Focus: Taking ownership
Matthew 7:3-5 (NKJV) And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Human nature has a way of distorting our view of reality. If something we own is missing—it’s easy to imagine it might have been stolen. When things go wrong—we wonder whose fault it is. I have a humorous, humiliating story on this topic.
Several years ago, I signed up for a ten week summer film photography class. The classes took place one night a week at a local camera shop, in a special classroom they had created for that purpose. The room was outfitted with a projection screen and projector and thirty or so metal folding chairs for the students.
I was working full time and was always on a tight schedule. Normally, I picked up fast food on the way to the class and ate in the car as I drove to get there.
Each week, we were given assignments on a particular type of photography or subject matter. We had to take pictures and drop the film off at the shop in advance, so they could have the slides developed and ready for the next lesson. A typical class consisted of a slideshow and discussion of the work we submitted, a lecture from the instructor, and a new assignment. I was in the habit of keeping a tote bag in my car with my tablet and pen inside the bag for taking notes. By leaving it in the car, there would be no chance of showing up for class unprepared.
One week, I grabbed my tote bag out of my trunk and scrambled into class. Within just a few minutes, the lights were out and we were all looking at the photos on the screen from that week’s assignment. Not long after I settled in and started watching the slideshow, I noticed a terrible smell in the room. I couldn’t put a finger on what kind of odor it was—only that it was really gross. I squinted my eyes in the darkened room and inspected the people seated in front of me one by one. I looked up and down the row wondering who in the world was responsible for that terrible odor. I could hardly focus on the slide show because the smell was so distracting.
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Finally, the lights went back on. The instructor asked us to take out our notebooks signaling the start of his lecture leading up to the following week’s assignment. I leaned forward and picked my canvas bag up off the floor. When I opened the zipper—I was hit with a putrid stench that almost knocked me out. The humility I felt is impossible to describe, as to my horror, I saw the paper bag containing the leftover fish and chips I hadn’t eaten from the week before. It had been riding in my trunk all week fermenting and decaying in the summer heat.
I was up out of my chair and out the door of the classroom in a flash—looking for a dumpster where I could dispose of the awful mess.
At this point in time, I don’t remember anything about the photography instructor’s lecture that night, but I learned a much more important lesson I will never forget. God allowed that crazy thing to happen to make me realize that when something ‘reeks’—I shouldn’t assume the smell is coming from someone else. Sometimes when I think somebody else has a problem—maybe the real problem is me.
It’s not easy to admit we could be the problem. We’d so much rather think the blame belongs to anyone else by us. It’s pretty normal to imagine all our struggles, depression, dependency, and the rest are because of what others have done to us—but the truth is, we are the one with the rotten fish in our tote bag.
By holding onto stuff that should have been disposed of long ago—the whole mess has started to stink to high heaven. We can’t even take a deep breath without inhaling the foul air of our circumstances. The only way the smell is going to go away, is if we get rid of it and stop carrying it around with us. When we let it go, our load will be lighter, the stench will leave, and before long—the air will clear.
It’s true—we aren’t the only one with a problem. Other people have problems, too. We just have to make sure that we aren’t thinking our problems are really their problem. We shouldn’t expect someone else to take care of the mess we’ve made—we need to take ownership of our own mess and keep moving forward.
Declaration: I will find new strength by accepting responsibility for the smell coming from my tote bag. I will stop blaming other people for my problems and start paying more attention to my own life and how I can improve with God’s help.
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