Principle 6: Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.
“Happy are the merciful” and “Happy are the peacemakers.” Matthew 5:7, 5:9
Step 8: We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
A series of articles on recovery. I’m on a team of leaders who do the teaching at the Celebrate Recovery ministry at Church of the City. I’ve edited some of my teachings into blog articles in the hope that it might help someone else as much as it’s helped me to study for and write these lessons.
Notice that in Step 8 we’re only talking about making our list and becoming willing to make the necessary amends. We don’t actually do the work of making amends until Step 9. That’s how big a deal it is for our recovery. We have one step to prepare for it, and one to actually do it!
Whenever the subject of forgiveness comes up, it reminds me of the story about the Sunday School teacher who had just concluded her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She asked her class, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up. “Sin?”
It’s funny because it’s true! This step is all about the damage that our sins have caused to the relationships in our lives. Those of us whose addiction is alcohol or drugs will cheat, lie, and manipulate in order to feed our addiction. But guess what? Those of us struggling with other things — anger, food, porn, feeding our egos, controlling our spouse, seeking other people’s approval — we cheat, lie, and manipulate, too. No matter what form our addiction or compulsion takes, what’s left behind is a trail of damaged relationships. Making amends is about addressing this damage.
Apologies vs. Amends
Notice Step 8 doesn’t say, “We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make apologies to them all.” That’s because, when dealing with personal relationships we’ve damaged with our addictive and compulsive behavior, apologies won’t do. We need to make amends. What’s the difference between the two?
In addition to the contrition of an honest apology, an amend also includes a sense of restoring justice. In making amends we are trying to restore that which we have broken or damaged. For example, consider the case of a kid who stole money from his dad to buy drugs. If he said to his dad, “I’m sorry I stole $20 and spent it on drugs” that would be an apology. For him to make amends he would need to offer that same heartfelt apology and pay back the $20 he stole.
We try to do make amends in a direct way if at all possible, but sometimes circumstances force us to do it in a symbolic way instead. For example, sometimes the person we harmed is no longer in the picture. There are also situations where we need to make sure we’re not just clearing our conscience at the expense of someone else who’s going to be unnecessarily hurt by our confession. This is why Principle 6 says we are to, “make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.” How this will look for you personally is something you’ll have to work through with your sponsor as you work this step.
I also want to add something important. The first part of Principle 6 says, “Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me.” For some of you, that may relate to circumstances involving sexual or physical abuse in which you had nothing to do with the wrong committed against you. Forgiving that kind of hurt, even after you’ve dealt with the emotional pain, can seem impossible. So notice how Celebrate Recovery has reworded Step 8 for those in the sexual/physical abuse groups:
Make a list of all persons who have harmed us and become willing to seek God’s help in forgiving our perpetrators, as well as forgiving ourselves. Realize we’ve also harmed others and become willing to make amends to them.
Is It Necessary?
When we’re dealing with amends there’s often a sense of reluctance, and we can wonder if it’s really necessary or helpful to dig up the past. We have this feeling that maybe it would be healthier and more positive if we could just forgive and forget and move on, rather than dwelling on the past. But the truth is, making amends is not about our past as much as it is about our future. Before we can have the healthy relationships we want, we need to do the hard work of cleaning out the guilt, shame, and pain that grew in those relationships during the years we were in our addictions or compulsions.
It’s like a garden; if you want beautiful things to grow in your relationships, you have to spend the time pulling out the old weeds. Jesus talked about the urgent need to make amends in His sermon on the mount.
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
There’s another aspect of making amends that affects our future as well. If we’ve continually harmed people and haven’t made any effort toward amends, then we’ve got a lot of people and places to avoid. Large areas of life have become closed off to us. When we’re willing to make amends, some of those areas can open up again. We don’t have to avoid so many people or places.
There’s a story from Spain about a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and after a while the father set off to find him. He searched the city for weeks to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find his son, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Mateo, Meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Signed, Your Father.” That Saturday at noon, over four hundred men named Mateo showed up looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. (It’s unknown whether any of them was this father’s Mateo.)
Forgiveness is a powerful thing, and our need for it is universal. The famous psychiatrist Karl Menninger once said that if he could convince patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day.
So how do we get started on Step 8? It begins with a single name.
You will find an “Amends” worksheet in the Celebrate Recovery Participant Guide 3. (Or you can download it here.) Column 1 is where we list the people to whom we need to be willing to make amends, those we’ve harmed. Column 2 is for the people that we need to become willing to forgive. So here’s your assignment: Write one name in each column; someone you need to forgive, and someone you need to make amends to. That’s the beginning of your Amends list.
By the way, when you’re making your list, don’t concern yourself with the “how” questions; “How could I ever ask my dad for forgiveness?” or “How could I ever forgive my friend for what she did?” Just write the person’s name down. That’s all this step requires.
Thoughts on Forgiveness
One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, had some penetrating things to say about forgiveness. The quote below comes from the book The Weight of Glory, which contains nine sermons Lewis delivered during World War II. In one of those sermons he wrote the following:
“. . . you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.
As regards my own sin it is a safe bet… that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet…that the excuses are better than I think….But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if 99% of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the 1% guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian character; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.”
Lewis is right about that. Jesus himself said,
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
What Do We Get?
So what does making amends offers us in terms of our recovery? In a word: freedom. Freedom from the chains of resentment, anger, and hurt. And freedom from our past. Through the amends we offer for the harm we’ve caused others, we gain the freedom to look them in the eye, knowing that we’re working with God in cleaning up our side of the street.
And that brings up one final quote I want to share about the process of forgiving.
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch woman, a Christian, who, along with her father and other family members, helped hundreds of Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. They built a hidden room in their house in Amsterdam where Jews could hide. Corrie was eventually imprisoned for her actions, and her sister was killed in a death camp.
Corrie told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her by a Nazi sympathizer. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident to the point where she couldn’t sleep. Finally, she cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest. Here’s what she wrote:
“His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks. He nodded out the window and said ‘Up in the church tower is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final soft ding and it stops.’
The pastor continued. ‘I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the dinging of the old bell slowing down.’
And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force — which was my willingness in the matter — had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.”