Henry Cloud: ‘Responsibility to’ and ‘Responsibility for’

I’m enjoying a book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  Here’s a helpful distinction:

We are responsible to others and for ourselves. “Carry each other’s burdens,” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” This verse shows our responsibility to one another.

Many times others have “burdens” that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us. This is being responsible “to.”

On the other hand, Galatians 6:5 says that “each one should carry his own load.” Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load.”

The Greek words for burden and load give us insight into the meaning of these texts. The Greek word for burden means “excess burdens,” or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down. These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders — those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives.

In contrast, the Greek word for load means “cargo,” or “the burden of daily toil.” This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviours, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort.

Problems arise when people act as if their “boulders” are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their “daily loads” are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.

Lest we stay in pain or become irresponsible, it is very important to determine what “me” is, where my boundary of responsibility is and where someone else’s begins. The Bible tells us clearly what our parameters are and how to protect them, but often our family, or other past relationships, confuses us about our parameters.

In addition to showing us what we are responsible for, boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people. Nowhere are we commanded to have “other-control,” although we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get it!

Taken from the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

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