Relational Responsibility

"The fool tries to adjust the truth so he or she does not have to adjust to it"
Dr. Henry Mcloud

Over the past few months, I have been struck with a line Professor Walter Fleming said on the first day of a Pastoral Formation Class at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester:  "I will not be responsible for others irresponsibility".  One of the vocational pitfalls of being a pastor is to mistake leading and shepherding of a community with controlling it.  Many pastors have been taught that it is their responsibility to oversee the outcomes of the lives of those in their congregations. Once that has been internalized, we begin to feel extreme amounts of guilt and anxiety over things we can not and should not control.

I believe that same process happens nearly everyday in relationships near and dear to our hearts.  In general, we take responsibility for our significant other's destructive behaviors.  We make it our responsibility not to simply lovingly show them the truth about the reality of their choices, but take ownership in their poor choices, constantly scheming about something else we can do to get a different outcome.  Its natural that our love for others organically produces genuine concern and care, particularly when the loved one is involved in self-destructive and self-debasing behavior.  Yet, something pathological occurs when the drive for postive change derives solely from you.  The sign of this is that we experience more anxiety, fear, and pain from the behavior than they do. 

I am speaking of our relationships with other adults, as children truly lack some of the discernment necessary to truly make good choices and we as parents, must make the decisions on their behalf.  We do need to teach them responsibility that is age appropriate.

It is possible to actually teach our loved ones to be irresponsible.  When we take over the actual drive to change instead of allowing them to take ownership, we reinforce irresponsibility.  When we cover all the consequences of their poor behavior, and take it upon ourselves, we promote their irresponsiblity.  Think of the battered wife who states that she provoked her abusive spouse by not having dinner ready at 5PM.  She is taking responsibility for his terrible behavior.

Dr. H. Mcloud defines a person as foolish who seeks to adust the truth to fit his or her behavior instead of adusting their behavior to the truth.  This is the person who justifies about everything they are doing, instead of confronting the reality for change in their lives.  We have all been foolish at times in our lives, it just that some lives are defined by it.  The temptation to take ownership for the foolish lives of others, particularly those close to us, occurs on a daily basis.  Yet, the ancient wisdom of Christian Scriptures tells us in Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.  It does not mean that we can not voice our care and concern regarding the problems they are experiencing, but that we should recognize that until they are desire change, that our words will not be truly heard.

You won't go on a quest for freedom if your captivity is sufficiently comfortable.  We will not seek change unless the psychic reality and pragmatic consequences of our actions is too painful or undesireable.  It is our responsiblity to love others deeply, and that implies that we will lovingly speak the truth as we share their struggle.  Yet, we must not take ownership or responsibility, less our loved one stays permanently infantile or persistently immature because we have not allowed them to take responsibility for themselves.

 I am learning to enter and share the pain of those I love, without aceepting the behaviors or responsibility of those choices that may have led to the pain.  I want to challeng you today to develop a healthy balance of loving others unconditionally by not taking ownership for their needed change, but promoting an environment where the opportunity for change truly exists.  Repeat after me, I will not take responsibility for others irresponsibility today!

May God bless you as you love like Jesus,

Pastor M Traylor
Dr. M TraylorComment