We ask the ladies to trust us. We sometimes even go so far as to ask one of them to tie themselves to us for the rest of our lives! Implicit in that invitation is an agreement that we will take responsibility for that lady.
What does ‘taking responsibility’ look like?
It looks like Jesus taking responsibility for the whole human race, going to the cross, getting punished for everything that he didn’t do (but we did), so that he could present his bride to himself having loved her into being what he hoped she would be (Ephesians 5:25-30). That is taking responsibility. How are we doing compared to that?
This is beyond us in our own strength but the good news is that this same Jesus lives in us if we have submitted our lives to him. By walking with him he will cause his Spirit to fill every part of who we are so that the sacrificial life of Jesus is lived out through us in the way we take responsibility. Our serving of our wives will come out of our submitting ‘to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (5:21).
Our relationship will stretch us as we face challenges together, talk things through and have open, humble hearts. We will grow in that interaction because we will discover things about ourselves that we either didn’t know or didn’t want to look at. The more we live in the whole of who we are the more we will comfortably take responsibility. After all, taking responsibility is love in action and if we don’t love ourselves we will never fully accept the person for whom we are responsible. To the extent that we accept or reject ourselves, we will accept or reject the one for whom we are responsible. If we are not comfortable in our own skin, we will never cope with someone sharing negatives with us. They will just confirm what we feel about ourselves and any notion of taking responsibility will be out of the window and it will all be about us and what we have been made to feel. We have to grow past this.
Now this doesn’t just apply to marriage. The principles are universal in their application between men and women. We are using marriage as this provides a setting in which the principles can be clearly seen.
1. Perspective Many men have no idea of what it feels like to be responsible. They were never encouraged to be. Dad or Mum stepped in and did everything for them. There was always someone else to blame when something went wrong. Many men have never seen the role of a father modelled in a meaningful way.
Some men instinctively make themselves too responsible. When his wife shares what she feels, if there is a hint of anything negative, then that man takes it as a personal attack. He feels he has failed and is useless. Collapse, sulking or silence is the likely outcome. The right perspective is to know that you are responsible for your wife or for those people – but you are not God. You have a sphere of responsibility – do well in that.
2. Planning The ladies in our lives expect a clear sense of direction from us – so we must cultivate the ability to plan. Take responsibility for planning. That includes listening to the input of others but at the end of the day we need to provide direction. Run a diary that takes a long-term view so there is a balance to your year. Ensure that each month fits into your overall objectives as a couple, family, church or whatever. Engage emotionally in the decision-making process. Again, use the whole of who you are – not just your head.
3. Persistence We have to hold on to that feeling of being responsible. It may well clash with all that we feel about ourselves, life, the other person or that group. We might want to dismiss, argue, walk away from – but we must stay with the awareness that we are responsible. Facing challenges, traumatic situations, even disasters, we do well to remember Rudyard Kipling’s words:
‘If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too….’
That is taking responsibility. No lines drawn. No point reached at which you feel you have the right to moan or draw attention to yourself. You are there to serve.
4. Private This is about what goes on in the depths of our hearts and the privacy of our own homes. We cannot take responsibility for anyone effectively until we take responsibility for ourselves. ‘Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city’ (Proverbs 16:32). What we do with our thoughts and our time when no-one is watching over us gives us insight into how much we are exercising self-control. When others are watching, all kinds of self-interest can serve to keep us on track.
Practice taking responsibility for the things that aren’t public – inner attitudes, what you feed into your mind. And those practical areas - clearing emails, being on top of tasks, basic organization. Work at them until you know you are actively taking responsibility for your own life. It will show itself in a clear sense of overview and order. Finally Taking responsibility isn’t lording it over anyone. It isn’t taking anything from anyone. It is serving them in a way that sets them free to fulfil God’s perfect purpose for their lives.