This is part 3 in a 7 part series on Braving the Holidays. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The A in Braving is for Accountability. 

Before you call me the Grinch, let’s consider the importance of Accountability in “BRAVING the Holidays.” 

As a pastor who works with pastors in the areas of leadership development and discipleship, I often coach pastors on accountability. Somehow, in the church we think accountability is neither necessary nor loving. We’re wrong on both accounts. 

Without accountability, anything goes. When anything goes, a couple of things can happen. Nothing gets accomplished, chaos reigns, and people are generally miserable. Why? Because there is no trust. The person who is not being held accountable for their actions (or inaction) is really communicating to the rest of the team, “It doesn’t matter what I do and what I don’t do.” 

Without accountability, people do not know what is expected of them. They also don’t know when they are meeting expectations. Yes, accountability is about what IS happening that is good, right, and beautiful as much as it is about what is NOT happening.

Accountability in Relationships

It may be easier to talk about accountability in the church or workplace. But, accountability extends to your relationships and families as well.

Accountability during the holidays may include some of the following areas of your life. To whom or with whom will you be accountable for the following:

  • a budget
  • conversations
  • emotions
  • commitments
  • time
  • actions (and inaction)
  • rest
  • faithfulness
  • decisions

That list is not a prescription. It’s a list of ideas for you to consider how you’re being accountable this holiday season. 

What Gets in Our Way

Let’s consider a couple that can get in our way.

Budget

Let’s say you agreed to spend no more than $100 on each member of the family. Some of you are saying, “Yeah right, that’s never going to happen, we’ll blow that budget in two seconds.” While others are saying, “If I had $100 to spend on each member of the family, it would be an amazing Christmas.” The dollar amount is not the point here. Pick whatever number suits your situation.

  • Your daughter’s Christmas list includes clothing, a new phone, make-up, craft items, and tickets to the movies.
  • Your son’s Christmas list includes a total of two items, both games for his system.
  • Your spouse refuses to give you a list, simply saying, “surprise me,” as if you’re supposed to know.

There is only one of these lists that has the potential of staying under $100 and that includes decoding a secret message to identify the perfect gift.

What do you do?

  1. Blow the budget.
  2. Stay within the budget and get items not on the kids’ lists.
  3. Stay within the budget and give them cash to make it to $100.
  4. Get an identical number of gifts, whatever it costs.
  5. Stay within the budget and only get items on the lists.
  6. Get one present and give each child $50 to give to a non-profit of their choosing. After all, Christmas is not your birthday.

What does accountability look like?

Let’s say you blow the budget. What does accountability look like?

When you return from the store with $600 worth of gifts, what does accountability look like?

For some, it might be as simple as an honest assessment of the cost of Christmas. For others, it will be a conversation about what needs to be returned. And for still others it might include a discussion about what expenses will be reduced in the coming month so make up for the overspending. For some, you’ll choose the “they’ll never know, I pay the bills” approach.

Let’s say you follow the budget. What does accountability look like? If that one is a little harder for you to name, there may be a reason why. Don’t beat yourself up for not acknowledging the positive aspects of accountability. Let’s be honest, it’s often been used in punitive ways.

So that we’re abundantly clear: That’s NOT what I’m talking about here.

I cannot tell you what accountability looks like. I can only encourage you to consider the Christmas season, recognizing that these are the moments that can chip away at trust and lead to relationship frustrations.

What Gets in the Way: Commitments

Now let’s look at a second example. Let’s say you’ve made a commitment not to attend any Christmas parties because you want to be around your elderly grandparents with medical conditions on Christmas day. Who is going to hold you accountable to this commitment? How will you decline invitations in a grace-filled way? 

Let’s say you’re doing really well with this commitment, explaining to friends and colleagues why you’ll be sticking close to home for the next few weeks. What happens when someone notices you’re doing what you said you’d do? You guessed it, you’re more likely to continue doing it. So, remember that accountability is NOT just about what isn’t working. It’s also about what IS working.

Here are a couple more examples you might want to consider. What might accountability look like in these situations?

Your commitment to:

  • serve in your community by collecting non-perishable food items for a local food pantry. 
  • not be exhausted come January 1.

What needs to be true to make these scenarios happen? Communicate with someone who cares about you your desire and talk about what accountability looks like. You’ll deepen your trust and connection with that person as together you are Braving the Holidays.

If I’ve just meddled in an annual holiday tradition of yours, please forgive me. There’s likely a reason you feel like I am meddling. The reality is this: I want you to experience a Christmas season that doesn’t dismantle trust or relationships.

Accountability Includes Affirmation

As the above examples indicate, remember that accountablity is NOT just for moments when you don’t do what you say you will do. Accountability is also about acknowledging that someone did what they said they would do. The reality is, we’re more likely to continue doing something that has positive feedback than to stop doing the things that we’re failing to fulfill.

If you only hear about what is not working, accountability is going to be a negative experience. Perhaps that’s why you thought about calling me a Grinch at the start of this article. But, for accountability to really work, we need to experience positive outcomes as well. Then, not only does our perception of accountability change, but our experience of accountability encompasses the holistic nature of life.

Your Turn

Take a few minutes and have a conversation about the following with the people you love. Here are a few questions you might consider.

  • When others do what they say they’ll do, how do you acknowledge, celebrate, and/or affirm their actions? How do you want others to acknowledge your actions?
  • When you mess up, how will you be held accountable?
  • When is an apology sufficient? When is it insufficient?
  • How will you make amends? Is it is your behavior, your attitude, or something different altogether?

Having conversations about what you need to be accountable for during the holidays will help the people you love brave the holidays with you. 

Just like boundaries and reliability, accountability is about being clear and following through. What’s one area you want to be accountable for this holiday season. Tell me in the comments. Then, tell the person who really needs to hear it from you.