Part 1 — Spider-Man
My favorite thing about Spider-Man is that he never gives up. Spider-Man gets knocked down and outright fails more than any other superhero I read, but he continually gets back up and does his best.
Over the last year or so, his go-to line of inspiration has been changing, and it’s really resonating with me. You all probably know the story: when he was a boy, his uncle Ben told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
But these days, Spider-Man is regularly taking on challenges that far exceed his power. In the first 2019 comic of the new Spider-Man, Miles’s mom is reading a newspaper article about the concentration camps at our southern border in the USA. Sure, Spider-Man has a lot of power, but what can he do about that?
As the challenges continue to exceed Spider-Man’s power, his inspiration hasn’t weakened. Instead, he acknowledges that his responsibility is greater than his power.
Part 2 — A Sense of Responsibility Rooted in Emotional Trauma
I have been seeing a counselor for a few months to work through something completely (or mostly) unrelated to responsibility. But in our last session, we broached the subject and it touched a nerve, which told me that I needed to work through some things.
That comic with Miles’s mom was stuck in my head during that session, and I was sat there thinking, “I’m not Spider-Man. I don’t have any power. What can I possibly do? Why do I feel responsible for all of this?!”
And the “all of this” in that sentence is a lot. When I was a kid, I tried to defend other kids being bullied (and as a result, I got beat up a lot). I helped people out of jams. I have gotten people jobs, gotten people money, gotten people food. I want people to feel healthy, secure, taken care of… and I feel a sense of responsibility for all of this. Like I have to do it, and if I don’t, I’m failing. What’s more, if it doesn’t work out (if the person doesn’t get the job, or if they’re struggling in some way, or if people aren’t getting healthcare, or kids are in concentration camps, or our representatives are failing to present solutions to gun violence…), then it’s because I’m not doing enough. For every bad thing where I can perceive something that I might be able to do to help, I feel like a failure if I don’t do everything.
Being around people reminds me constantly of things I could be doing to help them or the world at large. And it reminds me that I’m constantly failing.
Part 3 — I Do Not Own My Responsibilities, God Does
That’s what we were actually talking about in counseling: spending time around people. The phrase, “Being around people causes me pain” is true for me. It drains me. I have to recover from being around other people.
And part of the reason for this is the weight of responsibility I feel. I don’t just feel responsible for the moment—it’s not just about making them like me, or making sure I don’t say the wrong things, or making sure they’re having a good time. Those three things seem to weigh on a lot of people, but they’re not that big a deal to me.
In both work and my personal life, I’m typically focused on somewhere 2-5 years from now. The responsibility I’m often feeling is, “This person is really struggling with personal finances. How can I help them without being overbearing in a way that will get them into a better position 5-10 years from now?” Or, “This person is struggling with anxiety. I need to make sure I’m thinking through that from their perspective. What can I say and do to help them on their journey to better mental health? What should I avoid saying and doing?”
When I write it out, it reads as so minor to me, but it’s something that causes me some pain regardless. And I think feeling responsible for the next several years of someone’s life for everyone I come into contact with is the issue. Jesus, how arrogant is that? It’s one of those things that, until you say or write it out, you don’t quite realize what’s going on inside.
At any rate, I prayed about it the following Sunday and God effectively said, “You’re not responsible for these things. I am. And when I ask you to engage with that responsibility, I will give you sufficient power. I don’t ask you to engage with any responsibility without giving you what you need.”
I don’t even “take on” the responsibility. It’s not mine. I’m just doing some work with Him.
I’m ashamed that I said, “I have no power.” I do. I have a lot of power insofar as I’m white and male and privileged, I’m middle-class-wealthy, I own property, and I’m Christian (in an area where that helps get you “in” sometimes). But more importantly, God is with me, and He will not give me anything to do that I can’t handle.
Part 4 — Using The Power I Have
Another thing this forced me to confront is that, yes, an out-sized sense of responsibility causes emotional pain, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all felt like Spider-Man? Can I really say that, just because I’m not a superhero who can literally go to Texas and tear down the buildings and fences and provide food and water and medicine to people, then I should do nothing?
God gives me the power I need to engage with the responsibilities to which He invites me. What I’ve been failing to do is pray about those things for which I feel responsible so that He can advise me on what I should be doing. What actions can I take that will be effective without causing self-harm? I think that’s what He wants for me, but I haven’t been seeking Him on it.
It’s not bad to want to help people. But letting that desire lead us into a place of emotional and mental pain isn’t what God wants for us. When our positive desires lead us into a negative state, that’s a twisting of God’s plan, and we have to be wary of it.
I don’t know yet if this realization coupled with praying more frequently will reduce the pain I experience just by being around people. It’s particularly tricky when it comes to work events because that’s where I feel it most acutely (since my job is literally developing strategy for the next several years and putting things into place to make sure we achieve our goals), and I have a work week in London coming up very soon.
But I’ll do the best I can. That’s my responsibility.