I used to take responsibility for everything.
It was a bit embarrassing, actually, being a one-trick pony, using the same thought process for every task I took on. I call it ‘I Can Fix This!’ also known as ‘Perfect Personal Responsibility’.
As someone who has always believed in God, I’m not sure what I thought his job description was. In my mind, every bit of my life was my responsibility.
I can fix this!
This is the process I used for a garden variety laundry dilemma, for example, and for those major, earth shattering life challenges that come to all of us.
It was even my go to tactic for personal growth.
Recently, though, I’ve started learning that just because it seems to work with things like laundry, job interviews and minor home renos, doesn’t mean it works everywhere. In truth, the root of my thinking didn’t actually work anywhere.
Want to know what’s worse? It’s that some of you think just like me.
Also like me, some of you have been banging your heads against what feels like an immovable personal mountain for years, wondering what you’re doing wrong.
Don’t think so? Let me tell you about my laundry…
Because I know you’ve been here too. Maybe not with laundry, but you’ll get the idea. This tactic for doing life is based on a pretty commonly held belief. If you’ve got an ambitious bone in your body, then you probably do some version of these four steps.
- You’ve dumped a coffee on your lap – Problem identified.
- You’ve laughed it off, “Oh, I have a great trick to get that out!” – Conceal the fact that the problem exists.
- You’ve Googled ‘home stain removers’, ‘best ways to get a coffee stain out’ and ‘most popular stain removers’. – Learn everything to make the problem disappear.
- You’ve made a list of stain removing supplies, a schedule and plans A and B. – Follow the plan. You are master of this situation!
I have just spent the morning doing this process, exactly, with Lenny’s favourite, almost brand new, very expensive jiu jitsu gi.
appliance from the devil’s workshop washing machine occasionally regurgitates a month’s worth of laundry dirt back into the machine.
Usually while I’m doing a white load.
That is what happened to the gi. It came out covered in black marks. And so the process for overcoming challenges began.
- Pull dirty gi from washer – Problem identified.
- Plunge immediately into pre-soak treatment so no prying eyes will see it and exclaim: “What happened to that?!?” – Conceal.
- Read every bottle of stain treatment you have to see if there is a magic trick listed, Google ‘best water temperature for getting stains out of cotton’, etc… etc… etc… – Learn everything.
- Rearrange schedule to make time for extended trip to the laundromat, dig loonies out of change jar, pack arsenal of stain removers – Follow exacting plan and overcome this thing.
I can do it!
Picture me, death grip on the worn out tooth-brush, peroxide based stain-spray foaming like a rabid dog.
And it’s not even clean yet.
Suffice it to say that, as with any challenge that I have faced, I’m desperately clinging to
confident in my ability to find the correct resources and apply them correctly enough to make this problem go away.
And, some of you are still thinking that this is logical way to do life. Why wouldn’t this work for personal growth, right?
The ‘I can do it myself!’ Spiritual Growth Model
I’ve written about how this mindset can cause me to find fault with my kids in Three Lies About Control That Will Need You Up.
Here’s how it messes me up in personal, spiritual growth:
- Identify my own shortcoming(s), with an emphasis on the (s).
- Don’t let anyone see them, lest I lose an opportunity or fall prey to judgement for my area of lack.
- Learn from experts. Someone else has overcome this already, and they’ve written a book about it.
- Apply the techniques I’ve learned as precisely as my not insubstantial will and intellect will allow. Succeed.
But, here’s the kicker. It didn’t work. I, inevitably, ended curled up in a fetal position somewhere, licking my wounds.
When I tackled the laundry, I could stand back when I was done and label the result: Perfect.
Personal growth didn’t quite follow the pattern.
Steps one through three usually went well. (If you can call obsessively listing all your failures and lining them up for the firing squad ‘well’.) But step four was like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.
Why couldn’t I follow my own plan? Why couldn’t I will myself to think what I was supposed to think or feel about a situation the way the book said that I should?
No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t do it right enough to make the ‘laundry come out clean’, growth-wise.
This was my wisdom. Is it yours, on some level?
Because, the only thing that has made a difference to me is that I got introduced to a new way of thinking.
The Responsibility was Never All Mine
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
(Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)
So, while I was leaning on my own understanding; when I was working like a maniac to make my own paths straight; when I was being mighty wise in my own eyes, thank you very much, I could have been taking less personal responsibility and experiencing healing and refreshment?
Turns out, I had given myself the job description of ‘perfect’ and left God out of work. Thankfully, someone came along and, very gently, informed me that I am woefully unqualified to fill the shoes I was standing in.
And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
2 Cor 3:18
When I believed in God but didn’t know anything about how he worked, it only made sense that I would think I was responsible for everything.
Reading passages like that one turns my understanding on it’s ear.
Obviously, I needed a new perspective on personal responsibility. In the past, I would apply my four step process to creating my new idea of the ‘right perspective’ but to say that would be missing the point is an understatement.
Now, I’m working on taking my pristine white socks (very satisfactorily cleaned with my four step process) out of the Big Man’s shoes and leaving them for him.