Step Nine – “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Morning Prayer for this Saturday after the First Sunday of Christmas can be found here.
Who among you loves life *
and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?
Keep your tongue from evil-speaking *
and your lips from lying words.
Turn from evil and do good; *
seek peace and pursue it. (Ps. 34:12-14)
Step Nine, more than any other Step, I think, invites us into an entirely new way of living.
While laying out a sensible approach to making direct amends (perhaps for the very first time) to those whom we have harmed, Step NIne also reminds us that:
Of course, there is no pat answer which can fit all such dilemmas. But all of them do require a complete willingness to make amends as fast and as far as may be possible in a given set of conditions. (87)
Being willing to make amends “as fast and as far as possible” is the practice which really unlocked recovery for me.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Two incidents in my first year of recovery underscore how major a change this was.
First, because I spent a lot of time at home instead of on the road after losing my job, my wife and I had many more occasions to talk — about anything or nothing at all.
One evening, while she was making dinner, we were talking about money (which always triggered me) and I felt myself making my usual defensive responses. The same uncomfortable silence fell over the kitchen until I said, “I’m sorry about how I responded. Here’s what’s happening. Can we try this again?”
When I was working again, the second opportunity to practice making amends came my way.
I have always been a quick learner, a glib and articulate public speaker, but my new job required mastery of significantly more content than I previously had to work with.
When I was presenting to a colleague to demonstrate my competence, we came to a section of material I had neither studied nor prepared well. He very appropriately called me on the carpet, and I felt my cheeks burning with both shame and arrogance.
“How dare he challenge me?”
I took a breath and replied. “You’re right. I did not prepare as I should have. I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
To my astonishment, he accepted my apology and agreed to my request to demonstrate the material again the next day.
The generous response of most people to such quiet sincerity will often astonish us. Even our severest and most justified critics will frequently meet us more than halfway on the first trial. (84)
What recovery has taught me, first and foremost, is that I must take responsibility for my own actions and own up to them when I have harmed another person.
Don’t just “show up and throw up”
Some of the wisdom of Step Nine makes clear that early members of A.A. were professional salesmen, because their teaching is infused not only with insights into human relationships but also a sense of timing and appropriateness.
While we may be quite willing to reveal the very worst, we must be sure to remember that we cannot buy our own peace of mind at the expense of others. (84)
Experience taught the early members of the fellowship that there was a right time for most of the conversations that making direct amends would require.
We shall at once think of a few people who know all about our drinking, and who have been most affected by it. But even in these cases, we may need to use a little more discretion than we did with the family. We may not want to say anything for several weeks, or longer. First we will wish to be reasonably certain that we are on the A.A. beam. Then we are ready to go to these people, to tell them what A.A. is, and what we are trying to do. (84)
We may have an experience like I did, an admission of fault that was met with generosity. In those cases it is important not to think it’s “one and done,” but to remember this is a new way of living.
The temptation to skip the more humiliating and dreaded meetings that still remain may be great. We will often manufacture plausible excuses for dodging these issues entirely. Or we may just procrastinate, telling ourselves the time is not yet, when in reality we have already passed up many a fine chance to right a serious wrong. Let’s not talk prudence while practicing evasion. (85)
This Step is really asking us to act differently as well as to think differently. We are to be quick to admit fault, slow to place blame, eager to take the first step to restore a relationship.
Bearing with one another in love
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians asks for the same eagerness in acting on behalf of others.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1)
Paul is urging the Christians in Ephesus to practice unity, to live like they are one in Christ, united in one calling by the baptism they share.
Likewise, we in recovery are united by the common bonds of suffering and hope that we share. We also are to express that hope in action that seeks the best for others.
For the readiness to take the full consequences of our past acts, and to take responsibility for the well-being of others at the same time, is the very spirit of Step Nine. (87)
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.