How to know your responsibility from an obligation

My mind flew back to the struggle we had a week earlier, as Phil and I had tackled the profuse overgrowth of the kitchen gable wisteria.

What triggered this recollection?

It was the question posed midweek by Matt, the leader of my local church community,

“What areas of your life do you feel God is pruning?”

Keen to do my bit – despite little talent for gardening, I had climbed onto the kitchen roof that scorching afternoon, secateurs in hand. Getting down to a low point of gravity eased some of my nervousness about losing a footing on the pitched roof. The baking concrete tiles seared my stomach as I pressed into them, lying awkwardly in a mixture of caution and urgency to limit any burn-damage to my skin. I leaned over the eaves to tug and cut away at the embedding tendrils. Clouds of herbage dust tested my sneeze reflex as finally, the canopy drooped reluctantly away from its moorings.

Now at ground level, I could reach the leaning branches and withered tendrils. Soon it was apparent I had tackled this tree without foresight. Certain Youtube video advice was to count the number of buds to determine each cut. Applying this soon degenerated into random reaching, grabbing and decimating of the convoluted mass of whips.

Clumsy efforts to refresh our tree

Phil saw it coming.

The trunk – a child’s leg in diameter – began to peel away from the wall, bowing precariously toward the patio. Urging me to shore it up for a few moments he temporarily angled a solid plank-prop, deeply drove a few screws into the supporting wall and anchored the wisteria safely with nylon rope. Just one or two boughs had twisted and split under the torque.

Of course, any experienced gardener would have tackled this in a completely different sequence. Now, I realised – with the benefit of hindsight. If I had only trimmed the main branches before severing the wisteria’s grip on the eaves! The top-heavy load had nearly bent the spine double, my ill-thought through chore nearly costing the tree’s life.

Responsibility or Obligation?

My answer to Matt’s question above is this.

I have begun to distinguish the difference between obligation and responsibility.

Due to the social distancing guidance we are asked to respect, many activities and even more people have been pruned from my life. Some of this or them I miss and some I do not.

OK, this is temporary (Though how long temporary is, we don’t’ know).

But it has raised questions. Do I want or need to go back to this or that or them?

Responsibility is the task of any tree-trunk.

Weight-bearing and rooted, noble and empowering it supports every cycle and season of life. However, there may be times it may rely too much on the wall of its environment. When everything familiar is cut away, it lists perilously without the equivalent of strength for its height. So, as life hands you the secateurs of loss and change, maybe you too are about to get rid of the excess weight of obligation?

Then, the trunk of responsibility can thrive securely.

May I suggest you carefully decide what you will go back to (and what you won’t) by this one distinction.

To know what is your responsibility and what is an obligation?

Responsibility being a primary cause, obligation is a secondary response to a constraining law.

Sometimes your obligations look mighty fruitful – but would they bend your life double if your wall of security were taken away? Maybe you too, are finding this out.

Note, nothing is ‘my’, or ‘your’ obligation, just ‘an’obligation.

So, if the obligation is not yours, take measures, even take responsibility to give them up or cut them off.

What are your two lists of responsibility and obligation?

Remember to thin off a little at a time, with all the support the plank of this strange season offers, until your new anchoring, posture and height is assured.

Do comment below,

Your friend, Gill

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