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Mending Fences (Part 1)
One Day at a Time - 12 Steps for Everyone.
Trevor Hudson tells how he once took part in a group discussion on the question: In which area of life have you failed the most?
He says that his answer was not long in coming. It was not in the academic arena, nor in the sporting, or the vocational or the financial. He says that while he had certainly blown it more than once in each of those areas, they are not the biggest failures. By contrast he says that his biggest failures in life have been in his relationships. He says that he cannot believe how many times he has let down his family, his friends and his colleagues through either things he has done or things he has failed to do.
He remembers one particularly painful moment in his marriage. It was early on in his ministry. He had just taken responsibility for his first congregation. Keen to succeed, he worked long, hard hours. Outwardly he says things were going well. Attendances and finances were both up and there were even plans to build a new church building.
But his marriage was not doing so well at all. He was often away from home or out late. He was denying the person closest to him the attention, time and energy necessary for real communication and caring. And then one night he came home to find a note next to his bedside table which read: ‘Trevor, I love you and want to be married to you. I sometimes worry though that one day I may no longer be worried if you don’t come home. I miss you and want to reconnect. Debbie.’
Trevor asks: Have you ever experienced similar moments of failure in your relationships?
The truth is he suggests, if you have character flaws, then it is inevitable that you have. We all have. Because our character flaws don’t only harm us, they inevitably harm others as well, especially those who are closest to us. It could be our desire to be in control, our explosive temper, our selfishness, our long held resentments, our not speaking the whole truth, our deep seated prejudices, our wanting everything to be perfect around us, or as in Trevor's case our tendency to over-commit ourselves and to take on too much.
Step 8 suggest that if we are going to grow spiritually, which is just another way of speaking of growing to human maturity, it is going to be important to take responsibility for the ways in which our character flaws impact other people, creating bruised and broken relationships and making whatever amends are possible.
Step 8 reads: We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
There are two parts to Step 8. -
1. making a list of people we have harmed.
2. becoming willing to make amends.
In making a list of all the people we have harmed we are invited to shine a light on all of our relationships both past and present. To reflect on our relationships. To remember the faces of those we have hurt. To write down their names. To think carefully about what it was that we did or did not do that harmed them. And consider what effect we may have had on them?
Trevor says, this will be a difficult task for when things do go wrong in our relationships our normal response is to want to justify ourselves, to become defensive, to insist that we were in the right, to make excuses for ourselves and to blame the other person. The last thing we want to do is to admit that we may have done something wrong. We would much rather focus on how others have wronged us and how we have been the victim.
Step 8 invites us to buck the trend. To turn it around and to challenge this deep-seated tendency to focus on our own victimhood.
It is not to say that other people don’t have their own stuff that they need to take responsibility for. Of course they do. But we can only take responsibility for our own actions. And if we wish to grow we have to start with ourselves and Step 8 encourages us to do that by making a list. Who have I harmed in my thoughts, words or actions, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do?
Are there people who immediately come to mind? Can we find the courage to write their names down on a list? Can we describe in a few words next to their name what it was we did? Can we add a few words to describe the effect this may have had one them?
The second part of Step 8 is about becoming willing to make amends. I know in my own life where I have felt I have needed to make amends, it has felt like the last thing in the world that I actually wish to do. It can feel like a mountain too big to climb. How do we become willing?
We can become aware of some of the benefits of doing so and I mention 3 in particular:
Firstly making amends can help us deal with our feelings of guilt, remorse, shame, failure, resentment, anger and even hatred. Do you carry with you any of these painful feelings? How would you feel if those could be removed? That is what making amends can do. It can help release us from the grip of past failures and the emotional baggage that we carry around because of them.
Secondly, making amends can improve our health. It is becoming clearer and clearer in the medical profession that carrying around unresolved emotional baggage can end up doing terrible harm to our health. When we make amends and are released from some of this emotional baggage and find ourselves living in more harmonious relationships with us because broken fences have been mended, we feel lighter in ourselves and this can have an impact on improving our health.
Thirdly, making amends can help us reconnect with a sense of joy. Broken relationships and the emotional baggage we carry around with us as a result of things we have done is probably one of the things, more than any other, that robs us of our joy.
In 2022, on our trip back to South Africa, I felt the need to make amends. 4 years previously, when I had sold my car to a neighbour I felt afterwards that I had overcharged him. I had done my research and charged a price that other cars with similar mileage and age were priced. But there were other factors that I hadn’t considered such as the fact that the car had been in an accident and two of the doors were not original. For 4 years this had sat uneasily within me and during that time I thought numerous times about how to put that right. In the end I realised that it was robbing me of my peace of mind. And though it took a lot of courage, I decided to phone him and pay him back some of the money I had received from him. It felt painful giving the money back. But afterwards I was grateful to be free of the uneasiness I had felt within me for about 4 years.
There are good reasons to make amends. If we remind ourselves of them, it can help us to become willing to make amends. Restoring one’s inner peace is a very compelling reason to become willing to make amends.
Next week we explore actually making amends… today is simply about making a list of people we have harmed and about becoming willing in our hearts to make amends:
I end with two verses of Scripture:
Proverbs 14:9 Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.
Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister 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.
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