Dustin and I went to Bible college with dreams of ministering to God’s people, beginning with teens. When we entered the field, one of the most common challenges we faced was helping teenagers learn to respect their parents. This was especially true for the kids whose parents treated them poorly in one way or another. There were hypocritical Christian parents, as well as unchurched, broken parents. Some of these kids had legitimate reasons to be angry toward their folks. There were times my heart would ache at the stories I heard. Parents have such a high capacity for harming their children’s sense of self-worth.
Regardless of how their parents behaved, however, we knew it was our responsibility to encourage the kids to honor their parents. In Exodus 20, we find honoring your father and mother among commandments not to steal or murder, nor to lie nor cheat. This honor is serious to God.
All too often, though, the kids felt justified in being disrespectful or disobedient, because of something Mom or Dad did. Playing the blame game, they excused themselves of responsibility for their own actions. They took the role of victim to justify sin.
It’s not just teenagers who do this, though. You don’t have to look very far to find adults defending sinful behavior, because so-and-so “made them do it.” In Genesis 3, we read about the fall of man, where this blame game began. Breaking the one rule God gave them, Adam and Eve were quick to place blame on someone else.
“He said…’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 3:11-13, ESV).
Apparently it has been in the nature of man to push responsibility onto someone else since the very beginning. Adam blamed God for giving him Eve and blamed Eve because she encouraged him to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve blamed the serpent for his deceit. Neither was willing to simply say, “I was wrong, and I’ve sinned.” But God held each one responsible for his or her actions.
The reason we can easily place blame on someone else, is because we are justified in our feelings of being wronged. FEELINGS, not actions, are justified. God never said that anger was wrong. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin…” There is such a thing as righteous anger. Jesus got angry. God gets angry. It’s okay to feel those emotions, but it’s not okay to allow those feelings to spur you on to sin.
Although it was easy for me to convey this message to teenagers, I failed to recognize my own blame game for many years. When Dustin and I were first married, I often justified disrespectful or controlling behavior by pointing out the ways he was hurting me. My friends and family even validated my blame, because some of his sins were so blatant. But I was wrong…
It doesn’t matter what my husband, my child, my friend, or my enemy does to me, if I am mean spirited, controlling, manipulative, or deceitful, the sin is mine. At the end of my days, God is going to be judging my heart, not someone else’s.
Furthermore, each one of us has the power to better our situation. If we continually blame someone else for the struggles in our life, playing the victim, our situation will never improve. Regardless of what is happening around you, you have the choice to make good decisions. You can be kind. You can improve in areas where you’ve made mistakes. You can respect an undeserving individual. In so doing, you truly are able to say you have done right and that any hardship you are facing isn’t at your own hands.
Taking responsibility for your own choices is so empowering. If you daily follow after Christ, humbly choosing love over hate, selflessness over self-preservation, you will be rewarded with peace. When I began to show Dustin respect, his heart softened toward me and mine toward him, and our relationship began to flourish.
Dustin and I still both sin, but our reactions to one another are graceful the majority of the time. When either of us lashes out in frustration, the other has the powerful ability to defuse the situation by being patient and offering a gentle reply.
Just the other day, I jumped in and disagreed with one of Dustin’s parenting choices right in front of Josiah. I dishonored Dustin and undermined his authority in Josiah’s eyes. Dustin snapped and said something hurtful. I bit my tongue, thought to myself, “Woman, you better shut yo mouth”, took a deep breath, and apologized for my behavior. I owned what I’d done, rather than flipping out over his hurtful words. He was also so apologetic.
We both knew we were wrong, and freely admitted our sin. We were able to talk it out, and the day went on beautifully. No harm, no foul. In the past, it would have been a knock-down-drag-out argument, ending in wounds and a wedge between us. Blaming one another for our actions would have led to more pain, not resolution.
Ultimately, the way you treat others is between you and God, and you will have no one else to blame. Playing the victim will never lead to victory. Own your life. Take responsibility for your choices. They are yours alone.