Finishing Faithfully 8.0: Authority and Responsibility
Authority and Responsibility
Finishing Faithfully 8.0
One summer day several years back, I walked to our kitchen sink to rinse my hands and noticed through the window two of my favorite teenagers standing in our back yard next to the pool in their bathing suits with a large towel stretched over both their heads, kissing and hugging very romantically.
I also noticed their bathing suits were very skimpy and this whole situation was probably ultimately not very wholesome for them, especially at their young ages. My first thought was…I will tell Ron when he gets home and he will know how to handle this. He is great at handling crucial conversations and working through awkward situations.
But then I thought…I am the one who is home right now witnessing this. Wouldn’t I be shirking my responsibility to hand it off to him? And perhaps the whole issue could feel blown out of proportion if he had to re-gather the two teenagers (from different neighborhoods) to talk about this later.
So I called out the door to the kids that I was making snacks. When they came in and sat down at the counter, we ate and chatted for a while. Then I broached the subject of how much in love they seemed and we talked about setting up physical boundaries to safeguard their relationship and keep it healthy at their young age. I’m sure my conversational style was not as smooth or as fun as my husband’s would have been. And the teenagers probably felt pretty awkward. But I did have an inner sense that I had lived up to my responsibility at the moment, even if not perfectly.
Recently, I read a statement that prompted me to think back to that difficult conversation…and to many others I have had over the years. In their book Whatever the Cost, David and Jason Benham write, “Authority follows responsibility. The way to receive authority is to stand in your proper place of responsibility. If you abandon your responsibility, you forfeit your authority.” (p. 143)
Of course, I wasn’t looking for authority or respect at all. But as the homeowner, as a neighborhood parent, and as an adult who loved these two teenagers, I did actually have authority over what happened on our property and responsibility to demand at least a certain level of decorum. And perhaps even more important…as an adult who cared about them, I could share values that would ultimately protect and bless them.
As I thought about it, I have been in a number of situations where one person witnessed something that needed correcting, but did not take up his or her rightful mantle of responsibility. As humans, we all have times when we feel fearful of saying the wrong thing or displeasing others. Yet what I have seen happen when a person consistently leaves challenging discussions and difficult responsibilities to someone else is…the passive person unintentionally forfeits his or her rightful authority.
For example, I’ve seen this happen to a father who passed all important discussions with his teenager to her mother. Eventually the teen bypassed him on every important piece of news she had to share. Although passing off responsibility looked like the easier way at first, it ultimately cheated him not only of authority but also of a richer relationship with his daughter.
As I grow older, I am seeing more and more clearly that authority is a gift to be taken seriously and handled with care. It’s never a perk to lord over others, but rather it’s an opportunity to demonstrate character, serve responsibly, and treat others with dignity. Properly used authority actually blesses and protects those under it.