“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns.Matthew 24:45-47 NLT
In a recent poll of friends and acquaintances, I asked the question, “When you hear the term manhood, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? I tallied the responses in the hope of identifying characteristics of manhood that are written in hearts, not what has been taught us in school or portrayed by the media. (See Man Alive: What is Manhood? ) The most popular answer by a large margin was “responsible.”
Responsibility has different connotations depending on the context. The dictionary gives us several definitions. Let’s take the dictionary meanings of “responsible” and do a little digging. The goal here is not just to identify some concepts and complain about the culture. We want to become better men. To do that, we need to know how responsibility looks. How does a responsible person act? That gives us a standard by which we can evaluate ourselves. Then comes the question: “If I find a deficit, how can I can learn to be more responsible?”
Let’s look at some definitions and some strategies:
Responsible Definition #1: “Having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role.”
The idea of being responsible in areas that have been delegated to us by reason of our occupation or position can certainly apply to anyone. Just recently I preached in a church where I knew a lot of people. A group of us planned to meet for lunch after service. One of the men showed up for lunch a little late. He apologized for his tardiness, giving the reason that he was responsible to lock up the church and had to wait for everyone to leave. He had a responsibility and it required him to sacrifice a few minutes of fellowship time. Responsibility often entails sacrifice.
This kind of responsibility is evident on the job. Every employer is watching his workforce in the hope of identifying people who are responsible. They’re the ones you can count on to finish the job they’ve been given to do. Indeed, they do it even if it takes extra time and effort. If they agree to a job, you can count on it being done.
This type of responsibility is not just for the workplace. How about the home? I remember watching my dad crawling around on the drive fixing my mom’s car. It was a Saturday ritual. He believed his responsibility was to be sure she had safe and reliable transportation during the week. It was his job as her husband. Every role in life comes with responsibilities attached: Spouse, parent, child, citizen, church member, volunteer, neighbor, employee, employer, etc.
- Name three roles that you fill in your life.
- For each one, identify one thing you believe you are responsible for because you have that role.
- How did you learn about the responsibilities of those roles? Were those sources reliable?
- Where can you look to find accurate information about the responsibilities of each role in your life?
- On the list you made, what one thing would you like to improve?
Responsible Definition #2: “Being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it. Being morally accountable for one’s behavior.”
Freedom in my life begins with accepting responsibility for my life. I’ve been listening to people’s problems for the last 50 years. One great lesson I have learned is that there is always someone or something you can blame for your situation. Everybody has a story. I can recount the list of all the folks who did or didn’t do what I thought I needed. I can memorialize all the circumstances that didn’t break my way. Having done that, I am still no better, and most likely worse. Assigning blame to others, to fate, or even to God leaves us wallowing in the slime of victimhood. It is genuinely unbecoming a man.
I am morally responsible for the impact of my actions on others and on my own life. If my actions have harmed someone, it is my responsibility to attempt to make it right. If I am late to work, it’s not the traffic’s fault. I could have left earlier. If I have behaviors that damage my own well-being, only I can change them. If I have a medical issue, it’s on me to seek help. I am responsible to find and follow curative measures. Bemoaning what is only impedes moving to what can be.
Be on the lookout for victim phrases like, “He made me (mad, do it, give up, depressed….),” or “I sure wish I could (lose some weight, get a better job, buy a car,…)” Your attitudes and actions are yours. Wishing is a poor substitute for goal-oriented action. How about, “If I had only …” Well, you didn’t, so get over it and get on with it. Regret cripples. When you place your thoughts, your feelings, your prospects, or your worth in the hands of other people, accidents of birth and geography, or your own past failures, you are a victim. Victims are immobilized, living at the mercy of predators and confounded by adverse circumstances. Responsibility means identifying what you have and using it to deal with the reality that you are in.
- Are there people, places, or things in your life that you blame for your failures or difficulties? Name them.
- Have you done harm to others then attempted to avoid responsibility, either by lying about it or by simply avoiding the situation? If so, write them down.
- How do you think a man is supposed to learn personal responsibility? Did you?
- Are there conditions, habits or attitudes in your life that are impacting you negatively? Why don’t you change them?
- From the lists you have just made, what one thing would you most like to do something about?
Responsible Definition #3: “Having to report to someone in authority and be answerable to them for one’s actions. Capable of being trusted.”
A big part of responsible manhood is being responsible to, not just being responsible for. We need checks and balances. By and large, I don’t like checks and balances, but I have proved conclusively that I need them. As self-aware as I would like to be, I am almost always looking in the funhouse mirror of my own mind. It is not accurate. When my wife informs me that I have a bad attitude about someone or something I am usually defensive at first, especially if I wasn’t already aware of it. Experience has taught me to stop, take a beat, and let the person God put in my life to check my impulses have her rightful input.
We don’t really question this in the workplace. The boss has the right to see that the job is being done. I may not like it, but I don’t question it. But what about the other areas of my life? As a pastor, I have had to intentionally reach out to men whom I respect and give them the opportunity to tell me if I’m going astray. I expect my wife to call me down when she sees the symptoms of self overtaking me. So how about as a father, a Christian, a friend? How am I really doing? We need fresh eyes.
Finding someone to speak into your life is not necessarily easy. I am commanded to love people but trusting them is another issue. I need someone who I believe has my best interests at heart. I need someone not personally invested in making me feel good about myself all the time. (No brown-nosing allowed) I need someone who I believe has keen spiritual radar and can discern when I am careening off the road. Finding this type of person takes a little work. I have to go where they are and take the time to talk with them in sufficient depth that I can ask their opinion on some issue. For many of us, this can be a friend, a pastor, or a family member. It doesn’t matter. Be responsible to someone.
- Who are the authorities in your life?
- Of these, are there any you believe meet the qualifications listed above?
- If you don’t have a trusted advisor, where might you look to find one?
- Go to coffee with someone you respect and ask their opinion about something important in your life.
- What keeps you from finding and using spiritual authorities in your life?
Now apply the process of change from Man Alive: Change Gonna Come
- Admit you need it. You can’t change something you won’t admit. 1 John 1:8-9
- Find scriptures that tell you what God thinks about it. Review these passages daily. Say them out loud. Psalm 19:7-11
- Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you make this change. Psalm 121:1-2
- Commit to a process of learning to listen and obey. God will guide you if you take a moment to listen. There is a place in your heart that knows what to do when you need to do it. Romans 8:14-16
- Address the root, not just the behavior. Trade in your ideas and values and prejudices for the thoughts of God. He is God. He’s always right. Get your mind in line with His. Romans 12:1-8
- Make a very specific plan for change and begin walking in that direction. What are you going to do and when are you going to do it? Write it down! Habakkuk 2:1-4
- Find someone you can trust and talk with them. Share the problem, share the plan, ask for input. Pray together and stay in contact to report your progress. James 5:16
- If you screw up, get up. One step in the right direction is one more than you made before. Process the lesson and take another step. Romans 8:31-37
OK, let’s do this! We are responsible!!!