“It’s not my fault.”
Those all-too familiar words echo regularly through my hallways. I hear them from my daughters when they break something. Or are late for a curfew. Or forget their homework.
According to my girls, they are not responsible. Someone else is to blame. The infraction was unavoidable. If it were up to them, things would have been different.
I wish this Teflon attitude were restricted to my daughters, but unfortunately I’ve modeled it well. I’m hesitant to take responsibility for my mistakes-so I subtly accuse others instead. Of course, I can blame Adam and Eve for this weakness. In the Garden, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for their disobedience. And Adam even implicated God.
I’m open to implicating any likely suspect as evidenced by a damning discovery I made last week. While cleaning out a drawer, I unexpectedly found a treasured ring, one that I’d assumed had been stolen. It was a gift from my parents, with great sentimental value, and had been missing for a while.
Months earlier, when I first discovered it was gone, I had searched diligently for it. But when I remembered that contractors had been working near my bedroom the last time I saw it, I quickly assumed they had taken it.
I couldn’t imagine any other way my ring could have disappeared. Though I didn’t accuse the contractors directly, I vowed never to use their company again and stopped looking for the ring. I imagined it was long gone, sold to a pawnshop and untraceable.
Months later, I recoiled when I found my beloved ring. It was incontrovertible evidence that I had been wrong. And had even wronged others in the process. Rather than joy, I felt horror. A vastly different emotion from the woman in the Bible who found her lost coin. Upon her discovery, she immediately called her friends and neighbors to rejoice at its restoration.
I, on the other hand, did not call anyone upon finding my ring. Instead I mentally catalogued all the people I had told of my unreliable workers. Embarrassed and ashamed, I stared at my ring for hours, guilt ridden. I had suspected, tried and convicted innocent people with no evidence. And after their conviction, I never once supposed that I was the guilty party. Until I was proven wrong.
I wish this were an isolated incident, but to my discredit it’s not. It merely highlighted an existing problem. I am quick to blame others for my mistakes.
When I lose my temper with my children, it’s never my fault. They provoke me. When I forget to follow up with a friend who’s struggling, it’s not my fault. I am busy. When I’m late to a meeting, it’s not my fault. Traffic is unpredictable.
I want to ensure no one blames me. While this is not a conscious desire, it is evident from my actions and attitudes. Even in admitting a mistake and apologizing, I often follow up with an explanation. An explanation that deflects the blame from me. Anyone would suspect strangers working in their home. I’m not sinful and short tempered with my children. Or a thoughtless friend. Or a poor manager of time.
It’s easier to attribute my failings to my circumstances, misunderstandings and even other people. I’m not responsible for the outcome. I’m the victim, not the perpetrator. I’m just responding as best I can to difficult circumstances. There were no alternatives.
And the minute I believe those lies, I destroy any chance of real change. Real change starts with admitting my sin. Acknowledging my hard heart. Accepting responsibility for my choices. And bringing all of it to the cross.
Without the power of the cross, I cannot be set free.
And because of the cross, I am no longer bound to the past. He shows me that it is possible to train my daughters and model grace. My anger never helps. I can prioritize my friends and not be so self-focused. They are more important than my tasks. I can leave earlier for appointments and account for traffic. Other people don’t need to wait for me.
Since finding the ring, I have had an ongoing dialogue with the Lord about what He wants to me to learn from this incident. He has shown me the myriad subtle and not-so-subtle ways I blame others for my failings. I don’t want my mistakes exposed, or honestly, even to admit them to myself. I don’t like being wrong, seeing my sin, admitting my weaknesses.
The root of those sins is pride. I sometimes mask it with a veneer of polite humility. After all, Christians are supposed to admit their pride. It sounds humble. But deep down I always want to be right, and cringe when my sinful heart is exposed.
This week, the Gospel became fresh to me again. My heart is wicked and deceitful. I bring no righteousness of my own. When I understand that, really understand it, then I am unafraid of having my deepest thoughts and actions exposed. I am free to admit my fault because I can’t stand on my own righteousness anyway. Everything good in me is pure grace.
And because of Jesus, not only am I forgiven, I am being changed. I am not trapped in my sinful patterns. I have been given a new nature.
Remembering my once lost ring no longer brings me horror and shame. Now it brings me joy and gratitude. First, that I have recovered something precious to me. Second, and more importantly, that the Lord revealed a weakness that He is redeeming.
Because my sin is forgiven at the cross, I can take responsibility for my mistakes, both accidental and willful. Without shame.
I am trying to eradicate my default assumption that I am right and righteous in all situations, replacing it with the truth that I am a forgiven sinner who makes mistakes. As He is conforming me to His image, I am confident that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.
There’s no greater hope in the world.