"He made me do it"
"They got me angry"
It is a dance as old as time. We know it so well, we can do this jig in our sleep. Blaming. Shifting responsibility. Dodging the bullet. It is like second nature. It started with Adam and Eve, and has continued ever since.
Pick out any two kids fighting in the schoolyard. Ask one of them, "why are you saying those things? Why are you treating her like that?"
The answer always starts out the same way. "Well, it's because she...."
We love to blame the other person.
Lately I have been pondering a simple truth. It is a relational truth, a spiritual reality, a universal fact about people. What comes out of me is from me. What comes out of you is from you. We are so quick to credit our ugliness to outside influences. We pawn off our grumpy attitudes, our angry tirades, our bad spending habits on any possible source we can find.
Treating your wife badly? It's her fault, to be sure.
Stealing from your boss? The jerk deserves it, right?
Ignoring your kids? Grubbly little snots are too demanding anyways!
Rude to the cashier at Wal Mart? If they had shorter lines, I would be nicer!
Cheating on your taxes? The IRS takes too much anyways- they're all a bunch of bureaucratic thieves.
I could go on. The simple reality is that for every rotten attitude, for ugly thing we do, we have a reason. We are skilled at finding a person who is responsible, and it is not us! Any violent boyfriend will tell you that his girlfriend made him angry- she had it coming. Sadly, victims of domestic violence often agree. In all of the years I have worked with at-risk youth, I have broken up a lot of fights. I have never heard a single kid walk away from a conflict telling me about their own mistakes. Usually I get a recitation of what that jerk did and why 'it is not my fault.'
Jesus explained it this way. "every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." Simple. Profound. The stuff coming from me is mine. It reflects on me. It tells a story about me.
As I allow this deep truth to sink in, I am coming to realize that I need to change the way I interact with others in a significant way. Obviously, this principle encourages me to take ownership of the attitudes and actions that I produce on a daily basis. I need to own my stuff. But beyond that, it is helpful to apply this truth to others around me. How should I react when a friend treats me badly? When my spouse is angry? When someone is unkind, or takes advantage? What do I do with hurtful or ugly words that come my way? It is freeing to realize that the ugly stuff flowing from that person belongs to them, not me. Don't take ownership of someone else's rotten fruit, even if they're throwing it at you!
And finally, when you discover any stinky fruit in your own life, deal with it at the source. So many of us believe that a change in our circumstances will improve our lives. No wonder, when we blame our bad fruit on those very circumstances. Instead of looking for a change of scenery, I should ask Jesus to begin to do deep work in my life, so that I begin producing a different kind of fruit. Jesus is a master gardener, he knows how to restore my life and help me produce good things in every circumstance.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither--
whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1