Angry eyes glared at the financial counselor. Her words sought to cut him down to size so that he would realize she was just a victim of circumstance. “You just don’t understand. I have to spend this much money on fast food. My schedule is so rushed that I only have time for a drive through lunch.”
How do you tackle something so big, so ingrained, that people are resistant to even acknowledging its very existence? Whether on the individual, group or societal level, ideas have consequences. And the thought, “I have to” is particularly adept at imprisoning lives while simultaneously offering a Faustian* bargain conveniently served up with a self-deluding but seemingly self-justifying excuse of being a victim.
The truth is we don’t have to do anything. We choose to do what we do because we believe in a whole rack full of promises. My kids will be successful if they are exposed to ___. I must have ___, because this will ___. The list seems endless.
In the previous scenario her choice might be to sleep a little longer rather than make a sack lunch. It’s her choice to eat rather than to fast. It’s her choice to maintain her schedule because of what she believes her schedule will provide her.
I know firsthand the desire to deny all of this. When confronted, I did not like it. I argued. I did not want him to be right.
About fifteen years ago I was complaining to a friend just how stressed out I was with my five part-time jobs, full graduate school schedule and other responsibilities. I thought that in Joel’s eyes I would be earning the badge of someone important and on the move. Kindly, Joel responded, “You chose all of this.”
Of course I objected! For me to achieve good grades I had to study hard. I had to work all of those jobs to pay my bills as I went through school. On and on I rambled. To which Joel asked, “Why do you have to get good grades? Why do you have to take a full slate of classes. Why…” I could not believe my ears. Joel was questioning what I considered foundational!
Sure I offered answers to each of his questions, but I was attempting to dodge his real point. Because I believed a strong academic performance provided promises for the future, I chose to impose a standard upon myself. I chose to complete my studies within a particular time period because I wanted … . I wanted … The truth was, I had chosen my lifestyle because I wanted what I thought it would provide. I was a prisoner of my own desires, but I wanted to blame my schedule. And so I argued, “I have to.”
If we are willing to listen, Jesus wants to set us free from our self-imposed prisons of “I have to.” Essentially Jesus says, “If you will receive me, I’ve taken care of your deepest need – namely, to belong to God. You also do not need to worry about housing, clothing or shelter if you put God’s kingdom first. That will be taken care of too. And you don’t have to worry about being important – your identity and worth are eternally secure with me. You are my disciple as well as co-heir. Whatever you really need, it’s been handled. So now you are free to live.”
Jesus sets us free to live deliberately instead of existing as victims of our own thinking and desires. In one hundred years, it will be self-evident that our long lists of “have to’s” are not as important as we have claimed.
So if you have been set free from the secularly driven list of “I have to” what are you going to do with your life? Who or what will be honored? It’s not about unfulfilled good intentions; it’s what am I choosing to do now?
*Faust was a magician and astrologer who was held to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for worldly experience and power, but in the end the reality did not live up to the promises.