Being passive is a common struggle. There are times when things happen to us or around us and we simply don’t respond. We take it on the chin. Rather than speaking up or taking action we are tempted to shrug our shoulders and say, “It is what it is.” We may even attempt to spiritualize our ongoing passive behavior as the virtue of patience, when in reality we’re just uncomfortable confronting the person about the issue. But choosing not to act at all is not always a loving or God-honoring choice.
A few examples may be helpful. In the moment it may seem easier as a parent to ‘let kids be kids’ when they misbehave. But does it really help them if we allow their bad behavior and attitudes go unchecked? Surely their teachers, family and future spouse would all benefit if you did the hard work of lovingly correcting your kids. Or maybe you’re on the receiving end of biting criticism from a colleague, parent, friend or spouse, and rather than being honest with them you figure it’s best to let things go. So, how’s that working for you? Odds are, you get optimistic and breathe a sigh of relief when they choose another target. But that doesn’t last long, and in time they start in on you again. And it hurts deeply and you become bitter. But what would happen if you chose to speak up and be honest with them about how their words have hurt you?
Consider one last example of passive behavior. Let’s say you haven’t seen a particular friend for a few weeks now, and although they are noticeably absent and on your mind, you assume the best and never reach out. But the truth is that they aren’t okay. In fact they are really struggling and aren’t in a good place, but everyone has mistakenly assumed they are fine, and no one has actually called to see how they’re doing. In each of these examples our failure to act may have enduring and far-reaching consequences.
So what keeps us from acting? At the root of our passivity we may find fear, anxiety, depression or we simply may not know what to do. Whatever the root cause may be, let me encourage you to contact a trusted friend or wise counselor for help. God has put people in your life for this very reason, so let them come alongside you as you seek to grow in this area of your life.
Let me suggest a couple of questions to help you discern when and how to take action. First, what is your role in the relationship? If you’re the parent, you have a special, God-given role in your child’s life to provide, protect, nurture and discipline. If you’re the child, you have a very different role in the family. Are you the employer or the employee? Are you dating or is the person your spouse? Your role is critical, and so is the other person’s. You can only do your part. Once you’ve identified your role, then you must ask what is your responsibility in the relationship or circumstance? If you’re the parent, you are responsible to feed, clothe and shelter your kids. But you don’t have the same responsibility for friends and neighbors. You may be called upon to help them financially, but ultimately they are responsible for their light bill, not you. Again, you have certain responsibilities in the relationship and so do they. They will be held accountable for their words or actions, and you will be responsible for yours.
Thankfully Scripture helps us understand the roles and responsibilities we have in different relationships. In Ephesians 5 – 6 Paul addresses several important relationships in our lives. From Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9 he describes the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and employers and employees. He doesn’t give an exhaustive explanation of the different roles and responsibilities in each relationship, but he does give us some clear instructions. So call your trusted friend, carefully how to take action given your particular role and responsibilities, and ask God to empower you by his Spirit to follow through. In Christ you are response-able. You don’t have to remain passive anymore.