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Relearning old lessons. I ought to do better.

I just finished Dancing with My Father by Sally Clarkson, and I remembered this post I originally wrote on Satchmo’s first birthday (back when he was known as Gigglemeister on the blog). For me “I ought” is the biggest joy stealer in my life. It was then and it is now. Someday, that lesson is going to stick.

From December 12, 2007:

‘I ought” is one of the most frustrating, imprisoning phrases in my life. And I say it repeatedly. I’m a sucker for “I ought.” I’m a rules-oriented, black and white, cut and dried sorta gal, and my legalistic soul yearns for the “oughts.” Give me the bottom line, what’s required, what do I have to do and get out of my way. I really don’t have the time or energy for the nuances and side trips and what ifs.

And I don’t have time or energy for the nuances because the oughts will consume every moment, every dollar, every scrap of energy left unguarded. And fight like mad for those already claimed.

A recent example of an ought that attacked:
I’ll have a good and helpful idea that may be beneficial to me or my family. For example, baking our own bread would be cheaper, healthier, and yummier. We have a bread machine; I can toss the ingredients in the sucker at night and push go on my way to the coffee maker. Toss the dough on my stone an hour and a half later, and by lunch we’ve got fresh bread. Yum.

And here comes the ought: take the idea, make it a rule, a requirement, a standard for decent motherhood, citizenship, and humanity, wrap it in a brick and beat myself with it. Like thus: I tell a friend of my bread making ventures. This wonderful, godly friend who always seems to not only have her ducks in a row but they’re all wearing matching bows and marching in step to “Stars and Stripes Forever” asks if I mill my own grain. Because of all the wonderful, healthy goodness that entails. And I really should because I’ll feel wonderful about all the healthful food I’m feeding my family.
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Okay, I was feeling a bit proud of my domestic accomplishment. But now “I ought” to mill my own grain because really this half-hearted effort is just a wee bit pathetic. I ought to have a mill and use a mill and know where to buy whole grain. Does the Little Red Hen live nearby? But where would I find an extra $200 lying around for the wonderful mill that I ought to be using?

Speaking of $200, I really ought to have our budget under better control, and that silly banking error I made last month messed up our plans for a completely cash Christmas, and I ought to have been more careful. And I ought to do more to bring down our spending anyway, oughtn’t I? Because one silly little error ought not to be able to throw off the whole shebang. We ought to be debt free, have 6 months living expenses in the bank, a college account fully funded and well on our way to paying off the mortgage. Oughtn’t we?

Oh, and don’t get me started on what I ought to be doing with homeschool (education, learning, whatever. I really ought to get the language right.) I ought to be more consistent diligent with science, and we really ought to have been finished with history by now, and I ought to be better about having drawing sessions, and I ought to take the kids on more cultural field trips, and they all ought to be proficient in three languages, and the Bulldozer ought to be potty trained, and Gigglemeister ought to be walking, and I ought to be more consistent with everything and everybody.

Ought is going to be the death of me. Because really, it seems pretty evident that ought isn’t helpful. Goals, ideas, and suggestions can be helpful. They are supposed to keep me pointing in the right direction, not drive me from behind with a whip. Which is exactly what “ought” does. It doesn’t motivate and inspire. Ought condemns and belittles. Ought takes whatever good thing is in my hand and compares it to the imagined perfect. It sucks all the grace and joy out of the moment and fixes my eyes on tomorrow. Or the imagined tomorrow when all my oughts have been accomplished.

I know this. I know that ought destroys joy and leaves me with a thankless and bitter heart. I ought not to listen to the oughts. I ought. No. I desire to be motivated by love and joy to do all that God has for me to do to the best of my ability. All that He has for me to do, not all that can be done by anyone ever. I desire to have a heart that chooses to the best I can because of the satisfaction of a job well done. I desire to pass on to my children the benefits of hard work and the joy of a well-earned success.

I ought to kill the ought.

2 responses to “Relearning old lessons. I ought to do better.”

  1. Marcia Dolan Avatar
    Marcia Dolan

    Last weekend I attended a seminar by Dr. Henry Cloud discussing small group life. He made the most amazing statement – he made several, actually, but this one seems to resonate with your post: “Nothing grows under judgment.” If good stuff won’t grow under the law, it won’t grow under “ought.” Good stuff grows under grace. 🙂

    1. April Avatar

      That’s good, Marcia. I should embroider that on a pillow. Alas, I’m not crafty.

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