Taking responsibility for yourself
At the pinnacle of creation, God creates humans, male and female, in His image (Genesis 1-3). Humans are given responsibility for tending God’s good creation. We call that stewardship. Humans are given the gift of rational thought. We call that logic, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Humans are given the gift of spoken language. We call that communication. Humans are given the gift of creativity. We call the results of that gift by many names: children, the arts, and science, among others.
No surprise, then, that the psalmist says: “Thou hast made him (man) little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8).
In the midst of the cold war, in 1957, psychologist Erich Fromm wrote that because men cannot create like gods we destroy like gods. He was partly right. Contra Fromm, humans are co-creators with God. We can create like God; that is integral to being made in God’s image. But because of sin, our age-old rebellion, we can turn our gifts to the dark side and often choose to destroy rather than to create.
One of my former professors liked to play with words. He would write “Response-ability” to make the point that God gives us the ability to respond to His good and gracious will. The rebellion against God that began with our first parents is much more than a fall. It is a choice to respond to God’s goodness with: “Hell, no, we won’t go!”
I began to realize at thirty that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, and I started going to see a pastoral counselor. One day when I was whining about my life, he stopped me with some “new” information. He said, “When you were a child, you had a right to expect your parents to know your needs and to provide for them. Now that you are an adult (I think he was being generous), it is your responsibility to ask for what you need.” What a radical concept! I needed to take responsibility for my life.
Having listened to myself now for almost 58 years, and having listened to others as a pastor for more than 30 years, I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve seen my childish self in others. Someone will say, “My husband just doesn’t get what I need.” Another will say, “My wife just doesn’t understand me.” Someone will say, “You never came to see me when I was in the hospital.” Another will ask, “Why weren’t you there when I needed you?” Still another says, “That person just didn’t do what I wanted.”
Anger is a gift from God to let out our pain. Behind the anger, there is usually either fear or hurt. These emotions are powerful. Feelings are powerful. They can spur us to take greater responsibility for our lives, or they can seduce us into destructive and even self-destructive behaviors. As I wrote before, feelings can seduce us away from the true God to false gospels and false gods that offer us something other than the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Our feelings can also lead us to destroy our relationships.
Paul writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up away childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Just as I had to learn that as long as I was taking money from my parents, I wasn’t really living as an adult. So I had to learn that being an adult means taking responsibility for my own life and my own feelings.
I don’t expect my wife to read my mind, and I don’t want her to try to read mine. I don’t expect our congregation to tell me they know what I need, and I don’t want to even try to pretend that I know what others need when they need it. God didn’t give us omniscience.
When I feel angry, I have learned to stop to ask what I am afraid of or how have I been hurt. When I feel depressed, I have learned to ask what I am angry about or why I am angry with God. Asking questions of myself about my feelings is a way to keep me from being seduced into destructive and self-destructive behaviors. As Paul says, “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Praying about these things is the better way.
Relationships are hard. As we take greater responsibility for ourselves, what God expects us adults to do, we learn to ask for what we want. Part of being an adult is recognizing that someone may respond in a way we don’t want or like. The tougher part of being an adult is that we have zero control over what others choose to do. To which God says, “Welcome to my world!” The pain of childrearing can give great insights to God’s heart.
It’s a matter of tough love to teach children how to take responsibility for their own lives. And the best way to teach responsibility is to model it. No adult, and certainly no spouse or parent, is going to achieve perfection in this life. So, then, what better way to teach responsibility than for an adult to say: “I was wrong. Forgive me?” Next to that, what better way to teach responsibility than to say, “No, I cannot give you what you want?”
Indeed, God withholds the tree of life from our first parents, because He knows that we can choose wrongly and could end up eternally separated from Him. Again, this is a model of adulthood, God says no to us before He says yes in the gift of His own Son.
Above all the other creatures, God made us humans in His image, gave us great gifts, and gave the ability to respond to Him. When we are irresponsible, it’s a matter of sin. God shows His love and mercy for us in that while we were yet sinners He sent His Son Jesus to die for the ungodly, you and me. Having spared not even the death of His own Son in order to free us from sin, death, and evil, God offers the free gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In other words, God doesn’t let our irresponsibility change who He is!
That some continue to turn their back on God and His great mercy breaks God’s heart, but He never forces Himself on us. God lets us take responsibility even for our own stupid choices. His Holy Spirit keeps calling and trying to gather everyone into God’s eternal life and love. That some insist on saying a prideful no makes them no less responsible for themselves even unto eternity. It doesn’t have to be that way!