For each will have to bear his own load.
I want to speak about a topic that many people tend to shy away from, and that is personal responsibility.When I look at our political situation, the social problems we deal with, in fact, any situation that involves conflict or chaos, I see the signs of people not taking responsibility. It is an enormously common human pitfall today, as it has been for all time.
Part of growing spiritually within these human bodies includes taking responsibility for our choices, actions, words, and thoughts. We begin life without responsibilities; everything is done for us. But as we grow, we learn to tie our own shoes, feed ourselves, wash our own bodies, and dress ourselves. Our responsibilities grow as we mature, and we learn that responsibilities carry rewards and praise and the lack of responsibility breeds contempt and other negative results. The difference between a child and an adult is often viewed by how they handle personal responsibility for their actions. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11 - “When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
We must all engage adulthood in this way. The Bible teaches the concept in Ezekiel 18:20 - “The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.”
Personal responsibility is a matter of choice and is closely related to the law of sowing and reaping. As Isaiah says in 3:10-11 - “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.” Our choices, in every area of our life, carry consequences.
God clearly laid out what was morally right and wrong and expected His people to follow that moral code, or there would be costs. But as humans, we try to do what we want but avoid the ramifications. Pilate tried to dismiss responsibility of Jesus’ death by washing his hands and exhorting, “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’”
Adam did it in the Garden of Eden when he blamed Eve for messing up the good thing they had. Cain tried to avoid the consequences accompanying God’s question, “Where is your brother?” Cain responded, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Quite an impudent answer for someone who had killed his brother. Of course, God used a technique for determining the nature of a child that all parents have learned: never ask a question without already knowing its answer.
God expects us to take personal responsibility in all aspects of our human journey. But we have gotten good at shifting blame and denying our part. Throughout the Bible the problem is not the Philistines, Egyptians, Syrians, or Romans. It was not the Red Sea, the lack of water, or the absence of food for the people. In every situation the problem lies with the choices people made. It was their decisions that blocked God’s goodness from flowing.
Israel was Israel’s real problem. God split the Red Sea, rained down manna and quail, provided water from a rock, and gave them a land they did not plant and cities they did not build. And despite these life-saving acts of goodness that proved God has the power to overcome any obstacle for his people, the people lost faith. They chose to turn their focus from God and back onto their situations. Their lack of faith cut them off from God’s blessings.
In terms of faith, some people haven’t come much further today than when the Israelites suffered from their lack. Here is the truth: every problem we have that results from our choice of actions, words, attitudes, or thoughts, is completely on us; it is our fault. If we have issues with anger, unforgiveness, lust, gossip, gluttony, depression, idolatry, greed, disrespect, or any other negative condition based upon our discernment, we alone are to blame.
Taking responsibility means accepting blame, and not pointing our fingers to any other person, institution, or situation. We may have been abused in the past, treated inhumanely and unfairly, shown foul play, injured, insulted, abandoned, or cast aside, but any choice we make based upon our feelings from those incidents and their consequences are our responsibility alone. We may be angry because we were treated poorly by someone, but any action we take in anger is our responsibility. We are to blame. Abuse is not an excuse to hurt someone else; revenge is not a justifiable alternative. Those responses are of a child, not an adult.
More than being childish, it is destructive to redirect blame and deny responsibility. When the pills, drugs, alcohol, and all the other external inducements we seek fail to make a difference, in the end we tend to place our blame on God and lash out, as demonstrated by Cain. Proverbs 19:3 states: A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the LORD.
This is the essence of darkness. The quickest way to obstruct the Light of Christ is to become angry with God; to look for some other reason as to why we continue experiencing troubles rather than simply accepting that the blackness in our life is due to our own ego-based, impulsive, habitual reactions and choices. The faster we can accept the blame, ascend to adulthood, and take responsibility for our actions and words, the faster we step out of the darkness and bask again in the Light of God.
Taking responsibility can certainly mean pursuing help from psychology, medicine, and avoiding things that trigger addictions. Through prayer, God will heal us, remove us from tempting situations, and change our external worlds. But without taking personal responsibility, seeking practical solutions, and deciding to make more productive and appropriate choices we may stay stuck.
We all feel responsible for something, or someone. Parents feel responsible for their children. Spouses feel responsible for each other. The young may feel that aged parents are their responsibility. Ministers feel responsible for their congregations, the policeman for the safety of the community, the politician for the welfare of his city, state, or country. All of us accept certain responsibilities, usually of our own choosing.
But beyond any that we might consider, the most important responsibility we have is to acknowledge our divinity, claim our position as a Child of God, and to become the best human person we can become. Knowing that we are God's children is the first step toward understanding and fulfilling our infinite potential. Faith and prayer ready us to meet each day in a right, constructive, and productive way. Then our responsibilities are not burdens, but blessings. Responsibility does not limit our happiness, it helps us to fulfill our lives; it helps us to be the best person we can be.
Part of accepting our responsibility is knowing that we are not the solution to our own problems. We can become the best person we can be, and then we must seek the solutions and alternative thoughts, behaviors, and words through Christ. We never have to shoulder all the decisions because we can move into prayer and seek Divine Guidance.
In a few minutes I am going to sing the song, “Christ Has No Body Now But Yours;” we know it as “St. Teresa’s Prayer”. The words are attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, and perhaps inaccurately. She lived from 1515-1582 and was a Spanish mystic, Catholic Saint, Carmelite Nun, theologian, author, and reformer. But researchers cannot tie the words of this prayer to anything she has written. A Nun contacted the Institute of Carmelite Studies in Washington, DC, which translates, edits, and publishes the works of Saint Teresa, and asked them about it. They told her that the passage does not come from the writings of the saint, or from the oral tradition of her sayings.
Other researchers have found those words in writing by two sources: one is Methodist minister Mark Guy Pearse and Quaker medical missionary Sarah Elizabet Rowntree. Reverend Pearse delivered a sermon on January 3rd, 1888 that gave us the second half of the poem. Then in 1892, the Quaker periodical The British Friend, printed an account from Ms. Rowntree that concluded with words from Rev. Pearse, which included the entire poem. This was the first time the poem appeared in its entirety.
Here are the words, as excerpted from the Quaker periodical:
"Remember Christ has no human body now upon the earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ's compassion has to look upon the world, and yours are the lips with which His love has to speak. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good through His Church which is His body."
Regardless of who wrote it, the sentiments are pertinent. To be a Child of God is to step up, take responsibility, and express the Christ within us to the best of our abilities. The song speaks to us not only as an individual, but as a congregation, a nation, and as a world family.
Ultimately, we are responsible for being who we are, while carrying a responsibility for each other as well. We are responsible for developing our physical being, as well as awakening our spiritual nature. Spirit within is an unending source of wisdom and strength, and through that wisdom and strength we share with Spirit the responsibility for all members of our spiritual family to render compassion, care, and love. We each have our own load to bear, our part to play, our responsibility to accept. We cannot accept the load someone else has to bear or deny them their responsibilities. They have their own lessons and decisions to make and paths to follow. But it is our responsibility to help them, to serve them when we can, and above all else, to love them. That is our responsibility.
It is my prayer that we will take responsibility for our actions by listening to Christ within, rather than egoistic voices and their echoes. May we not cast blame for the challenges that we face, but accept our part and the blame we are due. May our words and actions reflect those of a loving and responsible Child of God. May we also remember that we aren’t perfect, and neither is anyone else walking this earth; we are all subject to worldly influences. So, let us be gentle on ourselves and forgiving of others as we engage this magnificent journey of life.