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Step 8: Making a List

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 3

Step 8: Making a List
Monday, November 30, 2015

We made a list of all the persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. —Step 8 of the Twelve Steps

Despite the higher economy of grace and mercy lived and taught by Jesus, he did not entirely throw out the lower economy of merit or “satisfaction.” They build on one another. The lower level simply finds itself inadequate to the truly great tasks of life—love, forgiveness, unjust suffering, and death itself. The universal principle is called “transcend and include.” When you move to higher states of love and transformation, you do not jump over the earlier stages but must go back and rectify the earlier wrongs, or there will be no healing or open future for you or for those you have hurt.

Our family, friends, associates, and enemies need a clear accounting to be free themselves and go ahead with their lives. Often they just need to talk it through, hear our understanding, and receive our sincere apology. Usually they need to offer their understanding of the situation and how it hurt them. No shaming or guilt is helpful here. Neither side needs to accuse or defend, but just state the facts as we remember them and be open to hear what the other needed, heard, or felt. This has developed into a true art form that some rightly call “redemptive listening” or “nonviolent communication.”

Unfortunately, few of us were taught nonviolent communication at the personal level. Is it any surprise that we do not have the skills at the national, cultural, or church levels? Understandably, our history is full of wars and violence. We have not developed much capacity for redemptive listening or “fighting fair.” Thankfully, many are now rebuilding society from the bottom up; honest communication skills are now being taught to married couples, families, therapists, children, prisoners, and educators. I see life coaches and martial arts instructors teach nonviolence more directly and more effectively than most Sunday sermons or religious education classes, which have tended to proceed from much more dualistic thinking.

Step 8 is quite programmed, concrete, and specific. “Make a list,” it says, of all those we have harmed. The plan is absolutely inspired. The Twelve Steps program knows that we need to push the addict out of his or her immense selfishness. A.A. and other Twelve-Step groups are the only ones I know that are willing and honest enough to just tell people up front, “You are damn selfish!” Or, “Until you get beyond your massive narcissism you are never going to grow up.” They are similar to Jesus who told us without any hesitation that we had to “deny” ourselves (Mark 8:34) to go on the journey. Most of us still do not believe that, much less like it. After years of shaming and guilt producing sermons, clergy do not have much freedom to talk this way, but Twelve Step sponsors do!

Gateway to Silence:
One day at a time

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 68, 70-71.

La soupe (The soup, detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902–03, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.