I’m not sure it’s possible to “undo” our mistakes. If I’m careless with a campfire, I can’t undo the devastation that ravages the woodlands. We live with our mistakes and – hopefully — learn from them. As much as I dread the idea of failure, I know I’ve learned far more from my mistakes and failures than my successes. My failures have helped me realize my own limitations and my ongoing need for grace. For that I am both thankful and humbled. Still, as far as my relationships with others go, I believe it’s important to keep short accounts. Though we can’t undo our mistakes, we can counter our negative, hurtful or angry actions with positive action towards those we have offended.
What does this have to do with new life? To get to anything new, something has to die. What do I need to let go of? Perhaps it’s my pride or my self image or my need to be in control, or to be right. I won’t get to new life — especially in relationships — by clinging to what I know or defending my position.
In my conversations with those in rehab, they frequently remind me of steps 8 and 9 from the 12 steps, which are about naming those we have harmed and being willing to make amends, and then going and doing so. It requires us to think beyond ourselves, and honestly examine our actions and motives. And to discern what might be most helpful or meaningful to the person we have harmed. Lastly, we follow through, if at all possible.
There’s a verse in Romans that says “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18) It simply isn’t possible in all situations to go back to the person we harmed and make peace. Maybe they’ve moved away, or slammed the door on the relationship. Maybe it’s a parent or other relative who has since died. Maybe we’ve just lost contact. So what is it that depends on us? How can we be at peace? We can keep the situation a matter of prayer, and continue to pray for this person, placing it and them in God’s hands. We can pray for ourselves, that we would be drawn to his peace and love, instead of repeating harmful behaviors. We can strive to become more open and aware of God’s goodness in the world, and “put ourselves in the way of beauty,” as Cheryl Strayed says in Wild. Part of God’s beauty is his peace, a peace that passes understanding. And as we cooperate more and more with the Spirit, we can watch God make beauty from our ashes.
“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14