Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken my off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30: 5 b; 11-12 (NRSV)
One important step in becoming a wounded healer is learning to make and receive amends. Amends is a term associated with Twelve Step programs. The history of the word “amends “is instructive. It comes to us from Latin by way of the Old French verb amender, which means “to free from faults or rectify.” Our word “mend” (meaning repair) comes from this root as does the concept of “amending” rules or legislation (with the hope of correcting and improving it).
Why is it necessary to participate in the process of “amends” to become a wounded healer? As we have said earlier in an earlier post, “Hurt people hurt people.” As a wounded person, we create wreckage all around us. Our guilt can push us to indirectly harm others. Sometimes we are conscious of the pain we have caused; sometimes we are oblivious. If we are conscious of harm we have done, we have a lot of people, places, and things to avoid. Large areas of life become closed off to us and others suffer. For example, divorced people who never speak to each other or speak angrily about each other harm their children. Teens who lie or steal or verbally abuse their parents cause harm to the relationships they could have had together as adults. Church members who gossip about each other destroy trust in a congregation. Neighbors who argue about property lines or noise issues or their children’s behavior prevent community.
How are amends different from apologies? Twelve Step materials share this example: I borrow $20 and never pay you back. If I come up to you and say, “I’m sorry, I used the money you loaned me and I can’t pay it back” that’s an apology. Saying, “I know I never paid you back the money you loaned me. I’m sorry and I’d like to pay you now. Here it is.” is making amends. The definition of the word is helpful here; we want to correct or rectify something we said, did, or should have done.
The Ninth Step in the Twelve Step advises: “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” “Direct amends” means making personal contact with the person we have harmed. In one family I know, a dying father wrote a letter to his estranged son sharing the beautiful memories he had of their relationship before the son refused all contact. This letter prompted the son to connect with his father before the father died.
Sometimes it is not possible to make direct amends. Perhaps the person has died. Or it may be that your comments would aggravate the situation (for example, confessing to an affair that happened five years ago). In these cases, your amends would be to stop having affairs and to bring new energy and attention to your marriage. Sometimes the best or only possible amends are living amends – a genuine change in our behavior, a new way of life and no longer accumulating fresh insults to ourselves or others.
If we do not attempt to restore what we have damaged or broken even in a symbolic way, we are left regretting our past or shutting the door on it. We leave behind a trail of shattered relationships. If we make amends, we open up communication, can live without guilt and regret, and perhaps even restore the relationships. Facing our shame and guilt is the path to becoming a wounded healer.
MULLING IT OVER: Healing also requires being willing to receive the amends that others offer us. This means being willing to hear them out, trusting that they are sincere, accepting their way of repairing the hurt and damage, and loving them the way Jesus does. If you respond with distrust, bitterness, and unforgiveness, his or her burden may still be lighter, but the relationship may not improve. Is it harder for you to give amends or accept them? Why?