I have come to the conclusion that whoever “they” are, “they” have to be one of the most powerful people that ever walked the face of this planet. As I have a conversation about behavior in the hallway, have a “how did this food get here?” interrogation at a cafeteria table, or conference with a student at my desk, the all-powerful “they”, the great puppet master controlling all behavior, is often mentioned as the inciter of actions which causes a chain of inevitable and uncontrollable events or responses. Student implore me to understand that “they” made me do it. “They” keep, and “they” don’t, and “they” always, and “they” won’t. I’m here to honestly tell you as someone who hands out discipline, “they” probably should be in trouble, too. But if “they” are in control of you, then you have become “they.”
As I present this second rule to my students on the second and eighty-second days of school, I tell them that I can successfully predict their future success and happiness by a single factor: picking up trash. Someone who is truly responsible will not only pick up their own trash, but willingly picks up trash when they see it because it needs to be done. Now, you might think this is only enabling the bad behavior of others. I see the argument. But what about those who don’t pick it up, are they doing the right thing? No. Or those who protest? Does this get the trash off the ground? Hmm. Not necessarily. Yes, someone was careless or even deliberate in leaving the trash, but does this excuse me from doing what I know is right? At the end of the day, there are those who allows themselves to be suffocated in trash, and those who simply pick it up.
Now, I do have a small disclaimer before continuing to rail on the gravity of responsibility - People can do terrible, despicable things to one another that are far weightier than leaving behind a candy wrapper. Bullying, abuse, neglect, harassment are all realities which can cause immense injury to the human psyche and should not be diminished in this discussion. “They” change our impulses, or “they” make us feel a waning worth. I promise that I seek justice and love mercy for students and those I know who are on the receiving end of abominable actions, but if we simply write-off retaliation to actions of another, then we allow for all to be justified. He spread a rumor about me, so I fought him. My dad was abusive, so I refuse to discipline my children. Someone took advantage of me, so there is no reason to save myself for my husband or wife. I am here to suggest, no matter the circumstance, you, through God, are still in charge. Be responsible.
“But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” - Galatians 6:4-5
The term psychologist use to describe an individual’s viewpoint on where the source of consequence and responsibility lie is called the locus (Latin: location;place). Generally, people fall into two categories or mindsets regarding the location of responsibility: the external and the internal. People with an external locus tend to believe that they have very little influence and therefore, consequence on the things surrounding them. Conversely, those with an internal locus believe they have the greatest control of their environment and outcomes.
At first it would seem that being of an external mindset is the correct view for a Christian who has placed his/her hope, life, and faith God’s hands. It is true, God needs to take priority in our lives. However, there can be a fatal flaw in this thinking because there are other forces on the outside that can also greatly impact and shape our surroundings (for example, temptation, persecution, the sin of others, etc.). If I hold true to the viewpoint that I can do little to prevent it, control it, or change its effects, then whenever something happens to me that is not from God, by circumstance or consequence, my faith is shaken. We say things similar to enemies of God in Micah 7 or those who persecuted Jesus during his crucifixion, “Where is he now?” or “Why didn’t God…”, or “How could He…” We place the responsibility on God for the situation, the sin or the shortcoming, simply blaming Him for our problems and waiting for Him to repair it with our arms folded.
By taking personal responsibility out of the equation, we are not increasing our trust and faith, but in fact, decreasing it. The proof is in “The Parable of the Talents” found in Matthew 25. If you empathize with the servant who was given a single talent and buried it in the sand out of fear, your locus might be externally calibrated. The Master, God, doesn’t simply desire for us to simply believe He is in control. You believe in God? Awesome! Even the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19). We are held accountable and responsible by Him; we must own our faith and act on it.
This means that we are to navigate using what is placed within us (Luke 17:21; Romans 8:9); to become people whose viewpoint is fixated on the internal locus, or power within. Now, I’m not speaking of Ch’i or some other kind of innate, embedded spiritual force, but the incredible empowerment that comes through the Holy Spirit, the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. These things we cling to on the inside will greatly influence the people, the environment, and the future around us. We are not simply filled, but should be overflowing with the fruit of His spiritual presence in our lives - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As God shapes us, we too have the power, and responsibility, to shape the lives of others by the empowerment of God. He has given us time, talents, or money, and we are not to merely hide these things and self-preserve, but have the responsibility to grow His kingdom by acting on uncontainable faith (Matt 25:26-30).
“You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” - James 2:20-24
Now, for the hard part -- Just because we are driven from within, there are still things fighting for control of the internal stars that are steering our ship towards salvation. This world is still filled with sin and unfortunately, sometimes sin wins in my life and the lives of the people who surround me. I may not be “of this world”, but I am very much in it, and sometimes, I must bear of the reverberating consequences that come from the absence of God. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. It is in these times when I am faced with the most difficult, the most frustrating, the most pressing, and most unfair experiences that I can see where my locus lies. Will I continue to be responsible, acting in faith, or will I blame “them” or “Him” for my circumstance?
A great example from the scriptures is the story of Joseph (beginning in Genesis 37). He was born with an incredible gift: the ability to interpret dreams. He was loved by his father, but rejected by his brothers. They sold him into slavery out of their jealousy, yet Joseph continued to live out his faith. He was wrongfully accused of sexual assault, placed in prison, yet continued to use his gift and share his testimony. At the moment his account seems to be bankrupt, he is called upon by Pharaoh to practice what he preaches, and is consequently given the return on his investment, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” Gen 41:39,40. How much more will our heavenly Father recognize and reward us when we take on the responsibility of daily investing our talents and carrying the cross of Christ? Yes, stuff happens. Sometimes, terrible, unspeakable garbage. But when our locus and responsibility is fixated on a truth held so deeply within - our joy, our love, our fruits of living a life in His Spirit - these cannot be snatched away. The very junk that was to be our ruin or the intended evil against us becomes what “God intended for good, in order to accomplish a day like this— to preserve the lives of many people." (Gen 50:20)
“They” are not in control. Your attitude, your actions, and your reactions are your responsibility, undeniably traced back to you. Hopefully, you are dramatically influenced by the Spirit of God residing in you, the locus that changes the world from the inside out. It your choice. You can be a victim, spending a great deal of day talking trash, but don’t be surprised when you are surrounded by garbage. The far better choice in my eyes is to be responsible. Pick up the garbage, whether it is your own or someone else’s, chunk it in the bin. Invest, edify, influence, and become responsible for the people and world around you, and it won't be long before it starts looking more like the beautiful things that are held deep inside of you.