I wonder if there is such a thing as an addiction to being right. If there is an addiction to being right, then I may veer dangerously close to it. I like being right because being right is gratifying. When I am right, I feel smart, which makes me feel important. Because I feel important, I feel valuable. I like feeling smart, important, and valuable.
To be sure, there are times when being right is necessary. Getting to the right gate at the airport is necessary if you want to get on the right flight to your destination. It is necessary for health and safety to take prescription drugs properly. I certainly want the gate agent or the pharmacist be right. When it comes to matters of health, safety, and well-being, right directions, right instructions, and right advice help us find our ways safely through life.
What about being wrong? Is it okay to be wrong? Can I find grace in being wrong? Can I even find redemption in being wrong?
Perhaps I could learn some lessons from 12 step programs as I confront my addiction to being right. If you have ever attended a 12 step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, you know that 12 step programs offer a sequence of steps that participants work through in order to recover from addiction. Those in recovery “work the steps” in order to find healing and freedom. The first three steps involve admitting powerlessness over one’s addiction(s) and turning one’s self and one’s life over to God as one understands God to be. The next seven steps indicate that a person in recovery has
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him [sic] to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do
so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
While 12 step programs are not explicitly Christian, it seems to me that the 12 steps echo Christian practices.
- A searching and fearless moral inventory: Self-examination
- Admitting to God and to one another the exact nature of our wrongs and asking God to remove our shortcoming and defects of character: Confession
- Makings amends to those harmed: Repentance
- Continuing to take a personal inventory and promptly admitting when we are wrong: Sanctification
Authentic confession requires searing self-examination. I have to ask the Holy Spirit to help me constantly in my examination of conscience and my confession. I shy away from admitting that I have been wrong. I shy away from the vulnerability of uttering the words, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” Words then are followed by continuing, changed actions, which the 7th step calls “making amends to those harmed.” A Christian might call in “repentance.” Sometimes we will succeed; sometimes we will fail. We go back and we “work the steps” over and over again until behaviors reflect healing and wholeness. Sounds suspiciously like sanctification to me.
Today I asked a friend to forgive me of a wrong done almost twenty years ago. My friend was not even aware of the wrong that I had committed, but, the Holy Spirit laid it upon my heart to confess to my friend an act of ignorance that had not been directed to my friend’s well-being. I had intended no harm, and it took me many years to realize that there had been harm done to my friend. In order for me to live as a follower of Jesus Christ, I had to confess and make direct amends by asking for my friend’s forgiveness.
Here’s the most critical part: not only was I compelled by the Spirit of God to confess, I was pushed to make that confession in community. I needed others to give witness to my act of contrition. Just like a participant in a 12 step program, I needed to be in a community that could receive my confession with compassion. Because being wrong is uncomfortable, y’all. I don’t like being wrong. About anything. Nonetheless, this small group of folk extended clear-headed tenderness and clear-eyed acceptance towards my frailties and failures. My friend forgave me, expressed love and care for me, and released me from the burden that I had unknowingly carried for so many years.
That, my friends, felt (and feels) an awful lot like redemption.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back. Luke 6: 37-38
To God be the glory,
Director, Conflict Transformation Ministries