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Neighbor-Love, part 5: Accountability and Humility

We need someone who encourages us when we are tempted to give up, to forget it all, to just walk away in despair.  We need someone to discourage us when we move too rashly in unclear directions or hurry proudly to a nebulous goal.   — Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

What do you really know about your neighbor? Do you know what God has willed for him, or to what destiny he has been called?   –Johannes Tauler

Accountability is one of the greatest gifts of a life shared with other people working toward a common goal. As we strive to live according to the Gospels, to live responsibly on a given piece of land, to build local economy and community, we need other people to help us stay focused and faithful.

I have come, in time, to be grateful to people who have confronted me caringly and honestly when I wasn’t living according to what I professed: when I didn’t rest enough to work smart, and ended up hindering the work I said I cared about; when I let my dislikes, or my desire to be liked, get in the way of reaching out to my neighbors in the ways I’d said I meant to. Sometimes I knew what I was doing wrong but needed prompting to deal with it. Sometimes I was too close to the work to see what was wrong and I needed an outside eye. I try to offer this kind of accountability to other people whose aims make sense to me.

I have been wearied and frustrated when people tried to hold me accountable to their vision of what my life should be—when they told me that caring and intelligent people had to go to college and get influential professional work; when they told me that people who loved God had to worship and believe after the manner of their denomination. I usually try not to push my vision of the good life on other people, to remember that I don’t know what God wills for them. I try (not always successfully!) to live in a way that makes my values and choices clear, and to speak about them to people who seem interested, acknowledging both my doubts and my failings and the grace and strength that I have found so far.

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