Responsibility

(This is an exerpt from the seventh chapter of my soon to be released book, Grappling with God: The Battle for Authentic Faith. This chapter emphasizes the importance of living by the principle of responsibility.)


 

Living responsibly stretches us into new ways of thinking and acting. It is not always easy, and we will fall back into our old ways of victimhood time and again. When we feel too vulnerable or we are unable to deal with our sadness or fear, we will probably act out. When this occurs we must be careful not to victimize ourselves by being too self-critical. We take responsibility for what we’ve said or done, make amends if necessary, and move on. No matter how often we miss the mark, our efforts become their own reward. What is most important is engagement in the process. This is a core value at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment where we strive to live authentically practicing living by principles such as responsibility.

A few years ago, my father had a serious stroke at the age of ninety-three. He had always been a very strong man who had survived numerous illnesses including cancer, diabetes, and alcoholism. Nothing, it seemed, could knock him down. Therefore, when my brother, Bob, called me on a Tuesday afternoon to tell me that Dad was in the hospital, my immediate reaction was that he would recover. I simply did not take this episode that seriously.

When I called my wife to tell her what had happened, I suggested we leave for California on the weekend to spend a few days with Dad. By then, I thought to myself, he would probably be back at home. My perception changed, however, when Bob called me back a few hours later. Tests performed at the hospital showed that Dad had suffered a catastrophic stroke. Now I knew I had to get to him as soon as I could.

Fortunately, Sue was a step ahead of me and had already become investigating flights that would get us to California before the weekend. We booked two seats for a Thursday afternoon departure. On Thursday, as Sue and I left for the airport, I had peace of mind, knowing that soon I would be with Dad, which would comfort both of us. Over many years of personal growth work, I had been able to process and clear up old hurts and resentments, which allowed me to love and accept my father just as he was. I did not have unfinished business with him.

We arrived at the airport with no trouble on Thursday. We found a parking place and made it through security easily. At the gate, however, we learned that our flight was delayed for two hours. Even this unexpected delay did not dampen my optimism that I’d have some time to spend with Dad. All I wanted was a few moments with him, to hold his hand and talk to him.

While I was at the gate, Bob called me on my cell phone to tell me that Dad’s condition had deteriorated further. Still convinced that I would make it there before Dad died, I asked Bob to hold the phone up to Dad’s ear so I could talk to him. I assured Dad that I would be there in four or five hours. Although my father could not communicate, other than to make unintelligible sounds, I knew he heard me.

Comforted by the knowledge that Dad had heard my voice and understood that I would see him soon, I waited patiently at the gate. Then Bob called again. The moment I heard my brother’s voice, I could tell something was not right.

“Dad has passed,” he told me.

My first response was rage. “Passed?” I thought to myself, feeling a wave of anger rip through my body. “What a stupid word. We don’t talk like that. Dad didn’t pass! What is he, a car on the highway? He died. Dad is dead!”

Despite these reactionary thoughts racing through my brain, I kept up a normal conversation with Bob. I asked him how Mom was doing and told him that I’d keep him updated when I knew more about our flight departure. When I hung up the phone, however, I was immediately aware of just how much anger I felt. I was enraged and wanted to retaliate against someone for how badly I felt. The obvious target was my brother—the “messenger” of the news I had not wanted to hear.

Instead of acting on these feelings and impulses, however, I stayed with them in order to gather the insight they offered. As Sue and I wanted for the flight, which was delayed for several more hours, I ruminated on what I was feeling and why. I realized that my anger had nothing to do with what Bob said to me and his use of the word “passed” instead of “died.” Rather, I had entered into the grieving process, which was new to me personally. Never before had I experienced the death of someone so close to me. Since I was in the initial phase of grieving, my anger and sadness were understandable. There was another dynamic at work here as well. I recognized that I also felt guilty for not being there when Dad died, and I felt jealous that Bob had been the one to be with him. I was shaming myself for being the brother who moved away instead of being like Bob who lived near our parents. In short, I was a victim of my upset, Bob’s word choice, and my own guilt and shame.

As I untangled the knot of feelings inside me, I recognized the choice presented to me. I could choose to be a victim and, in response, to punish my brother for how I was feeling in an attempt to feel powerful again. Or, I could choose responsibility, which meant feeling all of my feelings, including the ones that made me uncomfortable, and expressing them responsibly. In other words, I could dive into the “Drama Triangle” through the point labeled “victim,” or I could take a higher road to what I call the Responsibility Triangle.

 

5 Responses to “Responsibility”
  1. Johnny Noto 17 May 2011 at 9:35 am #

    What a moving and enlightening post. I can’t wait for your book to come out, Rich!

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Published: 16.05.2011 / 11:33 AM

Category: Grappling with God,Relationships,Spiritual Growth

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