The appropriate time to take responsibility

by | Jul 16, 2015 | Opinion

By Jeff Denton

The family in my office is silent. Anger hangs in the air. The teenager is mad at her parents. Parents are mad at their child and each other. Blame has been flung around in angry words like attack arrows. Raised voices have finally ceased with the recognition no one is willing to budge on their stance. They stare at me waiting for me to take a side.

I’m going to make someone unhappy no matter what I say. I might as well go for broke and see if I can offend everyone. I begin, “Based on what I’ve heard, it sounds like you (husband and wife) should divorce and you, teenager, should move out and live on your own.” Now they stare at me like I’m the enemy.

I continue, “I heard that everyone has done something wrong in this situation; but no one cares if they hurt anyone else because ‘they deserved it.’ The initial situation that began the conflict isn’t even the issue anymore. How you’ve responded to one another about that issue has wounded the other members of your family and you don’t care. It doesn’t sound like a family of which I’d want to be a member.”

The dilemma wasn’t unique to this family, nor is it different from what you and I likely experience in our own relationships from time to time. We realize we’ve messed something up. We try to cover it up. We’re afraid of how others will respond or of the potential punishment. The fear of getting caught drives us deeper into denial. Yet, at the same time, the act of getting away with it opens the door for our continued wrong choices and behaviors.

The person who steals from his employer knows he’s done wrong. He could even pay back that initial amount, and thinks about it. “But, my boss will fire me if I tell him what I did.” So, instead of taking responsibility and confessing to the wrong, he decides to keep it hidden. After all, it seems no one noticed and he’s gotten away with it. Since he’s gotten away with it, the temptation to steal more arises. The amount reaches thousands of dollars over time and the burden and consequences weigh heavily in fear. There’s no turning back now. No one can ever find out. Eventually, it gets exposed.

Now, he goes into denial, even attacking his accusers. “Why are they doing this to me?” he cries out. If he honestly reflects on his circumstances, he knows there would have been consequences if he would have walked in with a check to repay what he’d taken with an admission of what he’d done the first time. He likely would have lost his job. At the time that consequence seemed like the end of the world. But, now with jail time on the horizon, he realizes the punishment he originally feared wouldn’t have been nearly as severe.

King David had a growing kingdom. He had everything a man could want. Life was good, yet he noticed a woman on a rooftop and wanted her. With no one to tell him no, he has his way with the wife of a man, Uriah, who was a loyal soldier to David. When the woman, Bathsheba, ends up pregnant David tried multiple ploys to make it appear the baby is Uriah’s. When Uriah refuses to return to his home during a time of war, David is pressured to take radical action to cover his sin. He has Uriah intentionally killed in battle.

David thinks he’s gotten away with it; but he hasn’t. The truth comes out. The consequences are severe – David loses his son. Through the process David writes Psalm 51 where he comes face-to-face with his sin and admits it. He recognizes that a “broken spirit and contrite heart” are what is required in these moments. If only he’d have recognized this truth earlier.

By the time I recommended to the family in my office that their other children be put up for adoption to keep any child from being raised in a family that couldn’t get along, they realized my point. We read Psalm 51 together and discussed stopping the anger from growing by examining the responsibility each person had in escalating their family fight. While not taking responsibility for things not their fault, they asked for forgiveness for their reactions that were out of line and for personal attacks. Then, we were able to discuss the original situation and determine appropriate consequences without all the additional drama.

If you’ve wronged someone, now is the time to make it right. Don’t let fear of consequences keep you captive to things you regret. Examine the long game and consider how the situation grows worse as you hide it or avoid responsibility even longer. Today is a great day to accept responsibility for what you’ve done. Until you’re willing to repent, you’ll never know the freedom forgiveness can bring.

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