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. Offenders can move on from guilt, shame, and self-blame. Amends also increases the possibility of reconciliation.
Examples of making amends include:
- Confessing a transgression
- Acknowledging the harm that was done
- Taking responsibility for the wrongdoing
- Asking for forgiveness
- Offering financial or other types of restitution
Making amends, when possible, is an important part of many 12-step programs such as Celebrate Recovery. However, there are times that amends may not be possible or will do more harm than good.
The Story of Jacob and Esau
The story of Jacob and Esau is one example of the making of amends. The two were brothers. As the older brother, Esau was going to inherit his father's estate, but Jacob used trickery to take away his birthright. Esau held a grudge and planned to kill Jacob in revenge (Genesis: 27:41). His mother Rebekah warned Jacob that he was in danger and told him to visit her brother Laban until Esau cooled off.
Jacob knew Esau's animosity and knew they would eventually meet (Genesis 32-33). When the time came, Jacob sent messengers ahead to Esau, telling Esau where he had been staying and that his family, servants, and livestock were with him. Then he said: "‘Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes."
The messengers returned, saying that Esau was coming towards him with four hundred men. Jacob was frightened and distressed 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 he was unworthy of God’s kindness and faithfulness. He said: “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.” (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 appease his brother. The next day, Jacob went ahead of his family and bowed down to the ground seven times as Esau approached him.
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 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 and shame 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
Steps for Offenders Offering Amends
The book When Sorry Isn't Enough by author Gary Chapman states that all of us make mistakes that we regret. Being sorry, however, is not enough to restore relationships. We may need to offer amends in some cases. Here are steps we can take towards healing relationships.
Forgive Ourselves For Our Offenses
When we are transgressors, we need to forgive ourselves. We need to let go of the guilt and shame associated with offenses.
Let Go of Past Resentment
When we speak to victims about the offenses we committed against them, we should focus on the current situation. Our excuses, justifications, and blaming the victims get in the way of reconciliation. We need to admit our part of the problem and let go of past hurts.
Consider How Offering Amends Will Affect Victims
Making amends as transgressors is difficult. Amends should not be offered if doing so is harmful to victims. We should take into account the state of mind of our victims. Sometimes, hurt people need some space and time to heal before considering reconciliation.
We should not take for granted that forgiveness is automatic, and trust is fully restored because our victims are Christians. We should be ready to offer restitution if needed.
Pick the Right Time To Approach Them
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 are usually not possible until the victim and the transgressor are ready to hear one another in a logical manner with emotions in check.
Victims may have lost trust in transgressors and are afraid that they will experience more hurt from offenders if they try to talk about their feelings. As with Jacob and Esau, time usually must pass before reconciliation is possible. We may feel impatient. We want the situation to be over and feel closure, but we should wait until victims feel ready to talk about their situation and possible resolutions.
Acknowledge The Harm That Has Been Done
If we do not fully understand the harm we have done, we should ask victims about it. Victims may find peace of mind by sharing how the transgressors' words or actions had hurt them. When victims realize that the transgressors are genuinely sorry for what they have done, this knowledge can kickstart their ability to forgive and begins to restore their trust.
Confess our Transgressions
Confession should not happen if doing so harms victims. We must be careful what and how we confess. Confession can be a powerful way to restore relationships. When transgressors approach their victims, they should do so with humility and respect, similar to how Jacob approached Esau.
Jacob prayed to God for help beforehand to ensure that he was in the right frame of mind before meeting Esau. In the same way, we should turn to God for wisdom and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Offer Gestures of Reconciliation
Researchers at the University of Miami found a relationship between the gestures transgressors offered to their victims and the extent to which victims could forgive. The level of conciliatory gestures was directly proportionate to the extent of forgiveness victims felt over time. These gestures also seemed to change the victim’s perception of the aggressor and put the relationship in a more positive light.
Steps For People Who Were Offended
Forgive The Transgressors
Victims can offer amends by forgiving the offenders. As Christians, there are times when we will hurt others by word, deed, or both. Forgiveness is an essential part of being a Christian (Ephesians 4:32). We must forgive others when they hurt us, or God will not forgive our sins.
Tell Perpetrators What We Need From Them
We need to tell transgressors what they need to do to move forward, if needed. Reconciliation can be conditional such as requiring respecting boundaries, or financial restitution.
When Amends Does Not Work
Amends needs several conditions 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 help both parties. They also need to be in the right frame of mind, a process that takes time.
There needs to be a calm and logical approach in place. When strong emotions come into play, people will say and do things they regret later. Not every situation calls for amends. Some circumstances may appear to require amends on the surface but would do more harm than good.
The Book Making Amends: Finding a new freedom contains stories of people who successfully made amends for the harm they had done while dealing with substance addiction.
Amends can be a wonderful tool to overcome anger and hurt, help us to forgive ourselves and others, and restore relationships if we use amends correctly.
The Holy Bible, New International Version
Getting Right With God, Yourself, and Others
Celebrate Recovery, Participants Guide 3
Do Apologies Help? Psychology Today, Glenn Geher
The power of an apology, University of Miami
Making Amends Part 2, By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir, Discipleship Tools
© 2014 Carola Finch