The biblical wisdom my dad imparted as I was growing up laid a rich foundation that has blessed my life in countless ways.
One simple principle in particular has been helpful to me in dealing with difficult people and circumstances: I am not responsible for what others do to me. I am responsible for my own reactions and responses to others.
The implication is that no one can make us sin. We are prone to try to blame our reactions on people or circumstances: “I acted that way (i.e., I lost my cool, mouthed off, withdrew, became irritable, etc.) because this person treated me this way, this thing happened at our house, or this circumstance happened in my life.”
Circumstances certainly have bearing on our reactions, but the liberating concept for me—one that my dad emphasized even more as I got into my teenage years—was, “You will not have to give account to God for what someone else does to you. You will only be held accountable for how you respond.”
I remember him exhorting me along these lines, regarding my relationship with my mother. She and I frequently tangled during my teenage years. Now, as a grown woman, I see many things differently. But at the time, there were aspects of my mother’s style of parenting that I resisted and resented. I would react to things she did or said that I felt were unreasonable, or that I just didn’t agree with.
A sense of the fear of the Lord kept me from being overtly defiant, but I definitely had a “kick in my spirit” when it came to my mother’s authority.
Observing my disrespectful attitude, my dad wisely made two points to me: First, you must honor and respect your mother. Period. That is not an option. Second, you are not responsible for her attitudes or behavior. You are only responsible for your attitudes and how you respond to her.
I don’t know what he may have said to my mother about her responsibility; but I know what he said to me! He understood that I needed to be less concerned with whether she was right or wrong, and more concerned with whether I was honoring her and the Lord in my responses.
I wish I had “gotten” this truth faster and sooner and easier, but the Lord has a way of creating circumstances to teach us these lessons. I’ve come to see how important this principle is because throughout our lives there will always be people and circumstances that we find annoying or feel are unfair.
At the end of the day, we have to leave it to God to right the wrongs in the universe and to deal with others about their issues. They are not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to respond in faith and in obedience to His Word, through the power of His Spirit. That’s what He will hold us accountable for.
That means our responses and lives don’t have to be controlled by circumstances or by how others treat us. You may have had ungodly parents; you may have an unloving mate or in-law, or foolish children, or an impossible boss or co-worker. I’m not suggesting those things don’t affect you or that you should live in denial. But I am saying that by God’s grace you can respond in love and humility to the people and circumstances He brings into your life.
Who or what have you been blaming for your ungodly responses? Counsel your heart with this truth: I may not be able to control or change those people or circumstances. But I do have a choice about how I respond to them. I am not responsible for the choices or behavior of others. I am responsible before God for my responses.
As you accept responsibility for your own choices and reactions, don’t forget that we can only love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and bear the unbearable as we depend on the Spirit and grace of Christ in us to love and forgive those people and bear those wrongs. “Not I, but Christ!”