Often we need an interruption to move us to take fuller responsibility for our lives. If we do not take responsibility in these moments, we often end up shifting the blame to others or to events beyond our control. Sometimes the interruption comes in the form of a traumatic experience such as the breakdown of a close relationship, the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. These experiences shake us up. My first assignment as a priest ended with this kind of trauma.
I had been assigned to an older pastor for over two years. He was a smart man whose frugality and need to control often overtook his common sense. It was always a strain to get money out of him to pay for new ministries or even postage. Then he suddenly retired at the age of seventy-four.
The next pastor was a priest with whom I had been familiar for many years. I thought him as a friend. It turned out that he had little use for me, my opinions, or my pastoral programs. Within a year he found an excuse to tell me to leave the parish, saying that I had “angered” a lot of people. I was crestfallen. He had been good at masking his dislike for me. I knew that this black mark on my reputation—not seeing one’s first assignment to completion—would follow me to my next assignment. I knew that complaining to the diocese would be of no use since he had many friends in high places.
Eventually I turned the situation around into one of taking fuller responsibility in my life and learning from the experience. Of course I felt angry that someone I had considered a friend misjudged me and that he used his authority in a blatantly arbitrary and disrespectful way. Instead of brooding, however, I took the action of seeking a new assignment with a positive attitude, leaving behind any feelings of being victimized. I focused on what I knew I had to offer and eventually found a parish I fit into. It remains the one assignment for which I have the fondest memories as Associate Pastor.
Can you recall a similar kind of situation in your life where you felt blame, either toward yourself or another? These experiences carry with them much disappointment and anger. It is difficult but possible to view such incidents as opportunities to ask ourselves, rationally, “How was I responsible and what can I learn from this?” “How and why did I attract this into my life?” “What is this teaching me about myself?”
It is a win-win situation when you can refrain from blaming and instead seek a deeper understanding of how you are responsible for outcomes in your life. You can change the negative and self-destructive feedback into positives. This can add value to your life as you develop the art of nuance and learn to know where your role begins and ends in a situation that seems at first to have gone bad.
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