There are two little words I’ve determined to eradicate from the vocabularies of my children. I’ve been working on it ever since they started talking, and those two little words still crop up now and then, but I’m determined to root them out. Those two words? I want!
I’ve heard a lot of grown-ups who still say “I want” regularly. Whether in little ones or big people, I think it sounds petulant and demanding. My babies say, “I want a drink,” or “I want to go outside.” Maybe you think I’m making too much out of nothing. But without being harsh or stuffy, I believe I can teach them to say, “Can I please have a drink?” or “Can we go outside?” or even “We’re going to play outside!” instead of using those dreadful words, “I want”. I find that “I want” usually goes hand-in-hand with whining or bossing. If they learn to express their desires with courtesy now, I trust that they won’t become adults who demand with a sense of entitlement, “I want mayonnaise on my burger,” or “I want a new couch.”
I want my kids to feel free to express their desires. But doesn’t “I’d like to go fishing today” or “I’d love some hot chocolate” leave a bit of openness to changes of plans, a bit of humility, a bit of grace?
I’m not holding my children to a different standard than the one to which I hold myself. It’s not that I don’t slip up now and then and use those two bad words. I do. But I’ve discovered a couple of things that happen when I say, “I want”. The main thing is that my “wants” tend to come from a heart of demanding self-will. It leaves out the feelings of others and blocks the Spirit of God, Who, after all, might want something totally different from what I want. When I say, “I want” I leave myself open to disappointment, because wants aren’t very flexible. And when I say “I want,” I usually end up in a mess.
One particularly vivid lesson on this came a couple years ago when God had just blessed us with a wonderful new car. One of the first days I was out running errands in the new ride, I was on my way home and thought, Should I stop by the grocery store before I go home? I was running short on time, and I had a niggling doubt about whether or not it was a good idea. I specifically remember saying out loud as I drove down the road, “But I just want...” I don’t remember what it was that I wanted to do, but I remember my want pushing aside my better judgment, maybe even the voice of God. It was Christmas time and the parking lot was jammed. A new building project made it even more congested. To make a long story short, I backed my new vehicle into a huge construction trailer and tore up the whole back end.
That was a hard lesson.
It’s one I haven’t learned perfectly, but I’m growing. I realize that God cares about the little things as well as the big things, and that there are no neutral choices. The small choices I make throughout the day either carry us more toward light or more toward darkness. The little demands we make—for our favorite dessert, the movie we want to watch, the way we think a church program should be run, plans for the evening—are building blocks to a life of character, or the lack thereof. Surrender to God (even in the little stuff) and to others facilitates humility and grace.
I do hope that I can help my kids lay aside self-will and entitlement and teach them to be gracious, flexible, content, and undemanding. I pray that they will understand preferences without turning those preferences into rights. I pray that they will have strong opinions without letting those opinions override relationships. I pray that they’ll lay aside their wants for the leading of God and the good of others. And I pray this for myself as well. May I be able to say, “Your will be done,” not only when it fits my desires.