When You’re Sick of Doing Things Out of Obligation

I was thinking recently about the reasons why I do what I do.  I mean, my daily, weekly, monthly activities.  A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop doing things out of obligation.  Because I saw too many people around me who were not very happy at all, and seemingly caught up in certain actions and practices and behaviors that they didn’t really want to be doing, if they were true to their heart.  But, for whatever reason, the social or cultural pressure was too much, and they bowed to it and capitulated.  And I found it such a shame.

A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop doing things out of obligation.

Because when you stop living from your heart, you kind of stop living.  And I knew I didn’t want that.  I also knew I would have to fight to maintain this commitment to myself, because the pressures get very strong at times.  I just figured that if I stayed incredibly close to the Lord and kept remembering that I am accountable to Him and His will for my life, and not to anyone else, that I would be fine.  It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be possible.

In the church (I am generalizing here, and not talking about a specific one), I have noticed a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on congregants to do certain things.  And if individuals do not largely march in step, they are ostracized a bit.  Or made to feel bad.  This isn’t a conscious scheme on the part of the church, designed to produce compliance by shaming and guilt, but it is definitely there.  This is currently happening to one of my closest friends.  And it breaks my heart.  In this case at least, it seems that she was valued for what she brought to the proverbial table, and when she decided to stop doing things out of obligation in order to follow her heart, love and full acceptance was taken away.  In its place, she was basically elbowed out and cut off.

She was valued for what she brought to the proverbial table, and when she decided to stop doing things out of obligation in order to follow her heart, love and full acceptance was taken away.

I know the church is imperfect, and run by imperfect human beings, but this pattern continues to occur.  Those who use social and spiritual pressure to bring about conformance to their desires and demands just don’t seem to see what they are doing.  I am not sure if they use the Bible to rationalize it away, and are comfortable exploiting the sacrificial bent of others because of certain verses which talk about continually dying to self.  Or, maybe they do it because at some point along the way, they stopped following their heart, and got used to doing things out of obligation, and now figure that this is just how it is.

All of this is awful.  All of this sucks the very life out of people.  And leaves them disillusioned, and burnt out, and skeptical to trust other spiritual leaders.  And again, these events are not rare occurrences.  From accounts I’ve witnessed and anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered, it happens way too often.

People should do what they want to do (as prompted by God).  People should be okay saying “no,” and the people to whom the “no” is said should be completely and unconditionally okay with it.  If you need to induce people through veiled coercive attitudes and words to get them to do something, you are in the wrong.  If you think that everything will fall apart, or the job won’t get done, unless you do such things, you lack faith in a God who always provides and who will not let you down with whatever you are trying to accomplish.  And are probably relying on human effort a bit too much (yours and others).  And maybe, just maybe, if He doesn’t provide people who can cheerfully and willingly do(with their heart fully engaged) what you need to be done, you should consider whether it is what He wants.  Seriously.

People should be okay saying “no,” and the people to whom the “no” is said should be completely and unconditionally okay with it.

Sometimes we get so convinced that what we want to make happen is what God wants to make happen.  And then, we end up hurting others.  And if we keep refusing to self-reflect and question the plan (especially if it has been institutionalized), we are fools.  And fools suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20) and die for lack of judgment (Proverbs 10:21).  And while I care about fools and don’t want them to be foolish, I care more about those left wounded in the wake of their folly.  Furthermore, this compromises our individual and collective witness to those who are not (yet) into God.  They see the fallout among their Christian friends, and they think to themselves – wow, that really sucks, and I definitely don’t want any part of that.

Sometimes we get so convinced that what we want to make happen is what God wants to make happen.  And then, we end up hurting others.

This is why I hate doing things out of obligation.  And why it is so important to live from your heart.  If you are staying close to God, He will clearly tell you when to do things – even very hard things that require a lot of sacrifice).  He will speak to your heart, and imbue it with what you need to take on the task and do it with joy and excellence.  This is especially true for those individuals who love to feel needed by others, and who love to come through for others.  Such personality characteristics are rife for the abuse of others – which is all the more reason why we need to get our preeminent leading from Him and Him alone.

Image source: http://jameshowden.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Marionette.jpg

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