Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Luke 19:8-9
In my addictive, destructive behavior, I caused the worst pain for those I was supposed to love the most. In recognizing this, I experienced tremendous shame and guilt. In treatment, I met others who, like me, had caused their loved ones profound misery, yet they didn’t seem bothered by it like I was. In their minds, they’d asked God for forgiveness, and once forgiven, they were able to let it go.
This seemed more than a little dishonest to me. God’s forgiveness did not erase the hurt we’d caused others. I was painfully aware of this and though I knew God forgave me, I still mourned the misery I’d caused my family. This guilt was overwhelming at times, consuming my mind. What was I to do with this guilt?
I found the answer to my problem in steps 8 and 9 of AA’s 12 steps, Making Amends. It was only in going to those I had hurt and doing what I could to make it right, that I found relief from my shame. This though, was not as simple as going around saying, “I’m sorry”.
Amends may well mean apologizing, but as Zacchaeus illustrated in today’s passage, making amends means doing what we can to undo the wrong we’ve done. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus had cheated others out of money. To truly repent, he didn’t simply ask forgiveness of God and man. He paid back even more than he’d originally taken.
Most of the time, I’ve found that making amends isn’t about one single act of contrition. For me, making amends to those I love the most, has been a continual act of living differently. As I pursued my addiction for years, I don’t make up for this in one day. The only adequate amends is to daily pursue recovery. My family doesn’t need financial restitution. They need a sober son, husband, and father.
This, often, is our amends, to repent from the behavior that has been hurtful to others, choosing a radically different life. Not incidentally, this is exactly what we need too. If we want to stop causing destruction for ourselves and our loved ones, we must continually work at abandoning the old life for the new one.