She’s laying on her bed, iPad in hand. Eyes fully fixed on the screen.
“What are you up to?”
These are five words my teenage daughter is used to hearing from her parents as they pop their head across the threshold of her bedroom. The speed and tone of our voices will depend on the chores given, the state of her room and day of the week.
Yes, we are asking her to give an account for how she spends her time, because of a simple life dynamic at play – and this goes for all of us, to some degree:
We are accountable TO those who have to give an account FOR us.
For example, in my daughter’s case, if I get a call from school that she’s not doing her homework, or involved in a cyberbullying, then I must give an account FOR her – therefore she is accountable TO me in this area.
Sometimes those who have to give account FOR us can include people in legal authority, a boss, a spouse, a parent, a teacher, a spiritual leader. It may be a governing body like the police service, airline staff, hospital staff or tax department. Sometimes we are born into those relationships, or we are citizens of them. Other times we agree to give an account and be vulnerable in covenant relationships e.g. Close friendships. There are many examples if you think about it.
For me, I have my wife, organisational directors, clients, dear friends, pastors, government departments and others who I am accountable to in some measure for certain things. I’ve come to understand that I must also give account to God, because of the relationship we have and the care He provides.
Interestingly, as we grow up, accountability dynamics change. As a grown man of 40, I am not accountable to my parents. And they don’t have to give an account for my actions either. That fundamentally changed at 18. The reverse is also true, as there is no obligation for me to give an account for their actions or behaviour. (Yes, that’s a hard fact for many to understand)
If you look at the numbers, you are probably not accountable to 99% of your Facebook friends. In the same way, others are not accountable to you. Someone may ask you to explain yourself, answer a question, fix a problem, or do something for them on social media. Should you engage, fix, answer or support their request? That’s up to you, but ask yourself this before your brow sweats, blood boils or anxiety peaks: ‘Is this person accountable FOR me?’ NO? Then you are not accountable TO them.
Questioned another way, ‘Do you HAVE to RESPOND to someone who takes NO RESPONSIBILITY for you?’ Negative, Ghost Rider – No you don’t. If they persist and cross boundaries, you can ignore, unfriend or block them. If you feel guilty doing that, (like I do at times) encourage yourself with something like “Go ahead bro, they don’t even know the name of your kids – that’s how much they care about you!
Another thing – and I don’t know how it works precisely, but some people, especially those with a strong voice and critical opinion of others, seem to have this mystical power. They have us worry about what they may think or say when we do something which we know they wouldn’t approve of – even when they are not in our circle of accountability! EVEN WHEN they aren’t present! I think what happens is, we see them disapprove and reject others and think, ‘Whoa, that’s harsh, I’d hate to be on the other end of that!’ And in doing so, we are placing undeserved value on their approval and that empowers them in our hearts. Perhaps a better thought would be, ‘Muhahahaha, just wait till you see what I do to disappoint you! Because it’ll only be a matter of time baby!.’ You might call it rebellion – I have learnt to call it courageous individuation, where I am saying NO to that, so I can say YES to this.
The older I get, the more comfortable I am with my humanity, and the less tolerance I have for those who require me to work for value in their eyes.
Friends, I have found that understanding this has made life emotionally easier at times – I know there are many who will read this with no idea why I would write about a dynamic that is blatantly obvious to them. But some of us can be driven by guilt, duty and a sense of false obligation to appease people who essentially don’t care FOR us. It’s a miserable dynamic to be ruled by and it robs you of the joy you can bring to the relationships that really matter to you. My friends and family know that I am always going to be open to discuss areas of improvement, pain or growth – but to quote David Westbrook, an old pastor of mine, ‘You have to build a bridge of friendship before you can drive artillery across it.’
I am learning to care less about the opinions of those who care little about me. How about you?
Keep writing and teaching David!
Thanks for this blog post – it was a word in due season for me today.
Well said David ! many of us because we are Christians almost become like carpets for others to wipe their shoes on.
I pray you will share some thoughts on humility as a follower of Christ and relationships ! and forgiving my brother 70 times seven!!! need clarity on these things as they leave a heavy burden of doubt and guilt!
Thank you David. After an argument with my 80 year old father who is strong and opinionated, it’s been hard to navigate between his love and care and my need for approval and yet trying to stick to my boundary of agreeing to disagree. He doesn’t agree! Although I know he loves me, and although I want to honor him, I’ve had to remember that I don’t owe him and I’m no longer responsible to him. It’s ok for me to walk away. I just don’t want to regret anything at this stage of his life, but for my own mental health I have to step back and know it’s ok to say no. Thank you.