[Today’s guest post is from Jeannie Prinsen, a wonderful thinker and writer on faith and family. Head over to her place once you’ve had a taste of her writing here.]
The Fault Is Not In Our Stars, But In Ourselves*
The other day I went to take cash out of the bank machine. The prompts the machine gave me looked a little different from the way they usually do, but I wasn’t fazed: it had been a while since I’d taken money out, and they update these things all the time, right?
But then a notice popped up saying, “YOU WILL BE CHARGED A $2.00 PROCESSING FEE PLUS YOUR OWN BANK’S CHARGES.” Did I want to proceed, or cancel?
Two dollars? Transactions were always free before, I thought. So I pressed Cancel, of course: I’m Scottish, married to a Dutchman, and we don’t take $2.00 processing fees lightly. When I got home, I told my husband what had happened, and he checked our bank information online, which reassured us that bank-machine transactions at our bank (and one other, with which it’s affiliated) have no fees. So what was up with that?
I went back later that night to a different machine to see if it would work this time. I opened my wallet to take out my bank card –and realized that the previous time, I’d used the wrong card. Instead of my bank card, I’d tried to use an entirely unrelated credit card, and the machine (rightly) had been prepared to charge me a fee for a cash advance. But it had been nice enough to ask me if I really, truly wanted to go through with it.
So it wasn’t the bank’s or the machine’s fault at all.
It was me.
But Then Again, The Fault May Not Be In Ourselves
It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? We complain that something isn’t working or someone’s made a mistake — and it turns out it’s our fault.
The opposite can be true too, though: we assume it’s us, when it isn’t. I remember once being very frustrated with a new DVD converter I’d bought, thinking I must have messed up the installation process because it wouldn’t work. I finally called the store and was told, “Well, if the light isn’t coming on, there’s something wrong with the unit; just bring it back.” I returned it and got a replacement, which worked perfectly.
It wasn’t me.
And some time ago I did something which resulted in a painful conflict. The devastation I felt – and at times still do – is hard to put into words. I talked to my pastor about it. He asked some helpful questions, raised some issues I hadn’t considered, and then after a long conversation said, “You know, you may need to consider the possibility that you did the right thing.”
Maybe it was me. But maybe it wasn’t.
It’s so difficult to judge wisely in these situations. So often we blame another person, or a faceless corporation, or “The Universe” and then come to realize it was our fault; or we blame ourselves and then realize that responsibility might actually lie elsewhere.
Even more often, I think, we discover that the truth is often a messy combination of the two: it’s not exactly anyone’s fault, but It just is. And perhaps that’s the hardest thing of all to swallow; we’d prefer blame to be divided up neatly so that everyone can take responsibility and fix the part they’re responsible for – or at least do better next time.
As a mom of special needs kids I can relate to that discomfort with the It just is scenario. When something happens that seems to have no explanation, it’s hard to accept that it’s just how things are, with no blame attached.
Jesus’ disciples appeared to feel the same way when they observed a blind man and then asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ reply was telling: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3) The point wasn’t who was responsible, but what the outcome might be. When it comes to situations where there’s no fault involved, we’re challenged to look for a deeper meaning and purpose behind the reality we face.
Taking Responsibility Without Placing Blame
And in situations where there might actually be fault involved, the Bible has some advice as well:
“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” (Galatians 6:2-5.)
Testing our own actions and recognizing when we are not what we think we are: all that takes humility. It also takes wisdom – and again the Bible gives help in that area, promising that “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
I know I need wisdom to discern what I’m responsible for, what I’m not, and what is just a fact of reality that I can’t change and that has a deeper purpose beyond what I can see. I’m thankful that when we ask, God promises to give us that wisdom, without finding fault.
Without finding fault. Wow. Those three words alone are worth another post …
*Julius Caesar, Act I, scene 2.