Surrender to Grace: Understanding the 12-Step Process

When I was a college student, I lived near an ice cream shop. When I was frustrated or upset I would go there and indulge in their soft, creamy ice cream. But this type of emotional eating didn’t begin as a student. I began emotionally overeating long before as a protection against a traumatic experience. I ate when I was lonely or sad and to suppress the effects of the ordeal that changed my life.

I didn’t know it then but I perfectly fit into the addiction cycle pattern. I would go through a painful situation that would trigger all kinds of uncomfortable emotions such as anger, rejection, hurt feelings and so on.  That’s when I would self-medicate my pain with food. I was actually stuffing down my heartache, burying it under something sweet. I eventually stopped ‘binging’ and tried to get my life in order, which would work until I was set off again by a wounding event.

Finally, one day I’d had enough, and decided to go to the college health center and see a doctor about a healthy diet plan. Outside his office I met another student, and after chatting she told me about a 12-step group call Overeater’s Anonymous. “Would you like to go to a meeting?”, she asked. I said yes.

Later that week we walked into a bare, church basement, where about 8 women sat around a plain, wooden table. They shared very openly about their defeats and successes. I was so impressed. I was just coming out of a New Age spirituality where everything was aimed at acquiring hidden knowledge in order to ascend up to God. Here everything was out in the light. These women were authentic, and God met them where He always meets us, at our point of need.

As for me, my group leader told me to pray every day for God’s will in my life. She gave me a simple diet plan to follow and called it ‘putting the cork in the bottle’. I also phoned in my meal plans to my sponsor. My whole relationship with food changed. It wasn’t controlling me any more. One day instead of giving in to the sin of running towards food instead of God for comfort, I phoned this sponsor. I realized I was stuffing down anger instead of dealing with it, and that this process wasn’t about deprivation. I was fighting for my freedom.

The 12-Step program rests on scriptural principles that state we can’t overcome addiction in our own power. We need to admit we are helpless, and ask God to give us His strength. The Bible tells us we need God to free us from our moral failures. Neuroscience tells us our brain is a chemical factory, and the more we indulge the greater the hold our cravings have on us. Both tell us we cannot transform ourselves. We need support. The 12-Step program gives us a way to reach out to God and others.

As I worked through the 12-steps, I became a believer in Messiah Yeshua, and I realized I didn’t have to wear a protective garment of flesh to keep me safe or make me feel solid. The Lord became my shield. As I forgave, repented and shared my failings and joys with others, the weight came off.

Each step in the program becomes a conduit for the Holy Spirit to deepen our souls, open closed hearts, break through defenses, and cultivate character. We trust God, and are filled with His power. We forgive where wounded, and repent our reactions to pain. We share our mistakes with others, and paradoxically this transparency reduces shame. We are no longer defined by our failures.

What do we run towards to satisfy our hunger and thirst? Is it food, shopping, TV, drugs, porn, or alcohol? In the 12-Step program we reach out toward God, and also look to others for support and accountability. We are not just abstaining from a bad habit, instead we’ve embarked on a transformative process that begins with admitting our inability to change, and ends with what has been called the ‘renovation of the heart’.

Yeshua said:, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The 12-Step program is based on that principle. It is the practical outworking of a biblical spirituality that reconnects body, mind and heart in conformity with God’s grace and in community with others.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23 

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Dr. Snyder is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with an MS in Education and Fuller Theological Seminary with a Ph.D. in Marital and Family Counseling. She has over 10 years clinical experience. Her work experience includes Chaplaincy in the National Institutes of Health, Clinical Research Center, Bethesda Maryland, Assessment Supervisor at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, D.C. and Employee Assistance Consultant in the Federal Government. Dr. Snyder holds dual citizenship with the United States and Israel. She became an Israeli citizen in 1983. Her vision for a Messianic Counseling Center began in the 1990’s, and is seeing fulfillment in the Anchor of Hope Counseling Center and Lay Counseling Training Program.