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Step 8: Owning the Damage I Have Done

Tuesday Re-mix –

Step 8: We made a list of all persons we have harmed and we are willing to make amends to them all.

[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]

I’ve been working on Step 8 this week.  I am suddenly feeling a little bit like the guy who casually tossed a cigarette butt onto the ground and burned down an entire forest and didn’t find out about it until long afterwards.  A friend of mine who knows these 12 steps much better than I do once told me that an addict can spend a lifetime on step 8 alone.  Once you start making a list of the people who have been harmed by your addiction, the floodgates open up and it can actually become pretty overwhelming.  That has been my experience as I have considered the ramifications, both known and suspected, of my obsessive self-reliance and its impact on others.

So, in order to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed, I am starting with categories rather than with names.  It doesn’t diminish the scope of the damage, but it helps me at least begin to get my brain wrapped around the depth and the breadth of the damage.  This list is only a start.  But it does get me a few steps further down the long process of considering all those I have hurt.  So, here we go…

1.  My family – How much spiritual damage have I caused each time my wife or daughters came to me needing Godly wisdom and I gave them my own wisdom instead?  Rather than prayerfully discerning the wisdom God had waiting for me in just that moment, I fell back into my “I’ve got this one, God” attitude and hit them with my best shot of fatherly advice.  I shutter to think what the spiritual ramifications have been.  I also can recount lots of painful seasons when my stubborn independence led me to make wrong decisions in material areas such as finances, business, and even relationships and it was my family who paid the price.  Granted, I may have owned the fault and the mistake, but I am now seeing those mistakes as a part of the larger addiction.

2.  My church – I have been teaching the Bible now for some 30 years in the church.  The longer I do it, the less I realize I know.  I suppose that is a sign of Spiritual maturity.  But what that also means is that, in my less mature moments, I have leaned upon my own understanding and relied upon my own communication skills and powers of persuasion to “teach” God’s word, rather than doing the harder work of prayerfully hearing the lesson first from God and then delivering it His way.  I am now grieving the possible ramifications of that in the lives of those who looked to me for a word from the Lord but who got instead a “wise word” from Blake.  This category must also include those who hoped for me to deliver a God-sized vision for ministry, but instead got a Blake-sized vision because I had not taken it to the Lord and gotten His perspective on it.  Also in this category are those dear friends who have stood by and waited patiently for me to trust them with my deepest pains and I have shut them out due to my own twisted sense of independence or privacy and therefore deprived them of the privilege of ministering to me.  That particular group, I fear, is bigger than I can imagine.

3.  Other churches – I am still haunted by my first attempt at mediating a church conflict.  It was a small church in New Mexico.  There were probably a dozen or so “players” in the conflict, including the pastor whose ministry was hanging in the balance.  I remember thinking to myself, “I have mediated hundreds of litigation matters involving complex issues and high drama…how difficult can this small church’s conflict be?”  I asked them to give me a Saturday morning to meet with everyone and get it all worked out.  I think I probably said a short prayer or two on the flight out to Albuquerque.  Long story short…it was a fiasco.  I relied upon my own wisdom and abilities and the whole church blew up.  I did more harm than good.  I know I learned that lesson (the hard way) and have never again taken this ministry lightly.  But I also suspect there have still been moments when I fell back more on my own abilities and less on the Lord in dealing with conflicted congregations.  Again, I cannot even bear to think of the spiritual damage I may have done in those instances.

I am stopping here for now.  I need some time to process just these three categories.  I am praying that God will give me His eyes to see the damage done and His heart to feel the pain that resulted.  I don’t know about you guys, but this recovery process is getting pretty painful now.

How about you?  Care to share?  Are you going to leave me hanging here all by myself?

© Blake Coffee
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