What is an “I have to”?
by Christy Fay
I have to. Three little words that seem innocent enough. We speak them aloud perhaps a hundred times a day.
“I have to go to the store.”
“I have to take the trash out.”
“I have to pay the water bill.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
And all those “I have to’s” play a role in our lives. (Especially the bathroom one! It’s important to use the restroom when you need to use the restroom; this is something I have been trying to instill in my kids for quite some time!) Anyway, recently, those three little words have taken on deeper a meaning for me. In a sense, I feel like my “I have to” has personified itself and starting slapping me around a bit. I certainly don’t feel like I’m in an abusive relationship or anything. It’s more like the splash-of-water-in-the-face kind of morning wake-up call that is necessary from time to time to jolt you back into the land of the living.
So what is the “I have to” I am referencing? It’s that thing—you know, the thing—you daydream about and periodically pantomime when no one is looking. It’s the thought in your mind when you wake up and the thought you can’t seem to shake before you drift to sleep. It’s that beautiful mixture of passion, obsession, talent and gift. It’s that thing that lights your soul on fire. That thing you can’t seem to stop chasing. You can’t say no to it, even if you want to, and even though you’ve tried. It’s the one thing you’ve been given that the world desperately needs. It’s your “I have to.”
The Japanese—because let’s be honest, don’t other languages always seem to have more appeal than the one you speak? —have a word that sums this up. (On a side note, is there anyone else who’s ever dreamt of a child being born to you who utters his or her first words in an adorable British accent? Who cares if you and your husband are from Minnesota. Miracles are possible, right?)
Back to the Japanese. The word they use is ikigai. This word is defined as “a reason for being; the thing that gets you up in the morning.” Have you ever asked yourself why you’re alive?1 It’s a sobering and terrifying question.
If you’re experiencing a panic attack right now because you don’t know what your “I have to” is, stop, breath and avoid hyperventilating. First of all, you’re in the right place. This Bible study was written to help you discover and live out your “I have to.”
Second, it just means you are normal. No one comes out of the womb knowing exactly what they were made to do. Examples: not everyone who operates on their stuffed animals ends up becoming a veterinarian. Not everyone who forced their siblings to do times tables and took great joy in marking F’s on top of papers turned out to be teachers. Sometimes we just don’t know for a while. And sometimes we think we know and then come to discover we don’t.
Sometimes your “I have to” looks like a change in careers or moving your family across the country. It might cause you to leave the workforce and stay at home full time with your children, or propel you into foster parenting. Your “I have to” is as unique and original as you are. It is anything from stagnant, and as seasons of your life come and go, your “I have to” morphs and mutates as well.
Yet with all of these variables, one thing will never change. God is the author and creator of all of our “I have to’s.” There is no ikigai without Him. Having wired us Himself, the Scriptures put it this way: He knit us tougher in our mother’s womb. He is the key that unlocks every “I have to.” So if you’re not sure where to start? Pray. Even if you are sure where to start: pray.
The very best thing you can do on your “I have to” journey is to commit yourself first to a bended knee and make it a point to consistently cry out to the Maker-God who alone knows the path that lies ahead. The psalmist reminds us that “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him” (Psalm 37:23, NIV). So let’s fix our eyes on Him, place our hope in His steadfast faithfulness, and allow Him alone to guide our steps.
1Christopher Peterson, “Ikigai and Mortality,” Psychology Today. Posted September 17, 2008. Visited September 14, 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200809/ikigai-and-mortality
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