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Obligation v's Ownership

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

‘To serve or not to serve?’ That is the question.

Life can often be a series of choices between obligation (I ought to) or out of enthusiasm (I want to). Soon you can find yourself confused (or even paralysed) while being torn between these two massive psychological forces. Debating selflessness vs selfishness, what ‘I’ need vs what ‘they’ need, what I 'want to do’ vs what I 'should do’.

To help equip you for what is an endlessly ongoing emotional battle for many people today, here are the two systems more clearly distinguished to enable faster recognition of your dilemma. Without this discernment, people become prone to living in the ‘shoulds’ of life with ambivalence, resentment, brown-out, burn-out, a loss of a strong sense of self and burdening martyrdom.


Defining two important words:

Ownership: your heart is in what you do. Eg. “I delight to do Your will, my God” (Psalm 40:8)

Obligation: you have an ulterior motive, which isn’t quite cutting it. Eg “The request was a burden to me..


Resentment is the price you pay for not succeeding in getting total ownership. Get your body to where your heart is, or else get your heart to where your body is. Whether at work, in your marriage, in your house, your family, your friendships or your church. Why? Because there is no joy, no ‘abundant life’ to be found in constant double-mindedness. This ambivalence results in emotional haemorrhaging - a mental energy leak that drains you. Obligation equals resentment. Ownership equals enthusiasm. Service to others can be either, so the simple solution is to: Love it or refuse it.. Negotiate it or leave it.

Either ‘do it’ or ‘negotiate it’ might be the options you face. You can either comply or counter-proposition and to keep on counter-propositioning, until you have reached an enthusiastic agreement. So many relationship breakdowns could be avoided if one party or the other asks the ultimate empowering question "are we in enthusiastic agreement yet”; “boss, tradesman, spouse, fiancee or children, are we agreed yet or is it actually a pretend agreement?”


Heart and Body in Sync. The entire solution is to either get your body to where your heart is or get your heart to where your body is and refuse to live with ongoing ambivalence (hesitancy; indecision; uncertainty). This mental tension causes emotional exhaustion, (no wonder you feel tired so much of the time).

It is "more blessed to give than to receive" according to the words of The Saviour, (Acts 20:35), with this one caveat; that you “give as a cheerful giver”. But this can only be possible if done on your own terms. Truly, what must be done, should be done ‘with all of our strength’, or else there is ongoing emotional dualism.


Some ask ‘but what about faithfulness?’ Faithfulness is one thing, but obligation is quite another. Faithfulness serves whether it suits me or not, ‘because I have a higher call / purpose’, regardless of minor inconvenience. Enthusiasm is unthreatened by faithfulness, rather, it feeds it. Obligation, by contrast, is a great threat to enthusiasm, bleeding the life out of motivation and ownership, because, ‘quite frankly, my heart just isn’t in it’. If I’m not into it, I won’t last, because my outgoings are now exceeding my incomings, so the up-keep will prove to be my downfall in time. Then, welcome to brown-out. Guess what’s coming next if nothing is done about it? Burnout.


Take time to reflect

1. Are there obligations in my life that I need to regain ownership over? Have I lost enthusiasm for..?

2. Do I need to remember why I began in the first place; what fed my enthusiasm; ‘my why’?

3. What steps do I need to take, besides first re-reading the above inspiration?


To ‘regain ownership’ also sheds new light on Gethsemane through a counsellor’s eyes; it now becomes the place (an example) where one ensures that faithfulness doesn’t simply slide into a resentful martyrdom. It is the place (space) where one regains ownership and avoids the resentment that double-minded dualism invariably brings. Many missionaries, pastors, evangelists, etc collapse because they haven’t discovered the place and role of Gethsemane.


Living the new way; in deliberate mindfulness, aka ‘ownership’. In this way, you can face and embrace your choices, commitments and responsibilities in life without fear of losing yourself, your freedom or your plans in the process. Now you can get back the reins of your own life; whether it be, home-care, cooking, cleaning, working, paying bills, meeting the sexual needs of your spouse or parenting. Loving it all because it’s how you’ve chosen to spend your time and no-one else has chosen it for you.

In this lies the key to sustainability, and what is sustainable is also true. Let’s ‘finish the race’ serving Jesus out of ownership; from a heart of fullness. In this way, we will not grow tired or become discouraged in doing good.


With gratitude to David Riddell of Living Wisdom for this contribution.

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