If I fall, I fall alone, but two can help to bear the load
A threefold chord is hard to break
All I have I give to you if you will share your sorrows too
Then joy will be the crown upon our heads
– Josh Garrels, “Bread & Wine”
“Hey Lisa! What do you think of that How To Be Single movie?”
At work, in particular because of my e-book More Than Single, I’ve developed a reputation for a couple of things. Among them are a love of pop culture, and strong opinions about how singleness is portrayed. I had not, however, heard of How To Be Single, so I looked up the trailer.
Within the first 15 seconds, I decided it was going to be a terrible movie. A young, attractive woman finds herself single in the City for functionally the first time in her life, and her overweight female friend takes her out on the town and teaches her the glory of unfettered sex. Thanks, Hollywood; I appreciate that it’s at least a female-centric storyline, but I think I’ll be passing on this one.
On the other hand, it did make me reflect on how accountability is portrayed in Hollywood. Unfortunately, most examples are along the lines of How To Be Single; a friend holds the protagonist accountable to seize the day, which usually translates to “Go Out and Have Sex With That Hot Person, Because You Deserve It.” Fortunately, though, there are a number of other, much better examples of accountability out there.
1. Accountability gives us a friend for the fight.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9, NRSV
In some ways, Frodo and Sam from The Lord of the Rings are archetypal accountability partners. From the very beginning, Sam kept an eye out for “Mr. Frodo, Sir.” He outthinks the rest of the Fellowship and catches up with Frodo when he tries to slip away. He keeps a watchful eye on Gollum, wisely realizing that his transformation and devotion may not be entirely sincere. When Frodo appears to be dead at the borders of Mordor, Sam picks up the Ring, and with it, the responsibility of destroying it; and when he realizes that Frodo isn’t dead, he immediately goes to his rescue. When Frodo loses the strength to climb Mount Doom, Sam picks Frodo up and carries him the last few steps. In reality, Frodo never would have completed his quest had Sam not stuck by his side every step of the way. Even presented with the opportunity for limitless power, Sam’s loyalty to his friend was unswerving.
Tolkien’s tale is not allegorical, but it’s safe to draw an analogy between Frodo’s journey and our own. More specifically, we all have our Rings, our “besetting sins” (Hebrews 12:1), our unique temptations that keep coming back to haunt us. For most people reading this blog post, that sin is related to the temptation of pornography. For others, it may be an eating disorder. Or it may be an unhealthy obsession with online gaming, or with consoling yourself with material items, or one of a thousand other possibilities (and probably some combination of a few).
Whatever the struggle, we need a Sam. We need a friend for the fight. We need someone who knows our deepest burdens and our secrets, and who can stand next to us, encouraging us and occasionally picking us up when we fail. As Crystal Renaud explains, “Just like confession means talking about the elephant in the room, accountability is about allowing someone to help you fight the elephant.”
For me, this has played out a few ways. I talk to one accountability partner weekly, and we also got into the practice of calling each other in crisis mode—when something critical was going on, and we couldn’t wait until our next regularly-scheduled call. Another friend and I have recently started keeping each other accountable for some habits we want to build. Simply texting each other at least once a day to check in and make sure we’re both on track has proven invaluable to both of us.
So as we work to break free from porn, something as simple as a daily text from our accountability partner along the lines of, “Stay strong, and let me know if you need to talk” could lead to the support we need.
2. Accountability puts a scalpel to our issues.
Toward the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, there’s a scene where Harry, Ron, and Hermione are about to break the rules and leave their dormitory after-hours to stop the bad guy from stealing a powerful magic artifact. Before they leave, though, they must face none other than Neville Longbottom, a rather bumbling, ineffective student in their class. “You’re sneaking out again, aren’t you?” he asks. “I won’t let you. You’ll get [our classmates] into trouble again.” He fails to stop them, and Harry and his friends manage to stop the villain…but at the end of the year banquet, headmaster Dumbledore gives the greatest honor to Neville. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies,” he explains, “but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
Although Neville never quite breaks into Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s inner circle, he still stumbled across two of the key traits of an accountability partner: the ability to recognize patterns of sinful behavior, and the courage to call the person out on them. Sam, for example, recognized Frodo’s tendency to secrecy and his temptation to carry his burden alone; he saw it happen in the Shire, and he recognized it a second time when Frodo left the Fellowship at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Or in real life, my own accountability partner has periodically seen things like my Facebook photo of a cart full of cheap post-Valentine’s sale candy and rightly reached out to me in concern.
This, as Dumbledore points out, takes courage. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” but even loving confrontation hurts. It hurts us when someone tells us to stop doing what we know we need to stop doing; and it hurts our friends to have to continually tell us to stop and change course.
Still, that truly is the job of the accountability partner: to recognize the sin in us, and to (lovingly) help us recognize it in ourselves and fight it. In Hebrews 12:11-13, it says:
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”
3. Accountability calls us to something bigger.
Rocket Raccoon: “Save them? How?”
Groot: “I am Groot.”
Rocket: “I know they’re the only friends that we ever had, but there’s an army of Ravagers around them. And there’s only two of us!”
―Guardians of the Galaxy
Have you ever noticed that the best friend is often the one to drive the hero (or antihero) into heroic action? In Guardians of the Galaxy, the tree-like Groot convinces his genetically modified raccoon friend and leader to rescue their friends. In the original Star Wars, when Han Solo bids farewell to the rebels after dropping off Luke and Leia and getting his reward, it is Chewbacca who gives him a look and makes him second-guess his decision to abandon the Rebellion to the oncoming Death Star.
The relationship between Max and Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road is particularly fascinating. At the beginning Furiosa is the one who pushes the titular Max to look and act beyond his own survival and help her rescue several enslaved women. But their relationship changes both of them over the course of the movie; by the end, Max is the one pushing Furiosa not to merely flee farther, but instead to turn around and overthrow the tyrannical leader, freeing not just a handful of women, but an entire city.
The fate of the universe will never rest on the shoulders of scruffy-looking nerf herders like us (thank God). But it is true that as Christ-followers, we are called to community, to live lives beyond ourselves. As Jesus puts it, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a).
This is hard. It’s much easier to live peaceful little lives, raising families and hanging out with friends, going to church on Sunday mornings and work Monday through Friday. It’s much easier to avoid meaningful interactions and drown our emotions in movies or TV shows or video games. None of these are inherently sinful, but they do encourage sloth over servanthood.
This is especially true for singles. First Corinthians 7:32 reminds singles that “One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” Singles have more free time and flexibility than married people, but it also means we have more opportunity to be selfish with our time.
Ideally, we need accountability partners who will encourage us to serve (or better yet, who will serve alongside us). Minimally, a regular reciprocal conversation with another non-family member will get us involved in someone else’s story, and remind us there’s more to life than what we personally face.
The secret ingredient to good accountability
Frodo and Sam. Harry and Neville. Rocket and Groot. Han and Chewie. Max and Furiosa. Do you notice the trend? It’s friendship. None of them would ever use the term “accountability relationship” to describe their interactions. But regardless of the reasons for their alliances, they held a deep, abiding affection for each other that drove them into action. (In Furiosa and Max’s case, it took the entire movie to get there, but by the end even Max risks his own life to save the dying Furiosa.)
We often think of accountability as a pretty formal relationship, like a weekly meeting with a mentor. And that can work. But better accountability is built around the natural love between friends—a love that makes us want to see each other thrive. The band Muse sings, “I’ve had recurring nightmares that I was loved for who I am and missed the opportunity to be a better man.” The true heart of accountability is the opposite of that: it’s caring for a friend enough that you’re willing to call them out, and willing to direct them to a better place (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), carrying them if necessary.
That’s all accountability is. It’s being a friend.