Why are you trying to resist same-sex romantic attractions?
Why are you trying to quit having sex with people you hardly know?
Why are you trying to abstain from having sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend?
Did you answer in any of the following ways:
“Because what I’m doing is wrong.”
“Because God doesn’t want me to do that.”
“Because it hurts my wife/husband.”
“Because good Christians/men/women/husbands/wives don’t do those things.”
“Because I just shouldn’t.”
These aren’t terrible motivators, but they’re also not the best. Why? Because these rely on a source of motivation that is external. Notice in each one that the reason to change is coming from outside of you: a moral standard, God, your spouse, or a social expectation. This is important because temptation is something you experience internally. Even when the object of temptation is outside, you feel the temptation inside.
All this points to the fact that you need to increase your internal sense of motivation. This is where the one word comes in: Want.
As you consider your reasons for wanting to change, shift from thinking about what you should do, and begin focusing on what you truly want.
Think about how different the following statements feel:
“You should lose a few pounds.” vs. “I want to be a healthy weight.”
“I wish you’d be home on time.” vs. “It’s important to me to be home when I say.”
“Don’t commit adultery.” vs. “I love my spouse and want to be true to him/her.”
“Porn is wrong.” vs. “I want to treat people as people not as sex objects.”
“I might get a sexually transmitted infection.” vs. “I want to be a healthy man/woman.”
Some of us try to skirt this kind of ownership by putting the emphasis only on what God wants. But God doesn’t run rough shod over you. Notice in the gospels times when Jesus asked things like, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36, Luke 18:41), “What are you seeking?” (John 1:38), or even “Do you want to go away?” (John 6:67). What you want matters to him.
This is also important because your wants are closely connected to your sense of who you are. When you know you want something, it shapes how you view yourself, and this makes a huge difference in motivation.
What if you have recurring wants that conflict with who you really want to be (e.g. eating too much pie, flirting with another man/woman, or fudging on your taxes)? If they’ve been persistent enough, they’ve shaped your self-perceptions, and you may hardly be able to imagine yourself being anything different.
This is where owning what you want becomes especially vital. Owning what you really want (e.g. to be fit, to have eyes only for our spouse, to be a man or woman of integrity) helps to displace those faulty images of yourself by replacing them with truer, nobler images.
Perhaps this is also why Jesus asks things like, “What do you want?” He wants us to know who we really are.
Take this challenge for the remainder of the week: Drop from your vocabulary statements like I should, I’m supposed to, or [someone] wants me to, and replace them with simply I want to. As you do, observe what happens to your motivation level.
Let me hear from you. Where have you owned your wants and what difference has that made for you?
Excellent article. Thanks for that powerful reminder.