Maybe We’re Responsible for Too Much

Figuring out what matters matter

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Obligations

I’m on the board for my local homeowners’ association (HOA).  It’s not at the top of my list when it comes to ways in which I identify but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It just is what it is.  I joined because Joe, the board president, is my neighbor.  About a year ago he came to my house and asked if I’d be willing to fill a seat.  When I asked him what the role required, he said it basically meant checking my email periodically and voting on some decisions, to which I agreed.

Joe does the vast majority of the work that needs to be done in order to fulfill the HOA’s commitment to homeowners to ensure an environment that is both desirable to live in and desirable to own an asset within.  That work includes covenant enforcement, community communication, and accounting/bookkeeping.

I asked Joe to come by today because I wanted a better understanding of what’s required of the HOA.  I wanted to to know what would need to be done if Joe got hit by a bus, and more so, I wanted to alleviate some of the pressure on Joe’s shoulders, despite the limited room I have in my life to take on new things.

Joe was kind enough to explain to me how we do our accounting; how we receive payments, pay vendors, reconcile accounts, assess late fees, maintain receipts, etc.  There were certainly moments when my eyes glazed over and my mind wandered to less demanding places, but for the most part I kept with him.  I’ve worked in accounting in the past and used personal budgeting software for most of my adult life, so I felt I had an advantage, though I can definitely sympathize with those would say they simply zone out completely when reviewing things like cash flow reports or an income/expense review.

My takeaway: there’s more to it than I thought.  I assume most homeowners are similar to myself in that they pay their monthly dues and leave it at that.  We assume it’s not that complicated.  You, oh evil HOA, take my money, leave me alone, and shovel the sidewalks.  Make sure the community grass gets mowed and send me a letter that I’ll burn when I get lazy and don’t pull in my trash cans.

The truth is that there’s a quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes in order to make the ship run smoothly.  Suffice to say though that Joe’s volunteer service to our community is drastically underappreciated.

Stepping Back a Few Steps

This got me thinking,  not about expressing appreciation for Joe, though I should think about that, but rather about responsibilities, and how many responsibilities the typical full-time working, tax-paying, Facebook-updating American man or woman tries to maintain on a daily basis.

I don’t have a very complex life, I think.  My friend, Matt, has a lot of responsibilities.  He has a wife, a full-time job, three kids, church-type responsibilities, community responsibilities, extended family responsibilities, and probably some other things going on while I, by comparison, have two dogs and a lawn I neglect.  And a broken marriage.

Like Matt and many American men though, I also have a home, bills, an aging body, complicated relationships, desires, dreams, a faith, friends, family, bills, dirty floors, a cluttered garage, neighbors, unread books, social media accounts, a blog, unfinished projects, appointments, trash cans, a high-mileage vehicle, bills, an unchanged air filter, an empty fridge, a seat at church, laundry, dirty dishes, unwritten books, ungiven gifts, unmade money, unassigned time, an ever-dying phone, unused potential, an underused gym membership, and overused XBox Live subscription, undeveloped political opinions, unadopted children, unprayed prayers, unused vitamins, unstretched muscles, bills, and a seemingly ever-increasing list of other societal demands and expectations that I sometimes–no, oftentimes–choose to ignore rather than wrangle.  Because it’s a lot, and I’m tired.  Or at least that’s what I say to justify my choice to check out.

I don’t care about a lot of this stuff.  I mean, I know I should care, and I do, sort of.  I care about my Mom and Dad, and my salvation, and the salvation of those I love, and I want my desires to be God’s desires.  I want to read my Bible, and I want to have good conversations with good friends over good drinks and good food.  I want to be financially stable, and I want to be a responsible man.  But sometimes–like when I’m looking at what it means to be a responsible member of my HOA board–I can’t help but wonder; does this matter?

In the example of the HOA, what we (and by we I mean, Joe) basically do is work to make sure Jim Bob doesn’t park his truck on his lawn, and Betty Boo doesn’t paint her house pink, because we promised the other owners we’d hold the line against owners who might be temped to act a fool.  Full disclosure: my lawn needs mowing.

But what if we didn’t?  This is a question I ask often, and I think it’s a good one to not only ask, but play out.  What if we didn’t do what the HOA does?  What if I don’t read my Bible?  What if I don’t go to counseling?  What if I don’t walk the dogs, pay the bills, go to work and spend time with friends?

Well then there would be consequences.  Choices often render changes, and while I could judge those consequences as good or bad based on society’s expectations, the fact is that I don’t know the entirety of the story, which makes it hard to say what was for the better and what was for the worse.

For example, I made bad choices that led to the deterioration of my marriage, but in the time since she left I’ve made–by God’s grace–some of the most important growth in an area of my life where I’ve needed it for a long time, and that is good.  Does that make my bad choices good?  I don’t think so.  But it does humble the judge in me.

My point

Maybe we’re responsible for too much, and maybe all those responsibilities sometimes distract us from what matters.  I would suggest that eternal salvation matters most, because if it is true, nothing matters more, but that is not to say that date nights and time with kids and time in school and mowing your lawn isn’t also important.  You don’t get to be a shitty husband because you’re such a great guy at church.  But keeping things in their proper place is important so as not to become too anxious about temporary situations.

My encouragement to you and to myself is that we would begin and/or continue to take time to step back and take stock of what matters, lest we get wrapped into the meaningless minutia.

But What Are You Doing About It?

Personally, regularly, and consistently.

There are many good changes to be sought, but complainers aren’t typically leaders.  So how are you personally contributing to the change you hope to see?

Float Story

In 2009, I was deployed aboard the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).  I was a Corporal, and as such had deemed myself worthy of having a critical opinion of just about anything and everything Marine-Corps related.  My command, my company, and the Marine Corps infantry as a whole were common targets.

In reality, I had a very narrow view of the Corps.  There were many things that I didn’t know, and while my frustrations weren’t necessarily unwarranted, they were exaggerated.

So when it came time to create a “float book,” or a deployment-style high school yearbook, I naturally rolled my eyes.  Not long thereafter, I found out that I would be assigned the responsibility of organizing my platoon’s picture page in the yearbook.

So, being me, I invested some considerable time in developing the wittiest captions I could muster up.  I did so unaware that our company commander, a former infantry-enlisted Corporal himself, would be personally reviewing each platoon’s submissions.

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Fighting to Train

My witty caption beneath a photo of a few Marines on line, aiming in on targets, was a proud creation in which I flipped the common military phrase, ‘training to fight,’ so that it instead read, ‘fighting to train,’ which I personally thought provided for a much more accurate description of our training climate.  My CO wasn’t quite so amused.

Having summoned me to his office, the CO could have just chewed my ass and sent me on my boot way, quite rightly.  However, I remain grateful that he instead took a moment to hear me out.  He appreciated his non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and compassionately allowed me to vent my frustrations about our hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle and check-in-the-box training.

Captain Morosoff empathized with me that day, and then he asked me:

But what are you doing to fix it?  What are you personally doing about it other than bitching and moaning and making witty remarks?

That landed.

Sometimes I wish my pastor would say the same thing, because enjoyable and convenient as it is to chuck sarcastiballs from the bleachers, saying this is how it should and this is what you people should be doing, it’s not constructive.  And in reality, I’d probably do the same thing or worse of a job if in their position.

Takeaway

It’s not wrong to be frustrated, or to desire change.  But before we criticize our wives, our children, our employers, and our churches, maybe we ought to consider whether or not we’ve actually done anything personally to foster a difference.

I want the church to be more disciple-making oriented, but am I disciple-making oriented?  Can the church look at my life and not need me to say a word in order to see an example of disciple-making?  Can my wife spare the lecture from me on how she ought love and respect me, and instead see me loving and respecting her?  Or am I just talking?

If it’s wrong and it can be made right, what beyond moaning and groaning am I personally doing about it?  And if I’m not doing something to make the change I want to see, what can I start doing that doesn’t require the permission or endorsement of someone else?