I have heard the phrase “leave a place better than you found it” and have attempted to make it a motto for places I go and relationships I have, and over the years there are a few fundamentals I have learned that take this motto a step further. I speak as one who feels like the curtains were just opened for me or the sun is just dawning on these ideas, so I am in no way an expert. I speak as a learner, and a failure, someone who tries hard, and is okay with being imperfect, but will usually try again.
I was drinking from a to-go cup. There was delicious hot coffee inside and as I sipped my drink, it dribbled and dripped down my chin and onto my shirt. There was no obvious hole in my lip, or one that I could detect in the cup, but as I pulled the cup away from my mouth, my husband spotted the culprit. The lid was placed on the cup with the drink hole directly over the seam that held the cup together. The extra “bump” caused by the seam of the cup, created space for coffee to escape the drink hole and dribble down the side to my shirt. In a sense, I was set up for failure. Not on purpose, mind you, but because of the way the lid was placed.
There are a million ways besides coffee cups that we can set one another up for failure or success. From our homes, to our jobs, from our friends to our families, sometimes our negligence or lack of concern creates pitfalls and disasters for the people we associate with. By the same token, our attention to details, concern and follow through can be the difference in success or failure for those same people.
We have all worked with them: the people who complete most of their job, but leave a lot undone because they just don’t want to put out the extra effort it would take to complete it. Their incomplete work then becomes your hurdle, set-back, or problem to be added to your plate. The organizer is always lost when the disorganizer fails to put things back where they found it. The manager is usually putting in extra hours every week due to the failure of the employees to show up when scheduled, or complete their given tasks. Some people just don’t care.
What I find, is that scripture teaches that a “righteous man swears to his own hurt and doesn’t change.” (Psalms 15:4) Meaning, that whatever a righteous person comitts to do, he will finish even if it costs him or hurts him in the process of keeping his word and honoring his integrity. God did not call us to “half jobs”. His people will finish what they start if it is within their capability to do so.
In my home I found that if I am lax on the responsibilities I have given my kids, it sets me up to fail. I am over-worked, taken advantage of, and exhausted. My husband, in turn, is no longer successful in backing up my word with action because I let my word mean nothing. I set him up to fail as a husband and he in turn becomes the “bad guy” enforcing the rules I refused to set.
Every choice to be irresponsible has a consequence that someone in your life and mine is forced to absorb. The person who doesn’t show up to work on time or finish their work, leaves work for the other employees. Every volunteer who decides they are “not needed” and becomes a “no show” leaves a hole that someone else will have to fill. Even though Christians are big on ideas of grace and forgiveness, we are often the ones guilty of living sloppy lives with the expectation that others will have to forgive us and give us grace for our laziness, or lack of responsibility. Sometimes we set others up to fail and in doing so, fail ourselves.
So how do we set others up to succeed? We finish what we start. We stand behind our word. We absorb the consequences of our bad decisions instead of expecting someone else to. We go to God for grace and we ask forgiveness from those we have offended and seek restitution. We leave a place better than we found it, and we learn to delight in the rewards completing what we have started. Sometimes we go the extra mile, and when we serve a cup of coffee, we turn the lid away from the seam and say “Have a great day!”