Caught in the Ought


“Ought” is a word that conveys moral obligation.

“Ought” lets us know we’re duty-bound.

“Ought” directs us to do the right thing in a given situation.

But here’s the tricky part.

“Ought” is a word that can easily hook us–and really hang us up–if we fail to see what’s behind it.

“Ought” always presents itself as having legitimate authority, but sometimes it’s only a tyrannical impostor.

How can we discover if an “ought” is really a fraud?

We can unmask it through simple interrogation.

Says who? Why?

Our inquiry will reveal someone’s expectation behind the “ought,” and our investigation will uncover the underlying reason for the expectation. By understanding these two things, we can avoid getting caught in someone else’s “ought.”

When should we suspect that an “ought”  might be a charlatan?

We’ll find clues by examining it’s character. “Ought” is not really an outside-in word that bullies us. It’s an inside-out word that constrains us. “Ought” isn’t a whip-cracking taskmaster that drives us; it’s an inner compulsion that moves us. “Ought” expresses willing agreement with the heart of God. Doing what we ought is a free expression of the character of God.

When we get caught in another’s demanding “ought,” and then project that oppressive expectation onto God, it grieves His Spirit.

And that is something we ought not do.

8 thoughts on “Caught in the Ought

  1. Good subject, and well-said!

    I use ‘duty’ for ‘ought’. If I feel something is my duty, then it ‘ought’ to be done.

    Duty is the internal call of God to attend to one’s obligations. It’s what makes you get up and move when you’d rather stay in the shelter of safety and inaction. It’s what makes you approach an estranged friend to heal a breach, or to stop the car and pick up a frightened lost dog.

    Turn from duty, and you become less a man. Honor is lost.

    I can let go of everything else. Society’s oughts…well, ‘society’ can go and…treat itself unconventionally.

    • Thanks, Andrew, for your comments.
      “Duty is the internal call of God to attend to one’s obligations”. I like that.
      Yes, as image-bearer we lose something of ourselves when we shrink back from God’s internal call.
      When society’s oughts address superficial appearances rather than our core being, well, I think you covered that 😉

  2. “Says who?” “Why?”
    I need to ask those questions more often when an “ought” comes barreling into my life and pushes me back into a corner.

    Well said, Dave. Well said.

  3. Dave, this one really “caught” my attention. 🙂 Seriously, it’s a timely reminder. My friend/mentor used to say, “Don’t should all over yourself.” It’s taken years to get out from under others’ expectations, and even with awareness and intentionality, the oughts have a way of creeping back in. Happy I read this one tonight.

  4. Very good thoughts. I like that saying, ‘Don’t should all over yourself.” Love the drawing. Still think it’s hard to figure out which “oughts” I ought to pay attention to. “Says who” and “Why” helps to figure narrow it down. Thanks.

    • Amy, I really appreciate your feedback on the words and pictures. Yes, it can be difficult to sort out the oughts. Trusted friends can really help. Sorting is easier in safe, healthy community. (Of course, sorting becomes even harder in unsafe, unhealthy community!)

  5. Kim, I never know what you are going to say, but I always enjoy finding out! Your friend/mentor sure knew your language. That counsel is funny and right to the point, isn’t it? You are so right about ought-creep. Friends often know when to throw a light switch so we can see the oughts lurking all over the place.

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