Monday, June 28, 2010

should and want

What is the difference between doing something because I "should" and something because I "want to?" We talked about the difference between these two motivations last week in a group discussion. Jon Ortberg holds that "should" does not have the stamina to get you there. Only "want" can do that. "Should" is an auxiliary engine, but can never serve as a long-term primary motivation because "want" will always win out over "should." Will power can give you a long lecture on how you should not eat that second piece of chocolate cherry cake, but if you really want it, you know you will eventually stuff it into your mouth.

"Want" is much stronger than "should." I think that desire might be the most powerful motivating force on the earth. It will win over money. It will wear down "should." It will keep us going long after we have run out of energy. It won't stop in the face of pain, discomfort, or threats. Ask any addict about that. Desire is made to drive us powerfully, but sometimes our desires are not for the right things. The goal of spiritual growth (and maturity of any kind, really) is to turn "shoulds" into "wants." [1] It is no longer that we know we "should" be generous and kind and faithful, but we now "want" to do those things, to be that kind of person. But how does one do that?

I don't like cleaning my house. It is an onerous and unpleasant task, in my books, and I will find the silliest excuses to put off dusting and sweeping the floors. This past week, I had house guests for 4 days. It is one of our greatest pleasures to be able to open our home to people, and we have had a rush of them this past month. The morning that this particular set of guests left, I wasted no time in laundering all the bedding and towels, tidying up the room, and making the bed. I don't know why, but I always like to have the guest room ready and clean it immediately after it has been used.

That evening we had supper with some out-of-town friends, and it became apparent that they were a little crowded staying with their son. Dean immediately suggested that they spend the night at our house. I echoed Dean's invitation, reassuring our friends that I was totally prepared for more guests. And I was. So what makes cleaning the guest room different from general cleaning? Why do I drag me feet over a bit of vacuuming but can't wait to tidy up the guest room? It is because I love the people that God brings through our house. To clean my house is a chore, but to prepare a guest room is an act of love.

Perhaps "should" and "want" can be compared to "fear" and "love." "Should" is a realisation that things will go better for me if I do this certain thing. It focuses more on, "If I don't do this, then x and y will happen." And I don't want x and y to happen. Fear-based motivation. "Want" is pure desire, running in the direction of something, or more correctly, someone. It is not really concerned with trying to avoid certain uncomfortable consequences. If I love God, nothing seems too great a sacrifice to make in order to be with him, to follow him, and to do the things that he does. If I pray or commit myself to a church group or give money or read my Bible because I should, these habits will probably be relatively fruitless and short-lived. But if I do them because I love connecting with God, my whole life will be lived in his communicative presence.

Love makes the difference. It makes me do the right things because I just can't help myself. I want to. I really, really want to.

This is a picture of a cantalope that I want to eat right now!

[1] This idea taken from "The Me I Want To Be" by Jon Ortberg. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

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