Posts Tagged ‘holding people responsible’

Ever make excuses for those who misbehave?

I do – all too often.

It’s not something I readily do with strangers.  If someone cuts me off in traffic, I’m liable to hurl some anger in the driver’s direction.  There’s no excuse for being uncivil – and downright dangerous – in my driving world.

But if someone I know and care about wrongs me, I tend to search for ways to excuse their behavior.

“I’ve called her twice, but she hasn’t called me back.  She must be busy.”

“He promised to be here by 4 but hasn’t arrived yet.  It’s probably due to traffic.”

“He borrowed my tools and said he’d get them back to me by now.  He’s probably forgotten.”

Sometimes making excuses for others might be termed sensitivity.  We put ourselves in someone’s place and imagine how life might be if we were them.  We certainly understand what it’s like to be so busy that we fail to return calls or return items that people have loaned us.

But sometimes, we make excuses for people when we shouldn’t … because we’re unwilling to utter one simple phrase:

“What they did or said to me was wrong.”

And we might add, “And there’s no excuse for their behavior.”

When I was 16, my first job was working at a butcher shop.  I came in for a couple hours every day and boned meat, cutting myself repeatedly with sharp knives.

I was supposed to arrive at work by 4:00 pm sharp, but sometimes I arrived a minute or two late.  When I tried to explain why I wasn’t there on time, my boss would say, “I don’t want excuses.  I want reasons.”

I had plenty of excuses … but few good reasons why I was late.

We all have plenty of excuses for our own misbehavior, don’t we?

“I’m grouchy today because I stayed up late last night.”

“I didn’t go to the bank because there’s too much going on in my head right now.”

“I swore at her because she made me mad.”

“I haven’t accomplished anything this week because I can’t get motivated.”

Comedian Steve Martin used to say there were two words that would get you out of any predicament:

“I forgot.”

When you’re 16, there might be excuses for using excuses, but when you’re 31 or 47 or 58, it rings hollow.

We have to learn to say:

“You’re right.  I told you I’d pick up the clothes at the cleaners and I didn’t.  I’ll go do that right now.”

“I messed up and shouldn’t have said what I said.  Will you forgive me?”

“Please accept my apologies for ignoring you yesterday.  It was wrong of me to do that.”

“I feel like offering you an excuse right now, but the truth is that I blew it.  Let me make it up to you.”

Whenever we mess up, the healthy way to handle things is to admit it in an appropriate fashion … without taking too much responsibility (“It’s all MY fault!”) or denying any responsibility (“He did it.  It’s all HIS fault!”)

And hopefully, when we sincerely apologize for our mistakes, those we have hurt will grant us forgiveness.

And we need to use the same principle when others make mistakes … because making excuses for the behavior of others is not the way of Jesus.

In Luke 17:3, Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

But most of us read the verse like this: “If your brother sins, excuse him.”

Why?  Because we’d rather make an excuse for someone’s behavior than rebuke or confront them.

We explain away what they did so that we don’t have to do or say something uncomfortable that might risk the relationship.

Our culture has mastered this art of excusing people:

“He acts like that because he’s the middle child.”  (That might explain a few things, but every misbehavior?)

“She throws things because she was raised by her aunt.”  (Does that mean she’s going to throw things for the rest of her life?)

“He yells at people because he can’t help himself.”  (He can’t help anybody if he keeps yelling like that.)

“She overspends to compensate for her sad life.”  (But plenty of sad people don’t overspend.)

In fact, every biblical command (love your neighbor as yourself … do not judge … pray without ceasing … do not repay anyone evil for evil) implies that the hearer has both the ability and the responsiblity to carry out the command.

Would God ask us to do what we can’t do?

Every person comes to a point in their life when they’re either going to remain a child or grow toward adulthood.

They key is to take responsibility whenever you mess up … and to hold others accountable whenever they mess up.

Christians need to master the art of the apology (“I was wrong – will you forgive me?”) as well as the art of holding others accountable (“I love you, but you crossed a line when you said that”).

And when people admit they’ve done wrong, it’s not our job to excuse them, but to forgive them.

Let me share a relational secret with you.  When someone you care about misbehaves … or hurts you with a comment … or does something you believe is wrong … address it right then and there.

Don’t wait three months, work up your courage, and then address it.  Deal with it in the moment … or try and let it go.

In Matthew 16, when Peter tried to warn Jesus not to go to the cross, Jesus didn’t wait a year and then say to Peter, “You know, Peter, you really hurt me with that remark about the cross.”  Instead, Jesus dealt with it immediately.

Jesus did this consistently throughout His ministry.

Think about it: if we addressed people’s misbehavior immediately, would we proceed to excuse it later on?

What are your thoughts about this topic?

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