- Responsibility through our failures

My children attended a public primary school, where, as you entered the grounds, amidst the vast stretches of verdant ovals, four flags stood tall and proud. Each bore a word, representing the core values of the school. The word 'responsibility' prominently stood out among them. As a parent, and more so as a father, this word resonates deeply with me. Responsibility is, after all, our mantle to bear. If we, as guardians, falter in our responsibilities, how can we expect children to uphold the same values?

Yet, the harsh reality is that many of us, myself included, have faltered at times. It's easy to convince ourselves that we've done our bit by providing for our children, paying the bills, preparing their meals, keeping a clean home, or driving them to their sporting practices. But our duty as parents goes beyond these everyday tasks.

Consider the tale of Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived during the late 11th century. For much of his early life, he harbored a deep revulsion towards lepers. It was only after enduring almost a year in a prison cell in Umbria in 1202, stripped of his wealth, separated from his family, and plagued by ill health, that a profound transformation occurred. Amidst that engulfing darkness, a glimmer of enlightenment shone. Once, during a solitary walk outside Assisi, he encountered a leper. Instead of recoiling in disgust, as he would have in the past, he felt a surge of compassion, recognizing the divine in the face of the destitute. Drawn by this newfound love, Francis embraced and kissed the leper, seeing in him the embodiment of Jesus.

This anecdote compels us to reflect: Which aspects of our lives do we dread, struggle with, or sidestep altogether? It's in grappling with these very challenges, adversities, and evasions that we encounter God's visage in its fullest form.

The Book of Genesis beckons us to face these facets of our existence head-on, to 'have dominion, to work it and till it' (2:15). Speaking candidly, as a father, there are elements I grapple with, parts I shirk from, situations I feel ill-prepared to handle. Often, when my children confront emotional turbulence, my instinct is to retreat. Just yesterday, as I attempted to assist my son with his math homework, his rising frustration erupted into tears. My patience waned, and once again, I felt the urge to distance myself from the emotional turmoil. Though I tried several times. I eventually gave in to this impulse, leaving the scene with a heavy heart, feeling like a failure on multiple fronts.

Then I think of Jesus Christ on the Cross. At that moment it would seem he had failed. Do Christians realise we are worshiping a failure? But, it is precisely in this moment that responsibility can emerge. I no longer felt as though I had fully failed, because I had stayed and tried and tried. On the outside it would seem I had failed, but in my heart, I had changed.

For me I need help. I cannot do this alone. I need to use my failures as motivation to seek that something more. To realise in me a greater degree of who I am. The part which is missing. Maybe through counselling. Maybe through looking towards others, to show me how, to take on more responsibility. Maybe to show me how to deal with negative emotions in others.

Thus, responsibility does not start with my children. It starts with me. Therein lies the face of God.

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29 October 2023

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