Working the Steps: Step Nine, Part 1

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

For some of us, the mere idea of making direct amends to people we have harmed is so terrifying that we can’t even get past the first three words of this Step.

However, this Step is crucial. It is the Step that completes the process begun in Step 4. It is the way of placing ourselves in the position where we can receive the forgiveness of God and others for what we have done and what we have left undone. This process is a way of “working out our own salvation”, as the Apostle Paul counseled; it is also the way to begin living in a state of grace

Since this Step is so important, let’s take a look at what “making amends” doesn’t mean before we panic and hit the pause button on the process or recovery. It is not about fixing the past. It is not about explaining why you did what you did. It is not about making excuses and it is not saying, “I’m sorry IF I hurt you.”

It isn’t a mere apology.

It is about owning what you did honestly and bravely. It is about asking for forgiveness. It is about being willing to do what you can to repair the damage you have caused.

To make the list of the people you have harmed, however scary that is, is nothing compared to making those direct amends! Serious discernment and the wise guidance of a good sponsor or a spiritual director can make the process one that can set you free.

Unfortunately, so many well-intentioned people rush out to make amends so that they can feel better. Yearning to be absolved and hoping that things between yourself and the person you have harmed can sabotage a good process, winding up with more hurt between you.

To reflect on what the idea of “making direct amends” means to you and what you want from the process, consider seeing the process of pulling the weeds out of our garden, cleaning out what is dead and what is debris. Consider it a preparation for a new season, at least in your own life.

The problem with being human is that we cannot keep from hurting each other, either out of neglect, innocence or ignorance, our own hurts or because we just don’t care how our behavior affects others.

It is possible — and with terrible results — that human being sometimes harm or destroy others willfully. They know what they are doing and they don’t care.

Most of us don’t hurt each other on purpose. Many of us use our wounds as weapons; we have been hurt and so we hurt others, and while a serious undertaking of this Step will not prevent or stop our hurting each other, it can help us to avoid hurting each other more or as often, going forward.

In thinking about how you can make direct amends to someone you have harmed, it is important that you can truly feel the impact of the pain you have caused another human being and that you can have empathy for that person without justifying your behavior. It is important to feel sorrow for what you have done without going into guilt and self-hatred. This Step is not about blaming anyone or rationalizing why you did what you did. Just own what you have done and admit the impact it has had on someone you love.

The very spirit of this Step is the readiness and willingness to accept the consequences of what you have done.

If you want the grace that comes from making amends, you have to be able to say, “I hurt you. I did that. I am so sorry. I wish I could take it all back and take the hurt away.”

No excuses. No squirming out of the hard stuff. Speaking the truth about what you did. Say it and mean it, but don’t say it if you really don’t mean it.

The challenge comes in realizing that one’s efforts to make amends does not sprinkle star dust over what you have done. It doesn’t obliterate the results of the choices we have made, but making amends has the potential for depotentiating (taking the sting out) the crippling and toxic power of those choices and behaviors, with the mercy and grace of God. While we may live for a lifetime with the results of the choices we have made, making amends can help us live with those choices and their results in a new way.

To make amends, you don’t get to choose how the other person will behave as a result of your gesture. You have to examine your motives, discern what making direct amends mean and decide the most loving way and most appropriate place to approach the other person. You have to pray for discernment to see yourself clearly and to assess your willingness to take the risks of being honest about what you have done and what your intentions are in making direct amends. You have to be cautious about the timing.

Once again, we are called to give up our attachment to results. We only have our hand to play, and we can play only that hand. We have to trust the outcome and the results to God.

Sometimes, a person can go into a conversation with the intention of making amends and asking for forgiveness, but walk away from that encounter feelings disappointed that the other person did not automatically respond in the way he wanted.

Making amends or offering to do what you can to make up to the person for what you have done may not change that person’s opinion toward you. If someone chooses to remain bitter toward you, then that person will have made his choice. If you have done all you can do, and if you have attempted to make complete amends, that is your responsibility, and you have no responsibility over the other person’s choice.

There was a time in my own life when I had done everything I could do to make up to a significant person in my life for what I had done to offend her. With clear and discerning guidance from a wise spiritual director, I was finally able to accept that there was nothing I could do to avoid this person’s constant disapproval of me and nothing I could do to win this person’s approval. I had to face and admit that I had done great damage to myself, trying to please or placate this person, and that my continuing to act as if I had done something wrong was self-injuring.

It was hard for me to believe and accept the fact that continuing to try to win this person’s favor or hear her say, “I forgive you” gave this person a kind of perverse satisfaction and power over me.

I wish it could have been different, but finally my 12 Step sponsor said, “Stop beating yourself for something you didn’t do. Can you respect another’s autonomy enough to allow the other to have his own feelings, which may or may not be solely about you?”

And my spiritual director said, “You are never going to make enough amends to get this person’s forgiveness. There are two keys that unlock the gift of forgiveness. You have only one key. The other person has the other key, and for whatever the reason, doesn’t choose to use it. Go forward, Jeanie, with the grace of knowing you have done everything you could do, and let this go. Give this person the gift of acceptance. Give the gift of agape love — the love that lets be.”

Grace, amazing grace…..in this imperfect, flawed, beautiful world…..

Grace abounds.

Jeanie