by Vinita Hampton Wright


Step 5: We admitteto God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.


The language of step 5 in the Twelve Steps points to wisdom about sin and human nature. Referring to “the exact nature of our wrongs” makes us responsible for understanding precisely what we have done and why it was wrong.

It can be painful to focus on the details of our wrongs, but when we look at the “exact nature,” we can discover important information. Maybe we figure out exactly what we said that was so hurtful to someone else. Or we begin to understand what feeds an unhealthy attitude. Is it fear or insecurity that leads us to act a certain way? Is it pride or the urge to control other people?

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius provide several opportunities for a person to explore the “exact nature” of what he or she is doing. The Two Standards exercise asks us to choose what we really stand for. And who do we stand with? The Three Kinds of Persons and Three Kinds of Humility help the retreatant identify how he or she responds to certain situations and temptations. The Exercises hold up Jesus as an example of true humility, and they challenge us to pray for such humility. We are reminded how often we are tempted by pride or money or reputation. These exercises don’t cover all the different kinds of sins and temptations a person deals with, but they guide us to look at ourselves honestly and specifically.

The more we learn to look within, guided by God’s mercy and wisdom, the better we will be able to identify the exact nature of what tempts or troubles us. And the deeper we look, the more truth we find. We may think that our main temptation is to dominate others. But when we look deeper, we discover that the need to dominate is rooted in fear that we will lose control of our own lives. So, we pray over that fear, and as God heals us of that wound, we no longer want to dominate people.

Another benefit of being specific in prayer is that we learn to ignore feelings that are vague and unhelpful. A general feeling of guilt will simply weigh us down and take away our energy, but when we identify a specific wrong that we need to deal with, we can take action and then let go of that guilt.

Discovering the exact nature of our wrongdoing is not about making us feel worse. It’s about helping us move forward by seeing exactly what is wrong so that we can do something about it. This kind of discovery will lead to freedom.