You always put more into life than you get out. Thoughts on willingness.

"...uphold me with a willing spirit." - Psalm 51:12


I’ve written before about this idea of willingness. 

We remember when we meet people who are willing. They are rare. Most of us wouldn’t be characterized as willing. 

It’s easier in this case to define willingness by describing what it is not. Willingness is not the attitude that one ought to get what one deserves out of life. It is not the attitude that, if things don’t go according to plan, then the world is against us. 

Willingness is an understanding that the world is not made for me, and that the unfolding of events often has very little to do me personally. Willingness is an understanding that what one “gets” out of life often has little connection to the amount of effort one invests into it. It is an awareness that inconvenient or unfortunate circumstances do not entitle one to have a poor attitude toward others or the future.

A double sided slippery slope

Psalm 51 was written in the wake of great sin and deceit on the part of the author, King David. David was caught and brought to justice. Many of us have been in similar dark situations, publicly embarrassed by sin being brought into the light.

In those situations, shame is the enemy that steals a willing spirit. It is the fear of presenting one’s true self to others out of a false belief that “good” people are flawless. It is the false belief that by doing “good” things one can make oneself more worthy of love and purpose, and that “bad” actions make one less worthy.

Our defences go up, and we immediately start comparing ourselves to others, trying to find justification for our existence. We go forward prickly and averse, forgetting that our worth is not earned, but intrinsic. Goodness has no connection to flawlessness — it’s honesty, not some misunderstood goodness, that we should be reaching for.

The other side of the slope

We usually see unwillingness playing out in another way. We see the ways in which we have been wronged. We look at our investment returning void, and we react with animosity toward the world around us. We feel that we are owed, and we greet life with an unwilling spirit because we feel we are entitled to a poor attitude. 

It’s interesting that we often seem to see the balance as being in our favor. We often seem to think that we’ve put in more than we’ve gotten out.

But if we recognize that we are not perfect, then is it possible that we are biased in our understanding of our level of “investment”? Perhaps entitlement and shame are actually cut from the same cloth.

Self-sufficiency. Is a lie.

Underneath all of this animosity and unwillingness that we often encounter (surely, only in other people) lies an attitude of unhealthy self-reliance. We believe that we have everything we need, within us, to be all that we are meant to be. We just need to try harder, be better, and tap into what we are supposed to be doing. But the trouble with that is that it’s not true either.

The truth is that none of us is self-sufficient, and the more we believe we are, the more we stuff our shame down and trump up our own accomplishments, believing that through our actions we can increase our worth. Only by accepting the truth — that we are dependent beings, in need of grace and relationships — can we begin to embrace life with the willingness that we were meant to have.

Accepting the truth is difficult, but it is necessary, and it is accepted incrementally over time. No one accepts this all at once, but I think truth is the key to becoming someone who is willing.

I don’t know that I am yet, but I want to be willing.

Want to finish this story?

This and other stories of the will are included in our new free ebook, The book of WILLING.

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