Three Taverns Church

When Step 9 Goes “Wrong”

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“Or we may be tipped over in the other direction when, in rare cases, we get a cool and skeptical reception. This will tempt us to argue, or to press our point insistently. Or maybe it will tempt us to discouragement and pessimism.”
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 9

I wrote an amends letter to an old boss of mine several months ago while I was in Step 4. As I compiled my list of harms it occurred to me just how wrongly I treated this man while I worked for him; the way I left his employment was even worse. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to write that letter, and I’m so glad He did. I wish I’d saved a copy of that letter so I could read my bold words over and over again. I’ll need that courage again as I enter my ‘official’ Step 9 amends. The quote above reminded me of the letter because I expected a “cool and skeptical reception” from my former boss; that’s why I wrote a letter rather than meet him face-to-face.

He was a difficult man to work for. He professed no faith and had what some might call a ‘sharp tongue’. At the time I wrote the letter I imagined going into his office and saying something to the effect of, “Sir, I know that while I worked here I was not especially productive…” And that’s about as far as I feared I would get. I assumed he would jump in with a caustic remark, perhaps even throw me out of his office before I had the chance to finish my amends.

I face the same fear as I enter Step 9. There is one name in particular on my list of amends which I am quite concerned about. A part of me wishes I could simply write this man a letter because I’m afraid I won’t get to say everything I need to say, and because if I do get the words out I’m afraid they will fall on ears listening only for the break in my speech as the signal to ‘pounce’.

The thing which gives me courage is, ironically, my failure to meet my former boss face-to-face back in Step 4. I sent that letter instead, and while it felt great to confess my sin to this man, I missed the opportunity to see his face. I didn’t get to look him in the eyes and finish the rest of that earlier thought:

“Sir, I know that while I worked here I was not especially productive …
…I spent a lot of company time taking care of personal business and I was always out the door exactly at 5pm because I was more concerned with my own selfish needs than the success of this company. You hired me at a difficult time in the economy, when no one else would take a chance on me, and I repaid your good deed with a poor work ethic. I also know you heard me gossiping about you, and I want you to know that I realize I was wrong, and I am sorry I hurt you. Please tell me what I can do to make things right.”

In my mind the look on my old boss’ face would be priceless at this moment. Whether or not he gave me a “cool reception”, I would know I had faced my fear of making my sin known to the one whom I sinned against. Both in looking back, and looking forward to the rest of my amends, I am beginning to see that it really doesn’t matter what reaction I get from those I make amends to. The value of the Step 9 process is in what it does to me, not what it does for others.

3 thoughts on “When Step 9 Goes “Wrong”

  1. Using your example: What if in your making amends you share with the person that you, let’s say, gossipped about him or you did some other offensive thing heretofore unknown to/against them—that would result in them feeling “hurt”? You are relieved but now the boss is experiencing hurt feelings, and maybe new injury through embarrassment of you standing there telling him you gossiped about him.

    Is it possible to confess your specific sins to a third party and then make amends to the boss by apologizing for your general inadequacy while employed by the boss but not telling him you gossiped about him? Shouldn’t one make amends in a way that casts NO responsibility on the one to whom we are making amends?

    • Yes, that is exactly Step 9! You’ll note in my example that I made sure to point out that my “boss” had former knowledge of my gossiping. Had he NOT known about my gossip, I would not have mentioned that in my amends and would have instead confessed the sin to my mentor and prayed for forgiveness.

      For the record, Step 9 is as follows: “Made direct amends to those we harmed whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

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