Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Well Intentioned Roommate

A Well Intentioned Roommate

Suppose I have a roommate who cares deeply about me. He notices that I have been working long hours, have been under great stress, and look very tired. In my fatigue, I complain one night that I don't even have time to pay my bills. Later that evening, when I have fallen asleep, my roommate pulls together my bills, goes to my online account, and pays all my bills. The only roommate has never been good at math and my account is now overdrawn.


In the morning, when I wake up, my roommate shows me that my bills are paid. My shock quickly turns to horror as I realize that my account is overdrawn. I respond, "You have overdrawn my account!"


Ashamed, he lashes out, "I was only trying to help! Next time, do it yourself!"



What we have here is a case of a person taking responsibility for something he does not have the authority to do and for which he is not held accountable. This is my definition of chaos--taking responsibility for something for which a person is not held accountable.  In our lives, some of our relationships are in chaos.



Every relationship has a purpose. One is a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, a neighbor, a student, a citizen, an employee, a doctor, teacher, plumber. Every relationship is defined by at least one purpose. At times, relationships can have multiple purposes--i.e., my neighbor may also be my friend.


What Makes a Healthy Relationship?

Authority--This is the power that others have given a person to act in a certain role in a relationship. For example, my congregation has authorized me to serve in the office of Senior Pastor.


Responsibility--These are the tasks that are expected to be performed as part of the relationship. For example, the tasks a parent is expected perform include: provide for shelter, food, safety, nurturing environment, discipline.


Accountability--One is held accountable for performing the tasks and for the quality of the performance. A good neighbor honors property lines and maintains his property. If not, there may be legal repercussions.


What about Feelings?

With a healthy relationship, a person experiences a variety of positive emotions. There is empowerment, acceptance, collegiality, affirmation, affection. Psychologists will tell you, "Feelings follow." That is, when we shape a relationship based on authority, responsibility, and accountability, the positive feelings will follow.


When Feelings Take the Driver's Seat

In our highly emotional times, we can fall into the trap of desiring the positive emotions first, without fulfilling the obligations of the relationship. We want to be affirmed, no matter how we act. When this happens, our relationships become troubled and broken.


Right Relationships

One definition of the religious word "righteous" is "fulfilling the obligations of one's relationship."(Achtemeir) God is righteous and God makes righteous those who have faith. People of faith have been set free to have healthy relationships. Dare we fall into the trap that Paul mentions in Romans 8: 15? "For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption." Right relationships are healthy relationships.



1. Love can be considered as more than a feeling and more than a concept. Love is primary an action. The action of love is the act of engaging in a relationship in ways that are healthy. Love is the action of living out healthy relationships. Should we start with love as an emotion and apply that to a relationship, the relationship is in an immediate strangle hold. Based purely on a positive emotion like wanting to feel loved, a relationship allows no room for accountability and challenge. Liking can become the key determining factor for what is right or wrong. A leader may refrain from holding an employee accountable for poor performance out of fear of not being liked. An employee may reject challenge that can lead to growth by interpreting the challenge with the conclusion, "She does not like me."


2. M. Scott Peck, in People of the Lie, describes what happens to a group of people when one person is chosen as a leader. The others will instantly start to regress. How is it that a leader can lead, without the regression and immaturity of those in the group? I believe a leader can promote maturity by clearly defining the relationships; by giving authority to each group member to act in certain capacities based on that persons interests and skills; by being sure that the person has a clear understanding of their responsibilities and tasks to be performed; and by holding the person accountable for performing the task wit excellence.


3. Peck also describes human relationships as lateral. This is helpful in understanding that people are set APART for a purpose, not set ABOVE for a purpose.


4. The use of titles helps sustain healthy relationships. This may lead the reader to conclude that I am promoting an archaic way of life. The use of titles, such as Mr., Mrs. Miss, Ms., Dr., Professor, Pastor, Mother, Father, the Honorable serves the purpose of defining the relationship. I insist that members of my congregation use the title Pastor with me. This is not about being heavy handed, power, or control. I believe the use of the title brings clarity to the relationship between pastor and parishioner. Each time a person refers to me as Pastor, I am reminded of the covenant I have made to care for the spiritual well-being of the people in the parish.


5. In groups, among staffs, or within leadership circles, clearly defining the relationships can keep the focus on the organization’s mission. The leader of the group does not make all the decisions, but performs the following roles:

            -Keeps the mission and vision in front of the group;

            -Keeps the clarity of roles in place by defining the responsibilities;

            -Has oversight for keeping a good decision making process in place;

            -Holds each  person in the organization accountable for performance