The Benefits of Making Amends
The term “amends” is not used much these days, but when this concept is put into practice, it helps victims forgive the people that hurt them and increases the possibility of reconciliation. Making amends, when possible, is an important part in many 12-step programs such as Celebrate Recovery. There are times, however, that amends may not be possible or will do more harm than good.
Benefits of making amends
- The victim is more likely to get over their anger and forgive the perpetrator
- The perpetrator will be better able to handle the guilt they felt over the wrongdoing
- When the perpetrator is a relationship partner, they may be seen as being more valuable
- The victim feels less at risk of being hurt again by the perpetrator
Examples of making amends include:
- Confessing a transgression
- Taking responsibility for the wrongdoing
- Asking for forgiveness
- Offering financial or other types of restitution
Victim can offer amends by forgiving the transgressors, and telling the transgressors what they need to do to move forward, if anything. Making amends as a transgressor is much more difficult. Transgressors have to take into account the state of mind of the victim, how much to confess without doing more harm, the best time to approach the victim, and any possible restitution that should be offered, if needed.
Scientists at the University of Miami decided to investigate ways that forgiveness is made possible and the effectiveness of amends. Researchers found that there was a relationship between the gestures transgressors offered to their victims and the extent to which victims were able to forgive. The level of more conciliatory gestures were directly proportional to the extent of forgiveness victims felt over time. These gestures also seemed to change the victim’s perception about the aggressor and the relationship to a more positive light.
The story of Jacob and Esau
The story of Jacob and Esau is one example of the making of amends. The two were brothers. Esau, as the older brother, was going to inherit his father's estate, but Jacob used trickery to take away his birthright. Esau held a grudge and was planning on killing Jacob in revenge (Genesis: 27L41).
His mother Rebekah warned Jacob that he was in danger and told him to visit her brother Laban until Esau cooled off.
Jacob was aware of Esau's animosity, but also knew the time had come when they should meet (Genesis 32-33). When the time came, Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to Esau who said: "‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes" (verse 4).
The messengers returned, saying that Esau was coming towards him with four hundred men. Jacob was frightened and in distress at the news. He took some precautions, such as dividing his family, possessions and animals into two groups so that some of his family could survive If Esau attacked.
Jacob prayed to God, saying: "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted” (vs. 9-12).
The night before the meeting, Jacob selected animals from his flocks as presents for Esau and instructed his servants to go ahead, hoping the gifts would pacify his brother. As Esau approached, Jacob went on ahead of his family and animals and bowed down to the ground seven times.
When Esau saw Jacob, he ran to meet him. Esau embraced him by throwing his arms around his neck and kissing him. They wept together. Esau wanted to return Jacob's gift of the flocks, saying he had enough of his own, but Jacob insisted. Their amends process was complete.
The need for forgiveness
As Christians, there are times when we will hurt others by word, deed, or both. Forgiveness is essential part of being a Christian (Ephesians 4:32). We must forgive others when they hurt us, or God will not forgive our sins.
When we are transgressors, we can forgive ourselves and ask others for forgiveness. We should not take for granted, though, that just because our victims are Christians, forgiveness is automatic and expected.
Christians as well as non-Christians struggle to forgive those who harmed them.
Timing is important
When victims are hurt, they tend to withdraw from the people who hurt them. They will struggle with anger and a desire for revenge just like Esau did. Amends is usually not possible until the victim and the transgressor are both ready to hear and accept one another in a logical way with emotions in check.
A victim will probably want to hear the transgressor acknowledge they have done something wrong and ask for forgiveness if nothing else. However, the victims may have lost trust in the transgressor and are afraid that they will experience more hurt from them if they try to talk about it. As with Jacob and Esau, time must pass before reconciliation is possible.
It may take a long time before victims feel comfortable with having a conversation about the event. Transgressors may feel impatient. They want the situation to be over with and feel closure, but they should wait until victims feel ready to talk about their feelings and possible resolutions.
Confession is good for transgressors and the victims. Transgressors can in part relieve their feelings of guilt and self- recrimination. They also find it easier to forgive themselves and to accept God’s forgiveness. When transgressors approach their victims, they should do so with humility and respect, similar to the way Jacob approached Esau.
Jacob prayed to God for help beforehand to ensure that he was in the right frame of mind before approaching Esau. In the same way, we should turn to God for wisdom and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).
The victims need to understand that the transgressors are genuinely sorry for what they have done after a confession. This knowledge can kickstart their ability to forgive them. If the transgressor does not fully understand the harm they have done, victims may also find peace of mind by sharing how the transgressors words and/or actions had harmed them. Then victims are assured that the transgressors truly understand and “get” the harm they have done.
Transgressors must be careful what and how they confess however, so that they do not harm their victims. Excuses and justifications get in the away. Transgressors need to focus on confessing their part of the problem.
When amends does not work
Amends needs a number of conditions in order to work. Sometimes attempts at amends can do more harm than good.
Both the victims and transgressors need to acknowledge that a wrongdoing has occurred and that an amends process would be helpful for both of them. They also need to be in the right frame of mind, a process that takes time.
There needs to be calm and a logical approach in place. When strong emotions come into play, people will say and do things that they regret later. Not every situation calls for amends. Some situations may appear to require it on the surface, but when analyzed, amends would do more harm than good.
Amends can be a wonderful tool to overcome anger and hurt, help us to forgive ourselves and others, and restore relationships if we use it correctly.
© 2014 Carola Finch