My newest book, Practicing Resurrection: Radical Hope in Difficult Times has just been released by Smyth and Helwys Publishers.
When I began writing this series on the Twelve Steps, I had not yet even outlined the book’s chapters, but now that the book has been written and released, it is time to differentiate between this series and the new book. I do, however, see that working the Twelve Steps is a powerful way to “practice resurrection.” I hope you will read both.
Thank you so much for reading this series on the Twelve Steps, formerly named “Practicing Resurrection”. From now on, this series will appear as “Working the Steps”. Step Eight, Part 2 can be found below.
Working the Steps: Step Eight, Part 2
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them.
If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive.
Leaving the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, on a late summer road trip across the South, I unwrapped my new CD of Elvis’ gospel music and popped it into the CD player in the car.
It had been years since I had heard this song, but I can remember my mother’s singing this old hymn. For a few miles and with the power of memory, I was back in my childhood home, feeling nostalgic.
However, with a lot of life between then and now and a longtime practice of working these Steps, the “If I have” beginning to each line of that song caught my attention.
“The question isn’t if I have wounded someone else or gone my own willful way,” I told my husband. “I have,” I stated firmly, “and it’s my job to know precisely how I have done that!”
No one sings a gospel song quite like Elvis, and I would love to linger awhile in the “If I have’s”, but these many years of working the Steps won’t let me play that coy game with myself.
“If I have” may be a substitute for “help me to see what I’ve done”, but it must be the first step I take toward becoming aware of the ways I have harmed myself and others. If I stop with “If I have done anything wrong”, I’m playing games with myself, asking for cheap grace.
Before I can get to forgiveness, I have to look at my own actions, motivations, words and habits that have caused pain or suffering to myself or others.
I can tell myself “It wasn’t that bad” or I can hope that the persons I’ve hurt didn’t notice what I had done.
I can justify what I did by saying, “He started it” or “I didn’t know what I was doing. I can make any number of excuses, but the only way out of the deep hole of denial is to stop digging and begin telling myself the cold, hard, unvarnished truth.
I can minimize what I have done or blow it up to be bigger than it was, which is a strange way of avoiding telling myself the truth. Being the best of the worst sinners and doing the most horrible of all bad things that anyone could ever possibly do doesn’t really tell the truth about what I’ve done. Awful-izing and embellishing the story is yet another way to distract myself and lead myself astray into the drama of it all.
Making the tale of my shortcomings and harmful deeds more than they are may be entertaining. They might even make funny stories, but in the end the old “Tell the truth and nothing but the truth” is the best policy.
Working this Step is hard. It’s humiliating and painful, but here’s the Good News: It is also liberating. It is the way to forgiveness and freedom. It is the way to activate the amazing grace and mercy that is available, if we have the courage to open our minds and hearts to it.
* * * * *
When I did this Step the first time, I divided my life into seasons, going back as far as I could remember, and simply asked God to show me what I had done to hurt someone else in each phase of my life. I wish I could say that it was hard to remember, but it wasn’t, and what I was to realize was that all of those memories I had stuffed were wrapped in regret, embarrassment, shame and guilt.
So it as with a sense of relief and even hopefulness that with my journal in hand, I wrote down all I could think of as each incident came to mind, sifting through my memory. Carefully, I wrote down the precise nature of my wrong. I recorded how I hurt the other person, and sometimes I cried.
I had to take breaks, too, so that I wouldn’t overwhelm myself with guilt. I remembered, as well, the counsel of my sponsor who told me to try to find just the right amount of zeal in uncovering my wrongs. I didn’t understand at first by what she meant about finding the balance between being too hard on myself and not hard enough, but over time, I came to understand that finding that balance was a gift that came with a willingness to tell myself the hard facts and the unvarnished truth about my actions, attitudes and words.
When I finished with that first list, my sponsor had me go back to my journal and write down everything I had done to hurt myself, which included the times I allowed someone else to injure me. Again, I wrote about the exact nature of that self-injury and how it felt when it happened. Later, it occurred to me to write about how I felt about the incident as I was doing this Step, comparing the felt and perceived impact from the past and my experience of the incident in the present.
Over time, I have learned to keep my accounts current, to pay attention to the times when I offend someone, unconsciously or consciously. I work to know what I’ve done when I have done it, and I work to stay conscious and aware of my motivations that cause me to say that cutting remark, withhold affection or love, criticize, offend or harm another person.
In these years of working this Step, I have also learned how to handle other peoples’ harmful acts toward me in a way that helps me acknowledge the hurt or anger, but not react to it in a way that makes the problem worse. Ignoring the impact of others’ actions and words doesn’t make the hurt go away, but untreated wounds do fester over time. I’ve learned that others’ injuries become self-injuries if I don’t deal with them, and I’ve also learned that if I allow resentment and anger to fester, those energies will leak out or explode out in words or actions that will hurt both myself and others.
** * * *
On surely one of the hottest and most humid days in Houston’s history, I stood in a line on the campus of Rice University for what seemed like an entire morning to hear the Dalai Lama speak. My husband and I were herded with the crowd from building to building for some unknown reason. Perhaps the crowd was bigger than expected or the security concerns were such that we were moved around so much, but the wait was so long that we were tempted to leave.
Packed into the basketball gym, we waited even longer for the appearance of the man who is an ambassador for kindness and happiness. I don’t remember what his topic was that day, but I do remember that the crowd listened to him in rapt silence. At the end of his speech, he took some questions, and his answer to the last question is the one take-away of the day for me.
The Dalai Lama’s answer was powerful, but equally impressive was the change in his voice from the relaxed, happy tone to a deep bass and a stern tone. He got up from his chair and walked to the edge of the low stage, getting as close as he could to the young man who had asked a question I have long forgotten.
“You don’t ever allow another person to abuse you or inflict violence on you by words or actions,” he said, which made perfect sense to me. It was what he next that brought the entire gym to utter silence.
“By allowing another person to injure you, you are participating in his violence he is inflicting on himself.”
I have never forgotten what he said next.
“When a person abuses another person, he hates that person for letting him do it, and he hates himself for doing it, and the person who is abused hates the abuser and hates himself for letting himself be abused. And that is how the cycle of violence is perpetuated.”
* * * **
The cycle of abuse begins with hurtful words – insults, put-downs, labeling, name-calling
The parties blame each other or someone else —
The anger escalates into actions that are harmful and destructive —
Left unaddressed, the anger escalates into physical violence –
Once physical violence begins, it can be deadly.
* * * **
What about you?
What do you dread most about writing down the actual names of the people you have harmed, including yourself?
Can you see this list as the way to forgiveness and freedom?