Want To, Ought To, Need To

Want To, Ought To, Need To

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“I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:2 (NIV)

Have you ever watched an unweaned toddler interact with his mother? Of course he wants her hugs, but his newfound, wobbly independence tends to push her away—until he’s hungry. Then he climbs into Mom’s lap for the sole purpose of sustenance.

Kind of selfish, don’t you think? He uses Mom to take whatever she’s willing to give. Unless he falls asleep at the breast, he struggles to get back to his own business of exploration as soon as his tummy is filled.

Now watch a weaned child. She’s busy, busy, busy—eager to discover wonders in her wide world of mobility. She often checks to make sure Mom is nearby, but when nap time approaches, she’s ready to sit in Mom’s lap, to be still. She’s not demanding anything. All she wants is the security of her mother, to lean back, to be…content.

How often do we take time to search out our heavenly Father, figuratively climb onto His lap, and rest?

In America, society’s demands are many and leisure moments are few. Bosses expect us to work additional hours. Committee chairs need volunteers. Whenever I respond with, “No,” I receive a common irritated response. “If it’s important enough, you can always carve out an hour here and there.”

Exactly. I choose to carve out time that allows me to lean against God and enjoy a conversation with Him. Time to listen and reflect on the words He whispers in my ear. Time that I wouldn’t have if I said “yes” to the job, to the project, to the outreach opportunity.

I’m not advocating that Christians quit serving others and become religious hermits. A weaned child doesn’t spend the entire day content on Mom’s lap.

Every day, we have three lists: Want to, Ought To, Need To. Most of us don’t get to accomplish much on the Want To list. The other two usually take up the whole day. And honestly, if Want To took priority, we’d be diabolically selfish.


Unfortunately, the Ought To list screams for most of our attention. Performing well at work, keeping the house clean, serving at church, or serving our children and spouses. We finish the day breathless, then realize we offered a swift nod to the Need To list and shoved the Want To list into a drawer.

But it’s the Need To list that cannot be ignored. We NEED to spend time with Jesus every day, some way, somehow. We NEED to make sure our families know they’re loved, not just served. Yes, service is a form of love, but sitting at the kitchen table after school to listen to the kids’ day tells them they’re the most important people in the world to Mom and Dad. Dinner table conversations are a way to shut out the world and shut in the love for family. Bedtime stories, family prayer—any or all of these belong on the Need To list.

For years, I hurried through a ten-minute prayer time, got the kids ready for school, and headed off to my teaching position. While we made sure to eat most dinners together, evenings were spent on homework, grading, and lesson plans. I dropped into bed exhausted and started over the next day. Weekends weren’t much better. We were usually up early to head for the next sporting event, but at least the family spent time together.

After much nudging from the Holy Spirit, I began to rise an hour earlier. He promised me I wouldn’t feel any more tired than I already was. By spending that extra hour where I NEEDED to be, I finished my Ought To list daily, and often had time and energy to do something on my Want To list. And I wasn’t as tired!

By spending the early morning with a still heart like a weaned child resting against her mother, I’ve learned the lesson of contentment. My needs have been met.

I’m a morning person, so what I’ve described here works for me. Have any night owls found a routine that works best for their Need To list? Is any reader capable of dropping the ought-tos in the middle of the day and spending time in the afternoon to rest against Jesus? I’d love to know how you do it.

About Linda Sammaritan

For years, Linda Sammaritan tried to be perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect teacher and crammed so many activities into her days that twenty-four hours couldn’t possibly hold them all – perfectly. She now lives by the motto, “relentlessly eliminate hurry.” Newly retired, Linda keeps the freezer packed with homemade take-out meals for her full- time working husband when she travels to visit children, grandchildren, siblings, and Mom. Read more about her faith and writings at www.lindasammaritan.com.


  1. Thanks for this great post and its thoughtful reminders to carve out time with our Lord and Savior. Yes, when we do, all else falls somehow into place I’ve found. Sarah Young’s devotional, Jesus Calling, brings home to me that I need to listen often and carefully to Him.

  2. I love Sarah Young’s devotionals! Second to scripture itself, her Biblical commentary for the day keeps well grounded in Spirit.

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