How Perceived Obligations Get in the Way
We tend to get fussy when we think that someone owes us something and then doesn’t come through. We feel cheated, hardly-done-by, perhaps even hurt. Often, though, these kinds of “obligations” are internal; that is, they weren’t agreed to or even discussed with the other person. We just, well, created them ourselves.
A husband expects his wife to take on certain responsibilities. But she doesn’t. He becomes upset when the “thing,” whatever it is, isn’t done. The problem is, he hasn’t discussed it with her, hasn’t asked her what she thinks. Maybe the “thing” he expects isn’t something she wants to do, or maybe she simply doesn’t see it as something that must be done. Either way, he’s upset, annoyed. Tension builds between them.
What’s the source of his irritation? An internal deal or contract he created, all by himself. How often do we imagine that someone owes us something only to be upset or stressed out when they don’t come through?
The Source of a Lot of Trouble
The truth is, people usually don’t owe us anything (unless you have a contract that all parties involved understand and agree to). Parents don’t owe their children Disney World or a car (new or used) or a particular vacation or set of clothes . . . the list goes on. Parents can give their children those extras, but out of love and grace, not obligation.
The person at the grocery store doesn’t owe us a “cut-in” because we have 2 items and they have 20. They can let us jump ahead out of kindness, but they’re not obliged to do it. Adult children don’t owe their parents a phone call each week, but if the kids choose to call, it’s out of grace (who wants someone to talk to them strictly out of guilt or obligation, anyway).
A Caring and Free Life
We’re not talking about neglecting to love others or living a selfish life. But we are saying that one of the most difficult lessons in character formation is to realize that no one owes us anything.
When we get this, we increase our peace. We don’t get fussy with people or live with inner stress because someone “should have” done this or that for us. Instead, when the kids call or when someone does something nice for us, we realize that they didn’t have to do it–and we’re grateful. If they don’t do it, that’s OK too. They didn’t owes us to begin with.
A grateful heart is a heart at peace with God, itself, and others.
Can you think of a time when you became angry or upset because someone didn’t come through? Were they really obligated to do what you wanted, or was it something you created in your own mind?
What are your thoughts on obligations?
Thanks for reading.
Here in Michigan there is a playful ad as part of the State Treasury Department current tax amnesty program that features a man saying “You probably won’t believe this, but my dog ate my W-2’s.” This classic excuse from our childhood sounds ludicrous and laughable from this man who is clearly behind in his taxes.
A Culture of Non-Responsibility
Part of the power of this ad, besides the humor, is that it touches on the culture of non-responsibility. Recently I watched an interview with TV personality and creator of West Coast Choppers, Jesse James, about his divorce from Sandra Bullock and the challenges that have followed. In the interview James departed from his earlier declaration, “There is only one person to blame for this whole situation, and that is me”, now saying, “God or whoever you believe in must have thought I was pretty strong to lump all of that on me.” His initial desire has been harder to live out and now someone other than himself is the source of the brokenness that stems from his choices.
The challenge for James and all of us is to take responsibility for our actions. There is such a great temptation to nuance our story so that we are the victim. Such revisions make allow us to feel better about our selves and make us much more sympathetic characters in the eyes of others.
Victimhood As Lifestyle
Yet I wonder if we, in the end, aren’t victimized by this type of nuance as we slowly create a perception further from reality. We can’t truly move past our faults and failings without honestly acknowledging them and taking responsibility for the messes that we make. Forgiveness and reconciliation, both from above as well as from others, begins when we honestly face our fears and failures. As tempting as it is to gloss over our painful chapters or concoct an alternate narrative, true hope, healing and character are found in taking responsibility for our actions.
What are your thoughts on “owning up”?
Thanks for reading,