The prophet Jeremiah wrote: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). The Bible mentions many deceitful things: our tongues (Psalms 52:4; Proverbs 15:4), our hands (Psalms 144:8, 11), our ways (Psalms 119:29), our schemes (Ephesians 4:14), our desires (Ephesians 4:22)—but it says that the human heart is the most deceitful of all. The reason for this, according to God’s words through the prophet, is that our hearts are desperately sick.
It’s no surprise to Christians that we possess wicked hearts and a selfish nature. Our own sinful nature is something we must acknowledge and turn away from in order to accept God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The apostle John even goes so far as to say if we claim we are not sinful then we are untruthful and we do not know God (1st John 1:5-10). Each one of us is born into this fallen world with sin-sick heart and a selfish character. Even when we are saved from our sins this problem doesn’t just go away. Our sin-sick hearts and selfishness still reside within us. Without God’s help, this is impossible to overcome. So many of us try to go at it alone and it just doesn’t work. Only God can provide us with the resources to overcome our own sinfulness.
Even though it would not be inaccurate to say that all of the world’s problems stem from our own sinful nature, my intention for this post is to focus on one problem in particular: our lack of taking responsibility for ourselves. Human beings love to play the blame game. We love to blame others, we love to blame circumstances, and we even love to blame God. This should come as no great revelation since this “game” has been played since humankind fell from grace in the Garden of Eden. When God asked Adam if he had partaken of the forbidden fruit he blamed his wife and God for his own transgression. In essence he said, “The woman, you know the one you put here with me…it’s not my fault.” In the same way Eve shifted the blame to the serpent saying, “He tricked me!” Neither one of them wanted to take responsibility for the free choice that each of them made.
Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer, it goes like this: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. What most of us might not recognize right away is that this short little prayer is a wonderful example of personal boundaries, responsibility, and ownership. We must acknowledge that there are things that we cannot change and accept this as a reality in our lives. Anything outside of our personal boundary is out of our control. Though we might have some limited influence on other people, we cannot control them. We have no control over certain circumstances in which we often find ourselves. Being born into poverty, getting stuck in traffic, being let go from a job, and what the weather is going to be tomorrow are all things completely out of our control, but so many of us let these affect us in the most negative ways. Then we have those things that fall within our personal boundaries—how we feel, how we react, the decisions and the choices we make are all our responsibility.
Indulge me for just a moment in a little scenario. Pretend, for a moment, that you have decided to take a casual stroll through a park. It’s a beautiful summer day, there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature is perfectly comfortable, the birds are singing, and you are feeling so good that you feel like you’re on top of the world. All your thoughts are pleasant, there is a smile on your face, and you are filled with peace and joy in this moment. Have you got this image in your mind? Good! Let’s continue. At the height of your serene bliss, out of nowhere, a random stranger punches you squarely in your smiling face. It’s a hard hit, it knocks you down the ground, and blood comes gushing from your newly broken nose. How are you feeling in this moment? If I were to guess, your feelings of blissful peace and happiness have now been replaced with physical pain, confusion, and anger. Who can blame you? You just got randomly sucker-punched for no good reason. On top of all this, the random stranger ran off laughing maniacally and you never got a good look at him or her.
Putting yourself in this scenario, let me ask you a question: Who is responsible for the physical pain and emotional turmoil you are currently experiencing? If you say that the random stranger is responsible, you’re dead wrong. Granted this stranger might be the source of your pain and suffering, but the physical pain, confusion, and anger are yours to deal with. They are inside your personal boundary and therefore they are your responsibility. Doesn’t sound fair does it? But that’s life. We had no control over the assault by the random stranger (outside of boundary/control) but we can control how we act/react to the situation (inside of our boundary/control).
I admit this isn’t a perfect scenario, but I think you get my point. Too many people play the victim and pass the blame instead of taking responsibility for themselves and the things within their control. Have you ever been stuck in traffic and become enraged? The traffic jam is not responsible for your boiling blood, but you are responsible for how you choose to react to it. Have you ever lost a job or your only source of income and become dejected and felt hopeless? The loss isn’t responsible for your feelings of dejection and hopelessness, you are. Have you ever been hurt by a spouse or a loved one and gave them “the silent treatment.” Did you expect them to “just know” how they hurt you and how you were feeling without clearly communicating it to them? Your feelings are your responsibility. It’s up to you to clearly communicate to the other person how you are feeling and how they have hurt you. But remember, their reaction or action that follows is utterly out of your control and not your responsibility.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not saying that it is in any way wrong to feel the way you feel in these scenarios. What I’m saying is that no matter how we feel in the moment, it is our own responsibility to deal with these feelings. We can continue to feel bad and let a particular incident ruin our whole day, or we can take responsibility for ourselves and choose to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move on. This is much easier said than done. This is why it is so important for us to also recognize that we can’t go at it alone. We need God’s help and the support and love of those closest to us.
God created us with free-will and the ability to make our own choices. And though we are free to make our own choices, we are never free from the consequences of those choices. Whether the consequences are a direct result of our free choices or the indirect consequences of the free-will choices of others, we are responsible for dealing with whatever we face in this life. Fortunately, God is there to help us every step of the way. He doesn’t expect us to “pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, but rather to seek His help and to acknowledge that we can’t don’t it all on our own.
All too often I am a witness to the victim mentality that so dominates our society today. Watching people blame political parties, parents, companies, the economy, or any number of circumstances for their own failings. Even blaming our own sinful hearts and selfish nature is a danger to our well-being. We have all fallen into this trap at some point in our lives, but it seems as though lots of folks want to stay in the trap instead of freeing themselves from it. We have very limited influence and no control over how other people feel about us, judge us, or treat us yet we often let the perspective of others control our lives and emotions. The only One we need to please is God and He is the only One who will always love us unconditionally.
With God’s love, grace, and support we can stop playing the victim and start being the victor. When we surrender to Him, we win. When we die to ourselves, we live. I encourage you, with God’s help and guidance, to take control of the things within your control and recognize the things that are out of your control and live your life in the manner God intended you to live it. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him! God Bless you!