December 17, 2017
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Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. - Matthew 11:28

The symptoms of hyper-responsibility are obvious: a body wracked with stress, tension evident in the face, and a resigned attitude that overcomes barriers. The cause is less obvious, but the solution is straight forward: transformation by the renewing of the mind.

God told Adam and Eve to have dominion over every living thing on the earth. That great responsibility came with an equal measure of authority. There has to be a balance between these two things or godly stewardship is not possible.

Hyper-responsibility occurs when a person takes responsibility for things over which they do not have authority.

For instance, your authority over another person’s choices is limited by their free will. If you take responsibility for the choices they make you will find yourself in unresolvable conflict.

The solution is to release all responsibility for which you do not have control, and act in freedom to manage the things over which you have authority.

Responsibility Assigned

Why would anyone take responsibility that is not theirs to take? Sometimes they accepted it because they believed it was assigned to them by someone with greater authority.

Megan (*not her real name) was eleven when her older sister was killed in a car accident. A well intentioned aunt told her: “Don’t cry, you need to be strong for your little sister who looks up to you.”

Jordan* was six when his father sat him down to tell him about the divorce. What Jordan recalled about the conversation was: “Your mother and I can’t get along so I am leaving. That means you are the man of the house now. Help your mom out, Okay?”

Stephen* grew up in a house where shaming was used to control and no one wanted to take the blame. Responsibility was passed from one to another, and as the youngest member of the family it often rested on Stephen. He accepted it as his lot in life; it had always been that way.

Chrissy* was an energetic first-born. Whenever there was a problem between the siblings, her father assumed she was at fault. She learned to expect the punishment and accept the responsibility.

Marcus* was a compliant child and was well thought of in school. He had good grades to match his good reputation. His older sister and brother were independent to the point of rebellion. As Marcus grew, his parents often remarked that he was the smart one. They relied on him for household decisions even before he graduated from college. The identity fit Marcus, he know how to take on responsibility.

These are a few examples of how easily a person can accept the idea that he or she is a magnet for responsibility. Often the seeds for hyper-responsibility are sown in childhood. It may not have been the intention of the authority figure to place that unwarranted burden on someone, but the mindset is established nonetheless.

Responsibility Assumed

Sometimes people assume too much responsibility by their own choice.

Rachel* grew up in a home where her father ruled with an iron fist. His anger was unpredictable, especially when he had been drinking. Since Rachel was more sensitive than her brothers and sisters, she made it her responsibility to keep everything in order.

Chuck* was an only child. His mother was single and had to work two jobs to make ends meet. By the time Chuck was in middle school he had learned to do all the household chores, and once he could drive he was his mom’s right hand man. He was no stranger to responsibility.

Ted* was ten when his older brother died of cancer. The last few months were filled with pain, and his mother could hardly stand to see her son in that condition. Ted shared a bedroom with his brother, and in the middle of the night he would try to help so his mother would not wake up.

Darren* lived with his grandparents from infancy because his mother’s life was out of control. He decided to grow up quickly because the fear of rejection stuck with him. By the time he was twelve Darren vowed that he would never rely on anyone but himself.

These are a few examples of how easily a person decides to assume responsibility beyond his or her authority. The seeds of hyper-responsibility are sown in innocence but yield a harvest of stress and tension. This mindset becomes the person’s “normal” and is rarely questioned.

Effects of Hyper-Responsibility

The burden of excess responsibility takes a physical toll. The human body carries tension and stress in its muscular system. The tightening of the muscles strains the tendons, ligaments and bones. Over time it causes structural damage, often realized as back and joint pain. It can make a person susceptible to other injuries that seem unrelated, such as sciatica, bursitis, or pulled muscles.

Stress can be processed through the digestive system. Excess responsibility can cause “comfort eating” in some personalities, or food allergies in others. Hyper-sensitivity to certain foods can be an expression of the lack of balance in the area of responsibility and authority. It can make a person susceptible to ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, or other diseases.

The burden of excess responsibility takes an emotional toll. Chronic stress and tension puts the emotions on high alert. It can lead to resignation, hopelessness, and depression. Over time the nervous system can create a chemical imbalance as it tries to mitigate the constant strain.

Finally, the burden of excess responsibility takes a spiritual toll. Relationships between the hyper-responsible person and others can be strained by judgment, disappointment, or callousness. This person’s relationship with God is likely to come under similar attack.

Responsibility Appropriated

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. - 1 Peter 5:6-7

Hyper-responsibility is not resolved by passivity. The solution is to release the excess responsibility and act in freedom to manage the things over which you have authority. If you struggle with this condition, follow these steps to renew your mind.

First, recognize that taking responsibility that is not yours to take is a sin. “Thou shalt not steal” applies to taking responsibility from someone else. Ultimately, all authority and responsibility are God’s. That is why the verse above begins with a command to humble yourselves, and to cast all your anxieties (responsibilities) on Him.

Second, we undo the penalty of sin through a spiritual transaction of forgiving.

If you have assumed responsibility that was not yours to take, even if it was done out of innocence, confess it as sin to God and ask for His forgiveness.

If you were assigned excess responsibility by an authority in your life, even if it was unintentional, confess it as sin and tell God that you forgive that person.

Third, appropriate the responsibility according to the corresponding authority. Release to God the things that are His by casting all your cares on Him. Release to others the things that are theirs by virtue of their free will. Turn your open hands palms up to signify letting it go.

Finally, make a commitment to God and a witness that you will not pick up responsibility that belongs to someone else, but you will act in freedom to manage those things that have been placed under your control.

You have renewed your mind through these steps. Your new mindset will be that of a good steward, and your attitude will be changed to reflect the release of stress and tension. You can expect a new sense of joy and purpose with ever increasing faith. You can expect your body to regain vigor as you are able to direct energy toward living that was formerly hijacked by strain.

Enjoy the difference.

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