How many wills do I have?
I’m not talking about notarized documents that govern the distribution of my possessions to my heirs, but rather how many personal, internal wills do I have?
It occurs to me that there are several.
The Will of Desire > Perhaps our most basic notion of will, this is our expression of what we want, as in, “The king does whatever he wills.” It is the encapsulation of both our appetites and our dreams, displaying our preferences, pet peeves, and pithyness as we seek to convey to the world how we want things to be. We may have good reasons or shallow reasons for our various particulars, but they are what they are.
The Will of Future Action > This is an expression of our intent to act, as much of a guarantee as we can possibly manage. “Tomorrow, I will go to the store.” Does that mean that we will actually make it to the store? No, for there are a vast array of life circumstances that may arise which prevent us from ever going, but we make this declaration of will nonetheless.
This will may even run contrary to the will of desire; “I hate that mom makes me clean my room, but I’ll do it.” From punishment to altruism, there exist factors which can push us to declare an intent to act which is out of accordance with our preferences and wants.
The Will of Acquiescence > This last will is the limitation of self, the restraint that we can impose upon ourselves so that we submit ourselves to the will of another. “I am willing to move wherever the company needs me.” In this realm, we set aside our personal desires and make our course of future action available to contribute to the fulfillment of someone else’s will of desire.
Looking at this short list, perhaps there aren’t several wills inherent to each of us, but truly only one: the will of future action. The will of desire and the will of acquiescence feed into the will of future action; each one is a stream of motivation, one responding to internal needs, the other responding to external circumstances, but both of them resulting in a commitment to take a course of action.
So, we have the will of desire, which we may express through future action, or subdue in acquiescence. We have the wills of those around us, which we may ignore in order to turn our own desires into future action, or to which we may acquiesce and allow to determine our manner of response.
One of the most profound lines in the 2005 film Batman Begins is this: “it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”
We may often get caught up in thinking that it’s only ever the thought that counts. So long as we believe the right thing, think the right thing, even say the right thing, then what we do doesn’t really matter. We think of our character as only an internal aspect of who we are, which doesn’t have to be lived out in action in order to be authentic.
But I think we go wrong when we take this route. It’s to say that as long as our will of desire seems considerate enough, or balanced with enough will of acquiescence, then we can do whatever we like with the will of future action. But I’m not sure the Bible agrees.
The above quotation from Batman Begins reminds me of a parable from the New Testament:
A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will? (Matt 21:28-31)
The correct answer? The first son, the one who–despite what he said–actually went and did the work that he was asked to do. His will of desire was initially wrong, but acquiescence won out, and his future action resulted in virtue. For the second son, his will of acquiescence was expressed, but the future action didn’t play out. Intention alone wasn’t enough.
So, perhaps we really are creatures of only one will. I’ve heard it said that you can define your faith by observing your actions. How you live demonstrates what you believe. Internal platitudes and external pronouncements always pale in comparison with deeds lived out.
So, whether we have a will of desire or a will of acquiescence, it’s the will of future action that we should invest in. Are we doing what’s right?
And how does this happen, when it seems like we could forever be locked in an internal battle between desire and acquiescence?
We get to the point when they are one and the same, when our heart’s desires are not born from within, but are a direct response to the will of Another.
There is only one will. And it shouldn’t even be mine.