Our family recently took several weeks to watch a DVD series by Andy Stanley called Taking Responsibility for Your Life. It was good for Maggie and I as parents as well as for Eric and Alyson as young people who are still learning about responsibility. Andy, in his usual common-sense way, walked us through how people respond to responsibility and the effects of their responses.
One of the first things he pointed out is that responsibility is communal. That is, if I am irresponsible, someone else has to pick up the slack or pay the price. Skipping out on my responsibility does not obviate the need. Someone somewhere will still get stuck with my responsibility. This principle is true in families, businesses, churches, and even nations.
To drive the point home, he used an example many parents can relate to – a child leaving dirty laundry on the floor. Here’s a condensed version of how he dealt with that situation:
- Andy (walks into son’s room and sees dirty clothes on the floor) – Son, come to your room.
- Son – (enters room) Yes, sir?
- Andy – Son, you left your dirty clothes on the floor.
- Son (bends to get clothes) – Sorry, sir.
- Andy – No, don’t pick them up. Tell me that I have to pick them up because you were irresponsible.
- Son – I’ll just get them.
- Andy – No, you have to tell me to clean up your mess since you didn’t do it yourself.
- Son (heavy sigh) – Dad, I was irresponsible and need you to pick up my laundry for me because I did not do it myself.
I’m going to believe that a few times of going through that sort of drill and the son would get the idea that shirking responsibility carries a price for others and for himself.
The next idea was that we bear the responsibility for the consequences of our actions. I fully believe most of us are experts at deceiving ourselves. In Andy’s book The Principle of the Path, he really fleshes out this ability for self deception. As I previously wrote, we can easily see the consequences coming when we look at the choices made by those around us, but we seem to have a blind spot about how similar choices will impact us. Why is that?
I believe it’s because we think we are *the* exception to the rule. We see someone else make the same choice and face the negative consequence, but we deceive ourselves into thinking that just because we understand the negative result we can somehow avoid it. We usually also throw in some sort of moral judgment of the other person because we’re so sure we are better than them. Since we don’t have that character flaw, surely we won’t end up the same, will we? Unfortunately, 999 times out of 1000, yes, we will.
Are there exceptions? Yes, sure, there are. However, the point is that 999 other people usually also thought they were that exception, and all but one of them were wrong. If the basis for decision-making in your life is the hope of being the lone exception, it’s time for a new strategy!
Another big point Andy made was the rule of “later and greater.” That is, if you do things the right way, the upfront payoff may seem very small, but the future rewards are far greater than the good you sow. Think of planting a field of seeds. The harvest is exponentially greater than the seeds themselves. Unfortunately, this truth also applies in the negative. There may seem to be little punishment or negative impact upfront to poor decisions, but the damage is multiplied over time and we reap something far worse than we thought we would based on initial returns.
Remember, direction – not intention – determines our destination. When you drive toward Hell, you will one day find that you’re stuck there and the scenery isn’t nearly as much fun as it appeared from a distance.
Andy’s final point was that we wrongly get wrapped in thinking things are not “fair.” He relied on the Parable of the Good Samaritan for this discussion, noting that the master gave uneven distributions to the servants and then judged them based on their returns. Claiming life isn’t fair is really the same as claiming God isn’t fair. But, as the parable shows us, God gives to each according to their ability, and he rewards us based on how we use that ability.
The harvest is going to be later and greater. The question is whether you are sowing a good harvest or a bad harvest. Are you prepared to reap what you sow?