"We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive... We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn't live to please himself. As the Scriptures say, 'The insults of those who insult you, O God, have fallen on me.'" (Romans 15:1-3)
Nearly as important as our relationship with God, is the establishment of balanced interpersonal relationships. Extending forgiveness to those who have harmed us, leading to the making of amends (when appropriate) is important in bringing a satisfying balance to our relationships.
Possibly the greatest barrier to the making of amends is our pride. I know it's hard, but when you (and I) "Humble yourselves before the Lord", then "He will lift you up in honor" (James 4:10). When, in our humility, God lifts us up, it becomes possible for us to begin to edify others by forgiving their sins against us and become willing to make amends where we have offended...
My experience in the making of amends is that it is often a great bridge building process, bringing greater balance and satisfaction to my healthy relationships.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. (Colossians 3:18-21)
A wise writer once said that if a person can be a Christian at home, he/she can be a Christian anywhere, implying that there is no harder place to be a Christian than at home with our families. At home we tend to let down any facades we may carry with us when we are in public. In so doing, we are more likely to hurt those we love the most -- sad, but true.
Of course, God is always there for us, ready to deliver us from those temptations, before we hurt others. But sometimes we fail to surrender our will to God, and thus lose the victory we could have had. When that happens and we hurt a family member, the temptation is to just move on and pretend that it didn't happen. Or, we might justify our behavior, claiming that they deserved what they got. But this tends to weaken (and could eventually destroy) our family relationships.
On the other hand, when we admit our mistakes and make amends with those we have wounded, our family relationships are strengthened. Not only that, but when at least one family member starts practicing these principles, others are likely to follow suit, as they are convicted by the Spirit of Christ. This can change the whole dynamics of the family -- for the better.
Making amends is always hard, but the resultant peace in our home is well worth the pain. And whenever we make a decided effort to do as we are led by Jesus, God adds His blessing and assistance to make it all possible. Without Jesus, we can do nothing good (John 15:5), but with Him, we can do all things! (Philippians 4:13). For us, this is "impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." (Mark 10:27).
My carnal nature drives me to be a troublemaker. I have strong opinions. I want others to agree with me, but this attitude is rebuked by Jesus, when He said, Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:9,23,24)
When I make appropriate amends, it brings peace between me and God as well as the satisfaction of knowing that I've finally done the right thing. It is a tremendous relief from guilt, shame, and remorse. This peace sometimes includes a restoration of a favorable relationship between me and another person. But it never includes an erasing from my memory, or the memory of others, of past mistakes. Those serve (among other things) to remind us that without God, we can do nothing (John 15:4,5). And, in my opinion, that's good.
David said, "... I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me" (Ps. 51:3). Humility, in my opinion, was one of David's greatest traits of character. Even though he sinned greatly, he was willing to humble himself and to admit his mistakes. Humility is something that I was only starting to learn as I began to make amends in earnest. But, I've been grateful to discover that, as I choose to be lead of God, He works in me to do what I can not do without Jesus (Philippians 2:13).
Making amends is hard. I really don't like to do it. So, when I am tempted to arrogantly insist upon my own way, I choose instead to acknowledge and surrender those feelings and ask God to help me to be a peacemaker instead. When I do that, I find that God honors my decision, softens my heart, and assists me in changing my attitude.
When we make a mistake and amends are needed, There are at least four categories (identified in the book "Steps to Serenity") of people that we should consider: 1) People who are close to us (family, close friends, etc.) to whom we can go to immediately. 2) Those to whom, for many possible reasons, only partial disclosure should be made. 3) For some, we may need to wait awhile before attempting amends. Maybe I need to give them and/or myself some time to "cool off". 4) Those whom we should never contact. This could be the case for certain types of relationships that should not be restored.
I remember a letter that I wrote to an individual that I just couldn't bring myself to deliver. So, I asked a pastor friend to help me. Looking back I see this as one of the smartest things I've ever done. I felt a great need to make amends. But, what I didn't understand, was that amends should NOT be made when to do so would injure others. I am grateful to this trusted friend for pointing out to me that this particular amends would not be beneficial to anyone, but would instead be harmful to several. I do think that it was important for me to write the letter. I also think that it was good for me to share that letter confidentially with a trusted friend. But, to go any further than that would have been a serious mistake.
In considering the making of amends, I think it prudent to also consider what core attitudes and beliefs led me to do what I now need to make amends for. In other words, I want to know what attitude and beliefs I should have in order to prevent myself from doing (or saying) stuff that I will be sorry for later.
One time, for family worship, we read a story about a couple teenagers -- Howie and Joe. Howie had a summer job, but Joe convinced Howie to take the bus with him (using Howie's money) to another town where he promised that a job would be waiting for them, with his uncle. Howie reluctantly agreed, only to find out that Joe's uncle had no work for them and didn't want them hanging around. Then Joe convinced Howie to pay his bus fare to go home (there wasn't enough money for 2 tickets), promising to mail money back to Howie when he got home. Of course, the money never came. Worse yet, Howie couldn't find work, and nearly starved before money arrived from his dad.
My first thought was that Howie was very gullible and shouldn't have let Joe take advantage of him like that. But the rest of the story was that God miraculously provided for Howie's basic needs throughout this ordeal. So, why did God do that, considering Howie's foolishness, in letting Joe take advantage of him? I suppose there could several answers to that question. After all, God is all-loving and not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
In considering what we (or Howie) should do when people mistreat us, who better to ask than Jesus? Here are some interesting comments of His (Luke 6:27-38):
Love your enemies
Do good to those who hate you
Bless them that curse you
Unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other
If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt too
Give to everyone that asks, expecting nothing in return
Treat others as you would have them treat you
Judge not; condemn not; forgive; give; be merciful
Be kind to the unthankful and to the evil
This is so contrary to our culture. But, as a result of all this selflessness, Jesus makes some really great promises to us (Luke 6:35-38):
Your reward will be great
You will be children of the Most High
When you give, it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.
with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
I'm pretty sure that, if I were to follow this advice, I would never have need to make amends again. But if I fail to do that, this same counsel that Jesus gave us, will lead me to make amends as needed.
But, you may say, "it's just not in me to be so utterly selfless. How can I possibly become as Jesus directs?" I would say, "We don't get there all at once." "Sanctification is the progressive work of a lifetime" (Ellen White -- Selected Messages, Vol 3, 202.3). And these 12 Steps are one of several working frameworks for that process.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:10)
Once we've become willing to make amends, it is time to follow through with the next shame-reducing act of actually making amends with those who won't be further damaged by our doing so. I think it important to consider our motives for this communication with those whom we have harmed. Are we truly sorry for what we have done? Or, are we just doing it because we feel pressured to do so? Can we honestly say with the apostle Paul, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)? Are we really ready to humbly admit our mistakes to those we have harmed and do what we can to make amends?
Maybe they have also hurt us. Are we ready to forgive our enemy and to extend the first bits of agape love to them, by making amends? (Matthew 5:42-48). Note that loving (agape) our enemy does not necessarily mean that we will ever become close (emotional) friends (philia). What it does mean is that we will have unconditional respect, courtesy, and well-wishing for everyone, including those who have harmed us. This is not an emotional response. This is a decision to do, not only what is best for the other person, but what is in our best interest as well. You see, it is never in our best interest to hold grudges and to be unforgiving, because these things destroy the peace is our privilege to enjoy otherwise.
Is it within our power to make the decision to love/forgive our enemies? I would say "Yes". However, I must quickly add that it is NOT likely within our power to carry out that decision. This is where the proper use of our will comes into play, for "with God, all things are possible" (Matthew19:26; Mark 9:23). And, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:13)
When we make amends, we will likely have fear about the outcome. Will the recipient of our amends lash out at us? Will our reputation suffer? In my personal experience and in the experience of others whom I've discussed this with, there is very seldom a negative outcome. Most people I have written to have not responded at all. But, those who have responded have had a favorable response. To my knowledge, my reputation has not suffered. To the contrary, people seem to appreciate the fact that I take ownership of my mistakes and do what I can to make amends.
" Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone." (Romans 12:17-18)
There are some people from my past for which I have been unable to make amends. For various reasons, it hasn't been possible. Through my recovery process (since 1994), I've become willing to make amends to them all. And, maybe someday, I'll have the opportunity to do that for some. But for others, it wouldn't be a good idea because it could cause further injury. I pray for these people, when God brings them to my mind, but I feel bad that I can't do more.
Maybe I can do more. Many years ago I said to God, "I've spent much of my life doing things that have hurt other people. Now I want to spend the rest of my life doing what I can to help other people". I know this doesn't make up for the pain I have caused. And I know that doing good doesn't justify me in the sight of God. I am still a wretched sinner, only saved by the blood of Jesus. But in hurting people, I know I have done harm to the human race and to God.
So now, I choose to do what I can to make amends to the human race. That is why I write. That is why I facilitate small groups. That is why I mentor men in need. That is why I speak publicly on sanctification/recovery topics. But, that's not my only reason for doing these things. I do them because it helps me too. It keeps recovery topics fresh in my mind. It keeps me accountable, as I share my weaknesses. All these things help to accelerate my own recovery. And that's gooood :-)
"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." (James 5:16) And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:11)
Choosing to make amends, assumes that we have already confessed these things to God, who has consequently forgiven us. That forgiveness, as well as loving acceptance is assured (1 John 1:9). So, when we confess/apologize to those whom we've wronged, we tend to expect that same acceptance and forgiveness that we have received of God. But these expectations are sometimes frustrated because these are sinful humans, just like us.
I have come to have low expectations of the response that my amends will generate in others. I realize that they may not be ready to make amends or even to forgive me. After all, at one time, I wasn't ready either. So, why should I expect them to be?
Since God has already forgiven me, and the person (whom I need to make amends to) may not forgive me or even acknowledge that they too need to make amends, then what could it possibly benefit me (or them) to follow through with this amends?! Maybe there is a clue here: And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: (Luke 6:31,37). For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14,15).
Forgiveness... It looks like I need to forgive before I can really make amends. But once I have forgiven, then my amends becomes a gift to that person. The acceptance of that gift is not my goal nor expectation. The benefit to me is mostly in my giving. Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (Lk 6:38)
So, what's in it for me? Peace, the peace of God, and the good gifts of God. It's another step in my recovery process. It's about furthering my personal character development. That's what's in it for me. And, personally, I think it's worth whatever it takes!
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. (Colossians 4:5,6)
It seems to me that there are at least three ways in which I need to be reconciled in the process making amends.
First, I need to be reconciled to God. Without this, I have little reason to pursue recovery. Without Jesus, I am powerless to do any good thing, but with Him I will bring "forth much fruit" (John 5:30;15:4,5).
Second, part of what being reconciled to God means, is to actually do what He says (John 14:15). And one thing that He says is Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:23,24). So, whenever possible and appropriate, I need to make amends to those whom I have offended -- with the hope of reconciling that broken relationship, when appropriate and when the other person is willing.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)
Third, knowing that I have done all that I can do to reconcile myself to God and with others, I can then have the peace that comes from reconciling myself with my own conscience. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. (Luke 19:2,5,6,8)
When Jesus abides in our hearts, our attitudes change. Our selfishness and greed turn to love and generosity. Instead of defending our sins against others, we confess our mistakes and make amends to those whom we have harmed. Just as Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "make haste... for today I must abide at thy house", He says to us today, Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
Some questions now come to my mind.
Do I hear Jesus "knocking at my door", or am I so busy with the cares of this world that I'm not even listening.
If I do hear Him knocking, will I open the door of my heart and let Him in, or will I send Him away to do my bidding?
If I let Him in, will I fully surrender to His will and choose to do as He leads no matter the consequences, or will I push Him out the back door when my faith gets weak.
Finally, will I choose to make amends when He convicts me, as did Zacchaeus, trusting that He will make all things right in the end. Or, will I continue to live with shame and guilt because of the bad things I have done, or said, to others?
It is always my choice as to who I will listen to and how I will live my life. It is your choice too. How will you choose to live your life today?
Step 9: "Made amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."