Duty Debate, Part Two

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A few years ago, I was part of a community group that was multiplying, and I don’t mean through new people coming to join us. It seemed that every three months or so there was somebody else who had a new baby. Our community group wanted to help all those mothers by providing baby meals. I can attest from experience that this is a wonderful thing, something I appreciated so much in my turn that I felt I needed to give back by doing the same for others. Now, I’m not a terrible cook, but it is definitely not my forte, nor is time management, really. Put these two together, and you have late mediocre meals delivered by a very stressed person (and I hate to say how my stress can affect my family, particularly during those years) to starving and sleep-deprived young families. After a while of this, my husband put his foot down. No more delivering baby meals.

But, I thought, I was given baby meals by others–isn’t it my duty to give them in return?

Last week, I wrote about the duty debate that often goes through my head whenever I’m asked to volunteer for something worthy. I wonder if it’s something I should do, and I try to answer that question by asking myself whether I’ve prayed about it and feel led by God to do it, whether I would be using my gifts if I did it, and whether I have time to do it in light of my biggest priorities.

The next questions that go through my head are Shouldn’t I do this out of duty even if I don’t want to do it? Is duty a good reason to do anything? I’ve heard pastors say that doing something out of duty is bad without really giving a reason why, so I thought I’d dig into Scripture to see if I could learn something about duty.

I found that the word for duty is related to the word used for ought, a word that Jesus uses at times to tell us what to do. The definition of both words include “owe, obligation, debt, duty, ought, and should” (Strong’s). For example, not that I really want to get into this subject too much, but Paul says in I Corinthians 7:3 that a husband and wife must fulfill their duty to each other, talking about their, ahem, conjugal duties. For something a little more like my example above, after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, He tells them, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn. 13:14). There is a difference between taking on or doing a duty and doing something out of duty. There are some duties we need to fulfill. Mothers have the duty to take care of their children, and I’d better do that whether I want to or whether I’d rather hide in the closet.

However, there are some tasks we don’t need to take on as our duty. We have choice in many matters. Even in the example of washing feet, most Christians don’t take this verse literally–we take it to mean that we should serve each other in humility and love as Christ did for us. How we serve is where we need wisdom. When we do take on a duty, the way we do it is important. I Peter 5:2 says (talking to elders), “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.” If we take on the role of elder, we shouldn’t do it out of compulsion but with eagerness. If we don’t feel eager, it’s possible that we need to ask God for the right emotions, but without them, we might need to steer clear of taking on that duty in the first place.

Another verse that was helpful to me is Romans 13:8, which says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Maybe our love will cause us to do something we would normally not want to do, but we would then be doing it out of love and not out of duty. This is the most important part, for “if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (I Cor. 13:3). It is true that love will perform tasks that look a lot like they are being done out of duty. Christ showed a lot of emotions against going to the cross at the Garden of Gethsemane, but He “loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). Only you and God will know your true motivation for doing a task.

After all these thoughts this week and last, I wonder if I can answer my question now. Should I have continued doing baby meals? I didn’t pray much about doing this task; I can’t say I’m particularly gifted by God in the area; I was causing problems in my priority of family; and I might have had some love in doing it, but I think I was doing it more out of compulsion to guilt than eagerness out of love.

My last question in my duty debate is If I choose not to do this, should I feel guilty about it? I hope the answer to this is clear by now. If I pray and feel God is making it clear that I need to do something out of love even though it’s outside of my giftedness and even though I have little time or emotion for it, then I should feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit when I don’t follow His leading. But if I haven’t felt led by Him and all the rest of these are against it, no, I can’t let guilt hold any sway over me, and I shouldn’t commit to it or anything else out of duty.

How about you? As I asked last week, I’d love to hear how others handle this debate!

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4 thoughts on “Duty Debate, Part Two

  1. What a fabulous topic! Thank you! I definitely feel that we must do some things
    out of duty (feel like it or not), but are also not to do everything. Where is
    the line? I am sure it’s drawn differently for everyone, a decision between each
    of us and God. There is a line, however, and it must be determined.

    As for the “taking meals” dilemma, the only thought I had was to simplify to
    something more in line with your skill set, station in life, etc. I gave up the
    delivering a hot meal to the doorstep method after having something different
    modeled by a friend (and coming face-to-face with the reality that it’s just not what I am good at). I simplified my meal preparation. For example, grab a frozen lasagna out of the freezer section, a loaf of bread, a bag salad and brownies from the bakery section. Whola! Recently I delivered a Costco roasted chicken, Asian slaw mix in a bag (yummo), corn on the cob (packaged, already shucked), and refrigerated sliced cookies. The family was grateful but what I liked was that they didn’t have to eat it right then and there. If tomorrow is better for them, then in the fridge it all went. Having been the recipient sometimes of too many meals, freezer and refrigerator items are great! I learned from the friend who modeled this more purchased method for me that I prefer receiving such meals! I can better accommodate my family’s schedule anyway instead of one mandated by a schedule someone else created.

    I think you can bless with less stress is my point, thus blessing others as you have been blessed.

    Thank you for getting me thinking!

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    1. Great idea, Laurie! I need to get over the thought that buying such meals is “less than” preparing them by hand. I did receive some meals this way, and it was a help, and I did enjoy them. Thanks for these thoughts!

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  2. I too used to stress myself out to serve and please others. However, my heart was not in it and even caused me to become resentful. I then had a few life changing events happen that forced me to step back and slow down. I’m so greatful God helped me to back away and gain a better perspective on my priorities. I now truly understand the fact that our lives have different seasons and we need to work within those boundaries. For instance, I have a child that has a learning disability and requires a lot of extra time and patience from me. Therefore, though I do have the ability to teach others (I’m comfortable with it and have fun) and I really do enjoy kids, I know that at this stage in my life I can’t pour out the extra energy teaching others when I know it is going to take away from my own. Your whole making meals for new moms was all too familiar with me as well. Now that my kids are 12 & 10 and can join in on the fun of preparing the gift of a meal for another weary soul plus help me out with preparing our own meals, we are now in a position to wade back into serving folks in that capacity. When I was corralling youngsters who were working against me being able to put a meal on my own table in a timely fashion, I had no business trying to make sure I made another families meals for them. That wasn’t my duty! I praise God for granted me peace on this aspect of my life and I’m glad He has given you the insight to write about this. The devil uses this very thing to wear so many mommas down.

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