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Responsible = Response + Ability

I’m a conflict avoider. If I have a difficult conversation coming up with someone, I have a hard time thinking about anything else. My stomach turns. My sleep is restless. I would do just about anything to re-route my plans in order to sidestep the conflict. Maybe you’re like that as well.

In his book, Chase the Lion, Mark Batterson recounts the time he took a course called Story Seminary from the great screenwriter, Robert McKee. Of all the lessons learned, he said his biggest takeaway was this overarching observation: No conflict, no story. Every epic movie requires an epic conflict. That’s what makes the movie epic!

What’s true of movies is also true of life. “Great conflict cultivates great character” (21). Growth requires change, which necessitates conflict. Epic returns demand epic investment. These maxims can completely transform how you encounter conflict.

In the Story Seminar, McKee teaches that every storyline has defining moments, what he calls “inciting incidents.” These are points of no return—tipping points that force the characters to act or re-act, and those actions determine the ensuing plot.

These inciting incidents are either beyond your control or within your control. Either way, the one thing you can control is your reaction. There are circumstances in your life right now for which you are not responsible, but you are always “response-able.” You are able to choose how you will respond to your conflicts and circumstances.

Over the past few years I’ve had to process through a lot of conflict. Do you remember that I said I’m a conflict avoider? So, life has been filled with numerous inciting incidents, some for which I am not responsible. But I am response-able. I can choose how to turn conflict into character. And so can you.

Some of your inciting incidents are positive, like getting a new job or buying a new house. Others are negative, like losing your job or finding out you have cancer. But don’t judge the cover of your conflict too quickly. Beneath the surface, it may be that your negative incidents actually lead to great blessing, and your positive incidents could have some negative side affects.

That’s why we live by faith and not by sight. What we deem a success may lead to future failure. And the way we manage failure may lead to future success. All we can do is keep believing, keep trusting and keep moving on.

I have a note I keep posted on my desk that reads, “Let go. Learn as you go. Keep going, no matter what” (Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains). I look at it every day to remind me that whatever inciting incidents I may face, my destiny is determined more by cultivating courage than by avoiding conflict. I may not always be responsible for what happens, but I am response-able. And so are you.

In the story of your life, maybe you need to take your next step in moving forward in faith. As is often said, “You can’t steal second base if you keep your foot on first.” So, be of courage. Be response-able. Your epic challenges can lead to epic victories.

“And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up” (Galatians 6:9, TLB).

Stop Comparing and Start Living

Have you ever played the game called “Compare”? Here’s how it’s played. You live in a decent home, but it’s nothing like John’s. You drive an okay car, but you wish you had one like Susan. You’re pretty happy with your job, but if you had a job like Martha, then you’d really be content.

There’s only one rule to the game: Always compare yourself to “more” and never to “less.” Preachers play this game by comparing their church to the one with more members. Business leaders play by comparing their income level to a friend with more money. Moms play by comparing themselves to other moms who seem to have more motherly skills or more ability to keep the house clean, cook delicious meals, and help with the kids’ homework—all at the same time.

The winner of the game is the one who wastes the most time and energy on wishing life was better, resulting in exhaustion, discontentment, and discouragement. The winner of the game actually turns out to be the loser in life.

I find myself playing this game every time I listen to someone else preach, and I say, “Wow, I wish I could preach like that.” Or I read someone’s book, and I think, I could never write like that—so profound and inspirational. I play the game well. I never compare the size of the church I serve to a smaller one down the road. I never compare my writing skill to someone who has never written a word in his life. My problem—and maybe this is yours as well—is that I find myself winning at the game and losing at life.

Heed the words of this wise counsel from John Calvin. In order to protect ourselves from our anxieties, misguided cravings, and misplaced comparisons, we need to accept that we all have our “own kind of living assigned to [us] by the Lord as a sort of sentry post, so that [we] may not heedlessly wander about throughout life” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.10).

Sometimes it’s hard not to look at someone else’s life and wish it were yours. It’s difficult to find contentment in “our kind of living assigned by the Lord.” Faithfulness to your calling leads to contentment in your living. We all need these “sentry posts” to help us stay anchored—not chained—to living in our boat and not wishing we were in someone else’s.

Your current calling may not be your final destination. It may be that God is leading you to a new assignment. Contentment is not complacency; it is finding peace in your circumstances while always seeking the God who makes all things new.

Stop comparing and start completing. Make it your aim to complete your assignment and not worry about the assignments of others. Grow where you’re planted. For God’s purposes, He has you where you are for now. Since He gave you your assignment, then your work must matter to Him. That means you have “mattering work” to do right where you are. Stop being restless and naively imagining that if you had someone else’s assignment, you would be happier or more significant. Your work matters to God, so fulfill your work as unto the Lord, and stop playing the “Compare” game. If you win the game, you lose at life.

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11b).

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