talk to it somehow. If “Dear God” or Dear HP” works, that’s great. But if it doesn’t, maybe just to write to “Dear Friend.”

If my sponsee says, “but I don’t know how to pray,” I suggest that she or he just speak from the heart. Maybe, “I don’t know who or what you are, or if you even exist, but I want to tell you a few things.” When I was new in program, probably my first effort was to say, “1) I don’t believe in you. 2) I hate you. 3) I really need your help, if you exist.”

Some ways of thinking about God and/or Higher Power:

God and/or HP