Me Free 9: Skillful Means

We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. – Step 9

Have you ever taken a trip and realized that you forgot something?  I know I have.  I’ve driven out of our neighborhood on the way to the store and quickly realized I forgot my wallet.  Time for a U-turn…  Years ago I made it to church on Sunday morning and realized I forgot my bathing suit, which mattered because I was going to baptize people that morning. So, I had to perform my priestly role in my birthday suit.  I always wondered why I never saw those people after that special day – I wonder if something scared them off? Just kidding!  Luckily, Lynne and the kids had not left yet, otherwise the teaching may have been a little skimpy (or perhaps much better – who knows?).  In the 1970’s my parents drove home from church one Sunday.  When they arrived, they realized they had left something at church – one of their four children – me!  They quickly realized it, thankfully, and came back to get me the next Tuesday after my dad finished his work.  That was content for therapy session 601…

What have you forgotten?  What did you do?  I imagine if you forgot your sunglasses and were down the road more than 15 minutes, you wouldn’t turn back.  What about if you forgot your wallet?  I bet you’d drive back an hour.  Passport? You would do whatever it takes, otherwise the trip would be lost.  In every case, the trip would be diminished to varying degrees if you didn’t bring what you needed.  Especially if it’s a trip we’ve been looking forward to – like a vacation – forgetting something could ruin a trip for ourselves or those with us on the journey.

Life is a trip.  We are not on the journey alone.  We are surrounded by people – some very close, some a world away – all on the trip together.  When we forget something on this trip, it impacts not only ourselves, but a range of others.  Sometimes our forgetfulness significantly reduces the enjoyment of other people’s trip.  Step 8 helps us come to grips with how we have messed with other people’s trip, and Step 9 calls for making direct, thoughtful, wise amends to those whose trip we’ve tainted unless doing so would bring them or others harm.  Bernard Robeson has some great practical advice on Step 9 – take a moment and watch it.

Bernard Robeson was obviously talking about Step 9 from the perspective of substance abuse like alcohol or drugs.  We have recognized in this series, however, that we are all addicted to our own way of thinking that we have crafted over the course of our lives to get through life.  The Enneagram suggests that our plan is directly tied to our type, which is directly connected to what is referred to as our Childhood Wound – something that got in the way of our deepest longings, needs, and living out from our True Self.  Depending on how developed we are regarding our True Self, to varying degrees we mess up other people’s trips pretty regularly.  All part of the human experience! 

Jesus spoke into this phenomenon as part of a bigger talk about living from a spiritually-centered life:

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” – Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)

One biblical scholar noted that the type of sacrifice offered here was not an obligatory one, but rather an offering of praise or thanks.  It’s not to be taken literally, which would not have been logistically possible.  Rather, Jesus is saying that if we’re in a good place in life and want to say as much to God, thanking God for the help, yet knowingly are a source of pain to someone else, we need to take care of it.  Why?  Because God loves them.  Why? Because they are our neighbor.  Why?  Because the most important spiritual truths were are called to live by is to love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbors as ourselves.  To not care about the person we’ve hurt is essentially an offense to God.  If you hurt one of my kids but want to give me a gift of appreciation, I don’t want your gift.  To take your gift would in some way be to dismiss what you’ve done to my kids.  You messed with their trip while you’ve been enjoying yours.  We’re not okay at that point. Our relationship is strained.  Clean up the mess you’ve made and then we’ll have a chance at relationship again. We may not realize that we have a block in our relationship with God because we’ve hurt one of God’s kids and have left a mess.  It’s not that God won’t forgive – that’s already happened. But you will fail to know God and grace along deeper lines if you fail to take this step seriously.

Bernard Robeson offered a lot of wise counsel regarding some ground rules on making amends.  If we are not careful, thoughtful and wise with this step, there is a great chance that we will blow it. Especially if we go into it without having done the hard work of empathizing with the person we have harmed we will likely minimize the pain we have caused and be generally dismissive of the other person’s feelings.  As Richard Rohr notes:

“One often needs time, discernment, and good advice from others before one knows the when, how, who, and where to apologize or make amends.  If not done skillfully, an apology can actually make the problem and the hurt worse, and the Twelve Steps were experienced enough to know that. Not everything needs to be told to everybody, all the time, and in full detail. Sometimes it only increases the hurt, the problem, and the person’s inability to forgive. This all takes wise discernment and often sought-out advice from others” (Breathing Under Water, 67).

I asked my Wednesday morning Praxis group about Step 8 and 9.  Linda Murphy had some great advice about this.  She essentially said that if we do our part of the hard work necessary to prepare for Step 9 (which is related to Step 4’s conducting a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and Step 8’s making a list of all those we have harmed), then we are ready for the next step of actually making amends to happen more naturally and organically.  So, in light of Linda’s sage advice, please make the list, please process what you did deeply, please seek wise counsel, all as precursor to the big step of actually apologizing and making amends.

Apologizing doesn’t come naturally for most people.  Our lizard brain defense mechanism fights it, our “blame the other party” politicians don’t ever own their share of the blame, and our propensity to think more highly of ourselves than we ought rules the day.  But the more we apologize, the easier it becomes.  The more we apologize, the more humble we stay.  So, for God’s sake, for the sake of others, for Pete’s sake, and for the sake of your own personal development and maturity, swallow your pride and take the appropriate step.  As was the case for Jacob seeking reconciliation with Esau, and for Jesus’ true-yet-fictional younger Prodigal Son, what you do on this note impacts more than you – it serves to shape the community around you.  What are you modeling for the world around you to see?

Step 9 Questions…

What amends have you already made? These can include apology ies already made, helpful tasks for those that you have hurt and changed attitudes or behaviors, among other things.

From your List of People in step 8, fill in the table on the List of Amends page. One way to do this is to fill in the names one by one in the List of Amends table as you make amends to a given person. In that way, you can record the date, what happened and so forth and then learn from that when you move on to the next amends. You might begin with those amends that are easiest and move on to the more difficult ones as you gain experience and wisdom about this step.

Write out any planned apologies or other planned amends in the table on the Planned Amends page.

Read your apologies or planned amends to a friend or sponsor and ask them if it sounds sincere or if it sounds defensive or like an attack on the other person. Record in the table on the Planned Amends page their response.

Role play with your sponsor or friends concerning anything you plan to say when making amends. Record on the Planned Amends page the results of this role-playing.

Do you feel angry or resentful towards any people on your amends list? If so, you can write them a letter of anger, but don't send it to them. You can also list in your letter ways in which you have hurt them. Describe here any other ways that you have used to get rid of anger and resentment towards anyone on your list.

What consequences do you fear in making amends? What is the worst thing that can happen? What is the best thing that can happen? What is likely to happen? You can record these expectations in the table in the Planned Amends page.

What is your experience with the first time of making amends? You can record it in the table on the List of Amends page. How did the other person respond? What have you learned from this? What would you do differently next time?

After making several amends, what is your overall impression? Is there anything in common? Is there anything that surprised you? Has anything disappointed you? How do you feel about the process and how has it affected you as a person?

What amends to you have the most difficulty making? What do you need to do to be able to make these amends?

How has making amends affected your relationship with others?

How are you dealing with the feedback from others after making amends? How are you feeling? How are you dealing with the desire to defend yourself and/or accuse the other person of what they have done wrong?

If you have found other people to whom you need to make amends, record this in the table in the List of People page for step 8 and then add it to the table in the List of Amends page for this step 9 and continue from there.

Have you had any dreams about making amends? If so, describe them in detail.

Describe any celebrations or activities that you plan or have done to honor the completion of your making amends (or for at least the initial stages of making amends, for often making amends can take many years or up to a lifetime).





*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram.  Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”.  There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test).  In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps.  You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats.  CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand.  In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with, as well as the story behind the creation of the songs at the Sleeping At Last podcast (search for “Sleeping at Last” on your podcast app).  Also, search for the “EnneApp” for your phone – a great on-the-go option for your mobile devices.  Also, look through for tons of helpful resources from the recovery community.