Last week, I heard the remarkable true story of a man who was attacked by a bear in the Canadian wilderness - and survived. For over two minutes the bear mauled him, dragging him off down a ravine to finish the job. It was a direct rifle shot from a hunting companion that finally drove the bear away. After this harrowing episode and his recovery, one of the first things this man did was to get on the phone and make numerous phone calls, apologizing and making amends to people he had harmed in the past.

I find for many people, it takes something like a bear attack - or some major crisis in their life - to finally break down, admit faults, and make amends for their past mistakes. But it doesn't have to be that way. Admitting harms and making amends can be a spiritual discipline, practiced regularly, frequently, and thoroughly. 


Step 1: Complete a FEAR or RESENTMENT Inventory first

These are the preceding steps to doing a harms inventory. The reason is because you cannot and should not outright admit guilt and fault without carefully understanding what character defects you possess. If done prematurely, it might just be an attempt to dump guilt and rather impulsively fix a situation by just powering through it. This is not the way of prudence, and it can backfire, especially if we haven't had enough self-examination to understand just exactly what we are doing to people, and how we are harming them, and it may just be another self-serving attempt to get back into good graces. If indeed we are honest with ourselves, we will make amends that are truly humble, being careful not to point out anyone else's faults but our own. We also learn that the success of our amends-making is not contingent upon their positive response - you may never be forgiven, or acknowledged even. But amends we must make if we are to live a truly spiritual life.

Step 2: Write out a HARMS Inventory

Starting on the left-hand column, make a list of those whom I have wronged. With as much rigorous honesty as I am able, in the next column detail how I harmed them / the type of harm caused. And then in the third column, drawing from the FEAR and RESENTMENT inventories, begin to identify my character defects that were at work in these situations. No other inventory or self-work will be more effective than this column; it is finally facing your wild elephant, and the humble admission of this will remove the pride blocking all effective amends. You cannot properly admit your harms unless you are fully aware of them. Next, examine if you are willing to make it right or not. If not, pray for the grace to do so: "God help me to do what I cannot do for myself. Thy will be done always. Amen." If yes, then proceed to the last column, which is simply, how will I do it?

Step 3: Make the Amend

There are several types of amends: living amends, ongoing amends, and direct amends. Direct amends have to do with restoring justice as much as possible. For example, if I "took" 50 dollars from you and never paid you back, then making amends would be to pay you back directly. In some cases, a direct amends means an actual, well-worded apology with the admission of wrong. Living amends are directed more towards ourselves than the offended party, in that we ourselves - our lives - become living amends. It means changing one's behavior and lifestyle so that we no longer go on offending; so that we - and others - no longer have to go on living with the pain of our mistakes. Ongoing amends are not one-time restitutions, but ongoing commitments to make right wrongs I have done in the past. It might involve volunteering, or regularly serving in some area or capacity.

It is no mystery nor secret that this spiritual discipline is influenced by the Ninth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is truly a powerful and spiritual program. Hear the words in closing from the "12 Promises" of those who, with rigorous honesty, complete their Ninth Step Amends together with a sponsor:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.


- to learn more, listen to this talk on harms