The Crucible of Taking Ownership

The issue of accountability might seem unrelated to depression, but bear with me. Shifting and deflecting blame is a universal human tendency. Most people will readily admit that everyone has faults, but owning up to personal faults is not acknowledged so willingly. The problem with blame-shifting is many people’s lives and relationships remain fragmented and broken. Only when genuine ownership and forgiveness (or repentance) take place, can healing and growth take place.

We read that the proneness to blame, versus taking ownership, occurs very soon after the first couple partook of the forbidden fruit:

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” ~ Genesis 3:9-13 (ESV)

God asks the man if he ate of the forbidden fruit. The man blames God for making the woman, then blamed the woman for giving him the fruit to eat (as if she made him eat). God then turns and questions the woman. She blames the serpent for deceiving her.

Neither person humbly acknowledged their disobedience to God’s clear instructions. Instead, they became defensive and deflected blame. One can only wonder what would have happened had they humbly confessed. Certainly there would still have been consequences, but would the world know the depths of suffering it knows? I suppose we will never know.

Modern American society encourages blame-shifting, deflection, and “victim mentality.” We want to blame our parents, teachers, the “system,” and anything else for our poor and foolish decisions. Oh, many of the hurts are real, for sure. These might, indeed, make progress difficult. However, none of these can force us to continue to make poor decisions.

Some people remain in depression, in part, because they choose to curse the day they were born, blame others for their miseries, and refuse to let go of the past in order to move ahead in the present.

Sometimes real hurts happen to persons. Dealing with this requires honesty about the pain; however, one cannot blame anyone for their own choice to refuse to get better. On the other hand, some people want to blame the “system” or others for their own poor decisions. No one else is to bear the blame if an individual refuses to put the work involved to get to where they want to be.

If you’re dealing with depression, these words are certainly not intended to add to your hurting nor are they to ignore any genuine hurts. However, take an honest inventory: are some of your woes your own doing? Regardless what others might have or might not have done, they are not responsible for your present decisions. Someone’s actions may have angered you, but you choose to remain angry or not. Someone might have deeply wounded you, but you make the choice to remain crippled or not. You might not be in a position to move ahead at this time, but no one else is responsible how you view and respond to today’s circumstances.

Hurts hurt, no doubt about it. Yet, we do not have to be defined, hindered, or paralyzed by them. To forgive, let go, and move on is each person’s choice to make alone. No one can make this choice for us. Taking ownership is difficult, but necessary. Mind you, doing so will not necessarily take away the hurt or depression; however, it will begin paving the path leading to freedom and living.

“But they don’t deserve forgiveness!” some will defy. No, I do not suppose they do. Then again, none of us do. “But I can’t forgive!” some will argue. Pray! Ask God for the willingness and help to forgive. And remember, forgiveness has little to do with others but more to do with you. Forgive, because you are worth it!

The UN-selfish Need for Self-care

In my last post, “Stranger In a Strange Land,” it would appear I despised every moment of being a pastor, but this is not the case. There were times of joy, times of seeing the Lord move in certain situations, and friendships made. There were also lessons learned that seminary did not prepare me for.

One of the lessons I have learned is the need for self-care. Typically “self” comes with negative connotations of selfishness or self-centeredness; however, there is the part of “self” that represents our personhood, that God created in His image. This part of our being ought to be taken care of.

Self-care is important, whether you are a pastor or not. It is not selfish to take necessary times to rest/relax, to say “No,” time to grieve losses, to spend with family and friends, and to spend in healthy, reflective solitude.

Our society, as well as church culture, views busyness as a virtue—a true mark of spirituality. Rest and relaxation are considered frivolous and lazy, as though God’s kingdom is dependent on us and will collapse if we dare take time to rest! I once read of a pastor who was going to take some time off. A lady quipped, “The devil never takes a day off.” The pastor wisely responded, “The devil is not my example to follow.”

Certainly the Bible condemns slothfulness and being unproductive. However, what does Jesus say? Religion often produces restless activity. Jesus bids the people:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:27-30 (ESV)

There are times Jesus sends us out to minister to others. However, He also calls us to rest.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:30-31

Everything we do is to be in relationship with Christ:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. ~ John 15:4

Jesus does not call us to busyness, lighting the candles at both ends. He calls us to abide in Him. Our lives can only bear fruit by abiding in Him, otherwise we are simply spinning our wheels and wasting precious fuel.

There are many times it is not only okay, but one must say, “no.” There are individuals who will either suck the very life out of you, or else constantly have you on the go. Certainly there are occasions you must allow the lives of others to intrude (e.g., emergencies, hospitalization or loss of a loved one, someone talking about suicide, etc.). However, there are many non-emergencies that can wait until another day. For example, you get a call from a friend one night and they tell you their spouse was in an collision and is in intensive care. This is a time to drop everything to be with your friend in a crisis. Another day a friend calls because they have been having “bad dreams.” Depending on the situation, this might be appropriate to schedule time for coffee over the weekend. Still, someone might want you to get involved because their sibling is having marital problems. I would say in most cases, this would be an appropriate time to say, “no.”

Take time to grieve. Especially someone in a caretaking profession, one can be so busy trying to take care of others, he fails to take time to grieve his own losses. Instead, he stuffs his feelings and hurts somewhere within. In due time, however, (as I experienced the hard way) these will eventually cause a person to either explode or implode.

Take time to be with your family. Your spouse and children need to know you love them, and that they are valuable to you. When I was the senior pastor of a church, I was told by a lady that sometimes God will have a minister sacrifice his family for the sake of a church. This not true. No where in the New Testament is a person called to sacrifice his family for the sake of ministering to a church. As one pastor correctly advises other pastors, “If you save the whole world but lose your family in the process, you have lost it all.”

Finally, take the time for healthy solitude. Note, there is a difference between this an unhealthy isolation.  Healthy solitude is necessary time to get away from people, noise, and distractions in order to pray, reflect, and listen. Throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus numerous times going off by Himself early in the morning or in the evening to get alone with the Father. If Jesus felt the need to do this, we had better recognize our need!

I suppose there will be some who will not be convinced that self-care is not selfish. Let me ask, how will you be of any use if you are sick? When I was in the pit of my depression, I was of no use to anyone. It was not until I received help from others, then becoming more intentional about self-care, that I began of being more help to my family and others.

Take care of yourself. You are worth it, and your loved ones are worth it! By taking care of you, you can then be better at taking care of those you love and care about.