Today, accountability is something we try to stay away from for fear of appearing to be judgemental. We choose not to care about anyone’s actions but our own. However, this is not authentic love, for love is not passive. If I choose not to hold my brother or sister accountable to the highest good that I know they are called to for fear of being rejected or shunned, then I do not love them enough. And vice versa, if a friend of mine sees I need to hear something, they should out of love, tell me. Once again, I refer back to St. Thomas Aquinas, “To love is to will the good of another”. If I am truly going to will another’s good, then I must actively choose that good. I’m not saying it is easy, but it is necessary. The reason we need accountability to one another is that, not only do the Scriptures have much to say on the matter but also looking practically when others see a situation we are in they typically have a much more objective view than we do. And because of that, they can sometimes know better than we do at that moment. We should always be open to another person’s perspective and be willing to discern their advice. In this article, we’ll take a look at what Scripture teaches us about accountability, as well as what we can learn from our relationships.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up as you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)
I love mission, but it’s demanding, and you can find yourself getting tired quickly. If you don’t keep track, it’s easy to neglect giving time during your workday to prayer. At Pure in Heart, we rely heavily on the Sacraments and prayer. So, we give an hour each day to prayer before the Holy Eucharist. I know that when I’m tired, prayer is the first thing to go out the window. I’m also grateful to know that my team hold me accountable. There have been many times when my co-worker, Jason, has suggested I “go down and do a Holy Hour, it’ll do you good”. Each time it was suggested was at a moment when I didn’t want to do it, but I knew that he was right and could see clearer than I could that it would be good for me. And 9 times out of 10, I would make my way into the office afterwards rejoicing, thanking him when I saw him because sitting in front of Jesus for an hour was exactly what I needed. I could then share with him the fruits of the encounter I had with the Lord during that hour. Accountability doesn’t just look like hard conversations, it can be very small, wise suggestions made from love with the good of the other in mind. I can’t express how grateful I am to have people in my life who encourage me to strive for the greatest good, especially when I don’t want it.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Gal 6:1)
A common misconception about accountability is that it is an act of condemnation of the person. It’s not, it shouldn’t be. Accountability – especially in moments of correction – should come from a place of love, and believe it or not, gentleness. We should condemn sin, but love the person and remind them of the Father’s love for them. It should also ALWAYS come from a place of humility. St. Paul reminds us of our own weaknesses in the verse above from his letter to the Galatians. Each one of us is capable of sin, and we are certainly capable of pride, we should always bear that in mind when we look at others.
I recently had my own experience with this verse. A friend of mine called me asking for advice, seeking clarity about their suspicions that they had done something wrong. I quickly had to let them know that they had. It was an incredibly humbling experience. I really look up to my friends. I’m always thankful that my friends are dependable, but this encounter really opened my eyes to the gift of vulnerability in relationships from the perspective of the person being trusted in moments of vulnerability. I was reminded of my own brokenness because I could relate to the situation that they were in. I was able to share with them my own experience, along with the hope that God had given me since then and the prayer I had made at the time. I also pointed them to the fact that God is greater than our sins and nothing could stop the resurrection. This allowed me to meet them where they were and bring God to them at that moment. I sincerely encourage you to invite vulnerability into your relationships. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to have the freedom to be open about my weaknesses with those I love. And even more so when they are vulnerable with me. In our vulnerability, we open ourselves up to God’s merciful love revealed in another.
Take the Risk…
I know you’re probably reading this thinking, ‘those examples are nice, but I’m not in that situation with any of my relationships. How do I do that with someone I know truly doesn’t want to hear it, even if it is the right thing?’ Well, I’ve been there, too. I’ve lost and almost lost friendships time and again because I’ve given the truth that those I love haven’t wanted to hear. And I did so from a place of prayer and discernment, knowing it to be true. But let me tell you, it is worth the risk of losing someone you love, having loved them to the fullest extent possible, than to have sat back out of fear and kept the truth to yourself, knowing that someone you love could be making a mistake or doing something wrong. So, if you find yourself in that situation right now, I sincerely encourage you to take the risk. I know it’s not easy, but that person may be needing someone to show them what Christ looks like – truth and love.
I’ve always said I’m thankful for my friends outside the faith, they were my best friends growing up and my biggest support. That doesn’t mean things are always easy, though. We all have such different beliefs, coming from many different faith backgrounds. Last summer I was on the phone to one of my best friends and she was telling me about a potential relationship that she was really excited about. However, I could see some major red flags. I felt terrible telling her how bad it was, and why. It wasn’t something I could do lightly. I wanted her to be joyful and receive love, but I knew in this situation she wasn’t going to find it. I knew she needed a reminder of her own dignity and I gave her that, while still telling her what I thought was the right thing. She got off the phone furious with me. We didn’t talk for weeks. I had a lot of time to think about it afterwards and honestly, all I could do was pray for her and surrender it. I had to accept that if I lost her because I did the right thing, then it was worth it.
I didn’t know that, despite her anger, she had taken my advice. When she did, the guy’s response was, ‘be grateful you have a good friend’. They didn’t talk after that. I was surprised when she shared all this with me a few weeks later. She has shared that she knew what I had said was right, even if she didn’t want to hear it, and she was grateful. It turned out that she just hadn’t had the opportunity to get a hold of me afterwards (I was in the US at the time) and she wasn’t half as mad afterwards as I thought she had been. We have laughed a number of times at the situation since.
Be not afraid…
Pope Benedict XVI has said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness”. We weren’t made for comfort in our relationships, we were made to receive the greatest possible love. And we were made to love rightly in every relationship. Whenever I hear the phrase, “don’t settle”, it’s usually referring exclusively to romantic relationships, but it should apply to all. Don’t settle for relationships that can’t handle the weight of love. A quote from Pope St. John Paul II that has seen me through hard times is, “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied by mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch”. There are moments when, in order to love fully, we must put out our net and see if the relationship can handle the weight of truth and love. So, I encourage you, do not be afraid to take that risk, trust that the Lord will reveal Himself and His mercy in that situation.