Twelve Steps To Recovery Part 8
Scripture: Exodus 22:10-15; Leviticus 16:20-22; Matthew 18:23-35
To date in this series we have discussed the first seven steps in the twelve steps to recovery process. We began by admitting that we were powerless over our dependencies and that there was a God greater than ourselves who could restore us to sanity. After reaching that point, in step three we made the decision to turn our lives over to the care of God, a conscious choice that was made freely. In steps four and five we took a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and came to the point of understanding our addictions and confessing them to ourselves, God and to another trusted individual. In step six, after recognizing our addictions for what they were, we came to the point where we were ready to have God remove them and in step seven we humbly asked God to do just that – remove all of our shortcomings. As I mentioned last week, step seven was the bridge from our focus on our inner self to now focusing outward, addressing the impact our addictions have had on others. Step eight involves our making a list of those persons that we have harmed through our addictions and be willing to make amends to them when possible. I know that in some cases we may not be able to make amends and that when we can, it may not be received. In either situation, you must continue to move forward in your recovery, So let’s start with the Scriptural basis for making restitutions.
I. Making Restitutions
It has been proven that dysfunctional family situations affect each person differently. For some individuals they take on the act that they are irresponsible and constantly condemn themselves for it. Others admit that they are irresponsible but they blame others for their behavior taking on none of the responsibility for their actions. Then there are those of us who have not recognized our irresponsible behavior yet we are constantly facing recurring problems with others because we fail to respect them or their property. In this step, we begin to list all of those who have been hurt by us and think through what can be done to make amends. In the Old Testament, when someone was harmed by someone else, the Law required that restitution be made. Consider the following from Exodus 22:10-15 which reads “Now supposed someone leaves a donkey, ox, sheep, or any other animal with a neighbor for safekeeping, but it dies or is injured or gets away, and no one sees what happened. The neighbor must then take an oath in the presence of the Lord. If the Lord confirms that the neighbor did not steal the property, the owner must accept the verdict, and no payment will be required. But if the animal was indeed stolen, the guilty person must pay compensation to the owner. If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, the remains of the carcass must be shown as evidence, and no compensation will be required. If someone borrows an animal from a neighbor and it is injured or dies when the owner is absent, the person who borrowed it must pay full compensation. But if the owner was present, no compensation is required. And no compensation is required if the animal was rented, for the loss is covered by the rental fee.”
There are several thins we need to note from this Scripture and it all goes back to accountability. On our road to recovery, we must become accountable for our actions, especially those that injure others. In the verses we just read, God gave examples for the Children of Israel to follow. The guidelines went like this: if someone left their pet with you for safekeeping, if the pet dies, is injured or get away without anyone witnessing it, you become responsible to the owner and must make restitution unless it was confirmed by God that you had nothing to do with it. If, however, it was witnessed, then based on the circumstances if you had nothing to do with it, no restitution was required. If you borrowed a tool from a neighbor and while it was in your possession it got broken, you are required to pay them the fair market value for the tool or just purchase them a new one. In our daily living, we do this almost naturally, especially when we are dealing with something that we borrowed from someone. If something belongs to someone else and it gets broken while we are using it, we will generally offer to replace it. Yeah I know there are some people who would not, but the average, righteous living Christian would.
Now, although we would gladly replace any item we borrowed from a neighbor that was broken by us, we often cannot find the strength to do this when we are facing our addictions. The emotion and mental damage that we may have caused is not easily replaced. You cannot go out and buy a new mental or emotional state although many try to do this with legal and non-legal drugs. The pain that we inflict while we are addicted can run deep and in some cases cause almost irreparable damage. However, our first step, and possibly the first step for those we injured, is to recognize that we did in fact injure them and ask their forgiveness. The fact that we recognize that we have hurt them and our willingness to go to them to ask forgiveness does not guarantee that we will receive it. Even if we do not receive the forgiveness, we must still take the steps necessary to ask for it. God’s word teaches us that we are to be responsible and accountable. Even if we make it through this life without being so, when we stand before God, we will be. We will take full ownership for our actions here on earth so it is a good idea to start now. As you are thinking abut your list and how you can begin to make amends to those you’ve harmed, consider what God has done for us. When Christ died on the cross, He took on our sins so that we would not have to bear the consequences of them. He became our Scapegoat. Let me explain.
II. The Scapegoat
I was watching a TV program a while ago and the show focused on this family who raised a special kind of goat, they raised scapegoats. These goats were sold to other ranchers as a means to protect their most expensive flock. So, let me tell you how these small goats protected the much larger, more expensive animals of the ranchers. The term scapegoat comes from the practice of using a goat as a sacrifice to save a more expensive animal. The goats that this family raised were perfect for this. These goats had a condition that caused them to faint. If they got scared, they would just pass out and literally fall over. It was like they became paralyzed with fear. Because of their condition, they were perfect “scapegoats” for ranchers. Ranchers would purchase these goats and place them within their flock, especially on the outer rim. Whenever the flock came under attack, these goats would pass out and thus be eaten while the more expensive animals escaped harm. Their whole purpose was to be sacrificed so that the rest of the herd could live. This practice, although somewhat different, has its root in the Old Testament. Look at Leviticus 16:20-22: “When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all of the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land.”
This passage refers to what took place on the Day of Atonement. The day of Atonement was the day that the Israelites were provided assurance that their past sins had been completely dealt with. Part of the ceremony included the scapegoat. Aaron would take a goat, and he would lay his hands on the goat and begin to recite all of the sins and rebellions that Israel had done the previous year. Once this was done, the goat was taken into the wilderness symbolizing the removal of sin from the people. This same thing happened with us when we accepted Christ. Christ became our scapegoat, taking all of our sins upon Him and cleansing us.
As we are coming to grips with our addiction and begin making plans to provide restitution to those we hurt, it is natural for us to want them to think better of us as we are being transformed. Although this is our desire, we carry the fear that some may never upgrade their opinions of us, no matter what we may do or how many times we say we are sorry. This is especially true when they have made us their scapegoat. Some people that we have hurt will use us as their scapegoat, their reason to act the way they do. Since we have hurt them, they feel justified in sending us away and not offering forgiveness. They unconsciously place the blame for their pain and loss on us so that we can carry it away for them. This is something that we cannot do. You see, as their scapegoat, we would play the role of removing something they were unable to deal with in any other way. Because of this, they may never be able to welcome us back into their lives. We should be prepared for this type of response and understand that at this point it is more about them than it is about us. Along this same line of thought is how we use others as our scapegoat, our justified reason to remain within our addictions. Remember, the people who hurt us earlier in our lives and may have led us down this road to our addiction have for the most part moved on with their lives. We can blame them all we want, but that blame is not going to help us come to a place of recovery. So as we think about this notion of a scapegoat, we must be careful that first, we do not become the scapegoat for those that we have hurt during our addictions; and second, we must not use others as our scapegoat to keep us in our addictions and thus not taking the appropriate action to recover. As we consider any restitution that we may give, keep in mind that although we have the desire to make things right, the receiving party may not accept us or our apology. They may wish to remain angry with us in order to justify their own behavior. If this happens, we must recognize that it is their problem at this point, not ours.
III. Forgive In Order To Be Forgiven
We have talked about the role of forgiveness previously in this series. Forgiveness is a crucial step in the whole process, especially when we come to step number eight. As we are listing those people that have been hurt by us, there is a natural defensiveness that rises to the surface. Yes I can accept the fact that I hurt them, but they are not totally innocent themselves. What about what they did to me? What if they started it? What if I was only defending myself against things they said about me? It does not matter. In order for us to make restitution, even if that restitution is just an apology, forgiveness must be at the core of it. No amount of restitution will carry the same impact if the person providing it thinks the other person was as much to blame. In order for us to carry out our part, we must forgive them of all things they may have done to us that we used to justify our action. Consider what Jesus said about forgiveness in a story He told after being asked about forgiveness from Peter in Matthew 18:23-35:
“Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay so his master ordered that he be sold, along with his wife, his children and everything he owned, to pay the debt. But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me and I will pay you all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him and he released him and forgave the debt. But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you? Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That what’s my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your hearts.”
Peter asked Jesus according to the teachings of the time about how often he had to forgive someone and he threw in the number seven. Jesus responded by saying not just seen times, but seventy times seven. That is a lot of forgiveness for one person. But Jesus did not stop there, He told the parable about the unforgiving debtor. The first debtor owed his king millions of dollars and he could not pay. He pleaded for mercy and his king forgave him. Then this same man went out and found a man who owed him a few thousand dollars and when he could not pay, he did not have mercy on him, but had him thrown into prison. When the king found out, he was angry and asked him why he did not forgive his fellow servant as he had been forgiven. Jesus ends the parable by speaking a foundational truth. He said God is just like this king in that if we do not forgive others after we have received mercy and grace, then God will withdraw it and we will retain the debt. As we make our list, we start from a foundation of forgiveness – we are seeking forgiveness but first we must be willing to forgive. It does not matter how many names you may have on your list, if you have been holding a grudge towards someone because of how they treated you, let it go. If you hurt them in response to them hurting you, let it go. Even if they do not forgive you, you can forgive them and move on.
I want you to really listen to me now. Some of you hearing me now, or reading this via email, are dealing with some addictions that stem from your family history. Your family history may not have been the best and maybe you are suffering because of it. Maybe you started overeating because food became your comfort. Maybe you are into recreational drugs or alcohol because they allow you to forget the pain. Maybe you have a family member(s) that turn your stomach every time you see or think about them based on what they did to you. If you are dealing with an addiction that you know the root cause of and you are still walking in unforgiveness, I am asking you to release it today. Yes I understand that it was terrible, but your ability to recover from it starts with you releasing the person and forgiving them. When we think about everything that God has forgiven us for and the fact we will need more forgiveness in the future, I would not want the forgiveness I need to be blocked because of me carrying unforgiveness in my heart/
Conclusion Step Eight
In step eight, we make the list of those that we have hurt through our addictions and become willing to make restitution when possible. You may not be able to develop your entire list in one sitting, but as you continue to move forward, God will bring back to your remembrance those that you will need to address. In some cases all you can do is say you’re sorry while in other cases you may actually be able to take do something more detailed to make restitution. The bottom line is accountability. Having recognized our addiction and its impact on others, we become accountable for our actions and where possible makes plans to correct the damaged done.
May God bless and keep you.