by ProfDave, ©2021

(Dec. 1, 2021) — Making amends is part of the path to our own health, our relationships with others and with God.  Amends includes both forgiving and asking forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness is there for the asking, but we will not receive it – or be able to forgive ourselves – until we forgive others and make things right with those we have harmed as much as is within our power.

Step Nine:  We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  Matthew 5:23-24.

If you have your Step 8 list of people you need to forgive and people you need to ask to forgive you, now is the time to deal with them.  It will take time – and timing.  It will take wisdom, too. 

Clue: if thinking about them and what happened bothers us, we need to do something.  If you have offended someone, leave your gift at the altar and go make it right, Jesus said.  Otherwise your conscience bears a burden that blocks your worship and moral health.  Likewise, un-forgiveness is itself a hang-up that hinders our emotional, spiritual and relational heath.  It gives our perpetrators power over our lives that only grows with time.  We have to let go.  The sooner we deal with our wounds, the sooner they will heal.

“Whenever possible.”  Freedom can be costly. Choosing the right time and place for “direct,” face-to-face apology and forgiveness is hard enough.  Some of us risk large sums of money or even jail time to make things right with those we have injured.  Some amends cannot be direct.  What about those with whom I have lost all contact?  Some I may be able to recover by research.  Some others may be dangerous.  What about the school yard bullies whose names I don’t even remember?  What do I do with my late wife and my long-gone parents?  These “indirect” amends can be the most important of all for our peace, but this step is going to take time.

So we go through our Step Eight list and sort out the amends we can do directly as soon as we can arrange a one-on-one, those that are going to take research, and those that will take an indirect form.  And we pray a lot.

“Except when to do so would injure them or others.”  This should not be a loophole for when it is too painful for us.  But there are circumstances when apologies would create fresh offense or direct contact would be dangerous.  For example, an unwed mother who gave a child up for adoption but is now married may not be ready to have that child – or its father – show up.  Or someone who has escaped an abusive relationship may not wish to risk stalking.  We still need to make amends, for our own sanity, holding the other person harmless.  But sometimes it must be indirect.

Important point:  forgiveness and apology do not mean reconciliation, removal of consequences, denial that wrong has been done, or making ourselves or others vulnerable to further abuse.  The recovery phrase is “clearing our own side of the street” – our own wounds and consciences.  We are not to expect anything from the other person.  They may or may not reciprocate in any way.  God has already forgiven the wrongs we have done and His justice will take care of the wrongs done to us.  As we give up our own guilt and vengeance, we find freedom from the emotional chains that bound us to our past wrongs and perpetrators.

Matthew 4:7,9.  Happy are the merciful. . . . Happy are the peacemakers.

Once again, this is Christianity 101.  Jesus calls us to be merciful and to make peace, whenever possible, just as He has been merciful to us and made it possible for us to have peace with the Father.  He calls us to forgive as he forgave and to love our enemies as he loved us.  Heavy! 

To recover from our hurts, habits and hang-ups, to experience that kind of personal and spiritual growth, we must let go of our wrongs and regrets.  We are not able to undo the damage we have done, but at least we can acknowledge it, confessing our part to those we have offended.  Do what we can do.  What they do with it is not our business.  Likewise our forgiveness is not conditional.  Jesus still got crucified.  But we are set free.

David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College.  He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020).  He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.

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