I was labelled strong-willed, and it still hurts my feelings.
I remember applying my will to all the wrong things – disobedient for sure – but I also remember how it felt to be inside my own skin in that moment.
After being punished or controlled in some way, I would have a wounded spirit but not a broken will. Instead, my will was fueled to win the next time. It was my will that loudly told me I had to keep up the fight.
It wasn’t pretty. I made stupid decisions; ones that I still regret to this day.
Like the time when my teacher asked me to stay after class so that she could talk to me. I was in 6th grade, and I was scared that I was in trouble for something again. So after class, I made sure I was one of the first to rush out the door and to the next class. The next day the same teacher confronted me, she said “Cara, I just wanted to thank you for being kind to [student’s name]. But since you disobeyed my command, you will serve detention today. I’ll call your mom to let her know you’ll be staying after school.”
Or the many times in high school that I pushed the teachers with hard questions – if I’m not allowed to dye my hair a different color because the handbook says it must be a “normal” color, what would you do if I shaved my head? Yes folks, I was before my time. Although I, unlike Spears, didn’t follow through on it.
That exercise of my strong will earned me 2 days suspension. I embodied a strong, pushy, loud-will.
I had the gift of leadership and I didn’t know how to use it. Most of the authorities in my life made it their aim to break it and take it away. This caused me to feel like something was wrong with me. My identity was under attack.
Although all of it was for growth in my journey – I have learned so much because of my struggles – I’ve come to recognize as an adult that I do not, in fact, have to learn through making mistakes. (That used to be a motto of mine: I’m someone who just has to learn through making mistakes. This is a lie.)
I didn’t understand that my strong will could be used for good. I only thought that because of my label, I was destined to do wrong because of my strong will. Slowly the attack on my identity got the best of me – I gave in – I thought there was no use trying.
I laid my strong, rebellious will to rest. I didn’t know how to stop myself from being driven, so I stopped asserting myself at all. I silenced my will. I surrendered my dreams. I started believing that I was only as valuable as I was quiet. If I didn’t cause a scene or create drama then people would like me.
This wasn’t the answer. I thought that by having the opposite of a strong will would make me the person I wanted to be – one that didn’t receive labels and criticisms so much. I wanted to be a person that people thought well of and didn’t roll their eyes at.
I realized that not having a healthy will, is a detriment too. Living with my will quieted was like being a doormat. I felt low, blue, down, and generally dissatisfied with myself. No will = no motivation. My new identity hurt just as much as the old one.
Then in 2009, I began to take baby steps to bring my will back to life. It wasn’t quick and easy. I didn’t just start back where I left off. I had to set my sights on what having a healthy strong will should look like.
By this time, I was a mom. I don’t recommend having a weak will and raising little ones. I muddled through many days, simply because I wasn’t sure what my will was, when it would come back, and if my life even mattered. I was still believing the lie that I was only as good as I was quiet. This lie didn’t work well with kids because they need my will to lead them. To guide their choices and inform their thinking.
Every mother is a leader. I wanted to be a strong one again.
In raising my kids, I made it a habit from the very beginning to explain things to them at a level appropriate for their age. Talking with them about the whys and the hows for our choices as a family helped me to see that my thoughts inform my choices. To lead them well, my thoughts had to be healthy or my leadership and choices would be hypocritical.
I started to think about my thinking. I began to distill right from wrong. I realized that my thoughts were the fuel to my will. I meditated on Proverbs 16:3 in the KJV because I love the words used in this translation: Commit [your] works unto the Lord, and [your] thoughts will be established.
I would pray: Lord, I can’t get control of every thought before I think it, but I can commit to bring the thought to you so that you can take it captive and make my mind obedient. I want to do what is right, please enable me to commit my works to you that my thoughts may be established.
That simple prayer did something miraculous for my heart and mind because it woke up my will. I was committed to something. I wanted to assert my efforts to do what was pleasing to the Lord, and I was hanging onto this verse – claiming it by faith so that my thoughts would conform to what would be pleasing to the Lord.
Wills are beautiful. It’s sin that’s ugly. Both can lead and drive a person. But the two are separate.
On my new path of change, with my newly reformed will, I had to operate moment by moment. Every thought was being taken captive – under inspection for the root and the source. But with too much looking in, I was wearied. I needed a mentor – someone farther along in the battle for their mind and will – to look to for hope and encouragement.
I picked someone going in the same direction in life as I was, someone with a similar personality, and relatable goals to my own – and I diagrammed their choices. Why this and not that? Why such drive here and not there? What is worth their time and resources? Who are they becoming from all this effort?
Who do I want to become?
Regardless of relationships, everyone is leading someone else. We lead everyday in our choices, actions, and words.
For me, I had to own the fact that I’m leading a family. I’m partnered with my husband in the pursuit of living this abundant life – and I only get one chance to live it.
My children were each born with their own unique will. Strong or weak, pushy or passive, loud or quiet – their will drives the choices they make and fuels the use of their gifts and talents. I want my kids to keep their wills intact. There doesn’t need to be a battle between my will and theirs. I hope to raise them to understand the power of leadership for good or for evil.
Having a strong will is not wrong, it’s an opportunity to lead.