Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
I was warned by my sponsor that many people find Step Four and Step Five very difficult—some even deem them impossible—and many quit or give up when it comes time to make a “fearless moral inventory.” Once I got to work on the fourth step in my recovery I found out why! It can be painful to look back at all of our moral failings and admit them to another person. But this is an essential step in the recovery process, because it sheds light on the darkest places of our soul and ushers in the healing power of God.
Working Through the Fourth and Fifth Steps
Step Four and Step Five have a biblical root, too. There are many places we can turn in the Bible but for brevity, I will highlight James 5:16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
We can think about Step Four as an examination of conscience, though a very detailed one. We search the whole of our lives. We take our time with it (it took me a whole month!). And we write down all of the people, places, and institutions (including God and ourselves) that we have wronged or harbored resentments against. And once we have it all down on paper, we share them with another human being (Step Five).
When I began Step Four and the question, “Who do you resent?” was posed to me, I drew a blank. But I heard a fellow 12-stepper relate the same problem, and he re-worded the question for himself this way: “If you can think of no one that you resent, whom do you have strong feelings about?” Aha! I had strong but undefined feelings about many people and many things. I began to write them down, and this is when I found my moral inventory taking shape.
Bringing God into the Process
As I learned in Step Three, I can ask God for assistance with this process. I prayed, Help me to remember so that I may be healed. God did not let me down. These steps amounted to a long and painful experience for me, but I found myself facing a vulnerability in myself that I did not expect. My woundedness came to the surface and exposed how it had affected myself and those around me. Experiencing Step Four and Step Five was an act of trust in God. After I finished Step Five and had shared my inventory with my sponsor, I felt a huge weight lifted.
It’s in Step Four and Step Five that we till the soil of our souls. We look at our newfound trust in God and we invite Him to take us on a journey through the dark places—those places where because of fear, shame, or pride we have excluded him from and found ourselves lost and in pain. The Catholic writer Richard Rohr once said, “Suffering that is not transformed is transmitted.” In order for all of that pain and suffering to be transformed, it must first be exposed to the light. This is what happens in Step Four and Step Five!
These two steps give Catholics the opportunity to take a hard look at our lives with God’s help. Where were we wrong? Where were we hurt? We as Catholics have the added benefit of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Step Four is the tool we use to uncover those aspects of our lives with which we have never approached this sacrament. We can do Step Five by confessing to a priest en persona Christi (in the person of Christ) and hear these words spoken over us: “I absolve you of your sins.”
In these steps we are given the opportunity to approach God with our physical ailment (addiction) and then hear His command to take up our mat and walk for our “sins are forgiven!” (Mark 2: 3-11).
Charlie lives in sunny Florida with his small (but growing!) family. He holds a B.A. in Religion and Apologetics and has a passion for writing about recovery and the Catholic Faith in his spare time. Charlie’s 12-step experience has been in overeaters anonymous, but he finds joy in “working the steps” in every aspect of his life and sharing those tools with others. You can also find him writing at tamingthewilds.com.