Undoubtedly, you’ve heard someone say about another individual, “They are dedicated to their profession, or job, or role, etc. Just what does it mean, “to be dedicated.” For clarity, we must decide how the phrase is being used. In the case of religion, it’s the dedication of a church facility, baptistry, or a child. It can also apply to the setting aside of some object for a particular purpose. In some situations, it is putting someone’s name on an object as dedicated to their memory.

Psychologist Marcia Reynolds sees the dark side of dedication. By that she means, choosing to stick with something based on a bad excuse, or no excuse at all. The Big Question always boils down to, “Who is making your decision? Society, your parents, or the slave-driver, fear-monger, criticizer in your head?” Is your dedication to what you have just an alibi to stay safe?

Dr. Reynolds goes on to ask: What inner strengths can you call on? Recall a time in your life when you accomplished something you were proud of. What inner characteristics did you call on to make this happen? Were you courageous, determined, creative, curious, trusting (had faith), adventurous, hopeful, or competitive? What inner strengths and gifts can you call on to quit hiding behind your “dedication” and move on?

In the book, “The Practice of Presence,” Patty de Llosa writes, “Finally, my dedication to ‘keeping the family together’ led to illness, depression, and a lot of suffering before I could separate from my husband and begin life again.” She goes on to describe what she learned about the myth of marriage and family from psychologist James Hillman, that keeping the marriage and family together is not always the best option, and possibly detrimental to the psychic health of children. The excuse keeps the troubled person from talking about problems and dreams. The resentment leads to a breakdown of the relationship which doesn’t keep the family together anyway.

So, what we learn here is not just the defining “dedication,” but is that dedication for your good or for your harm? Master Therapist Thomas M. Skovholt dedicated his book to those who —graciously gave of their time for this research project. —have helped so many suffering from emotional pain. —inspired other therapists and counselors to reach higher in their professional development. In other words, they took some of “their” time and spent it on others.

Psychologist Ciarán Dalton shares an interesting look at how we conceptualize our future selves and how that relates to habits of procrastination. In a sense, we think about ourselves in the future the same way we think about others. We see this concept unfold when we look at the level of dedication and hard work some athletes put into their off-season workouts. The fit, dedicated, and persistent players are the ones who relate more closely to their future selves. Whereas the unfit, procrastinating players imagine themselves during the season as if it were someone else. Which athlete are you? Here we see that dedication is the antitheses of procrastination.

This is why dedication must be linked to a “purpose.” The Association for Psychological Science tells us that dedication buffers people against boredom. They say that based on research and studies, managers and executives should consider designing jobs in a way that minimizes monotony while cultivating dedication.

In Behavioral Psychology, Michael Schreiner says that when people want to change some aspect of their lives and actually there is a lot of fluidity between the behavioral and the existential. Sometimes you can’t have that ‘aha!’ moment until you feel the difference in your life. But, Schreiner thinks the existential realization that change is needed is more powerful. Without this dedication, feeling it in your bones that the new behavior is essential, no regimen will last that long because you can always come up with rationalizations that sound really good to the parts of yourself that don’t want to do the hard work that change entails.

Schreiner goes on to say that You can try dedication with any challenging activity in your life where successful outcomes are not guaranteed even though you are trying your hardest, and where you feel tempted to give up, slack off, or lose concentration. You want success to be possible but not a given, and for there to always be the possibility of doing even better.

However, unhealthy obsession and healthy dedication look similar in terms of manifest behavior so we have to isolate the underlying intentions if we want to figure out which is which. Our inside thoughts and outside behavior can appear quite similar in instances of dedication and instances of obsession even though existentially speaking these two life orientations are worlds apart. So, talking about the difference between obsession and dedication actually helps us highlight what we see as the inherent deficiency in the underlying theoretical structure of behavioral psychology. In our existential view, the main difference between obsession and dedication is that with an obsession you can’t stop thinking about it even if you want to and your behavior is compelled, it’s outside of your conscious control, whereas with dedication you think about it all the time because you want to and your behavior is determined by your own freely willed choice to pursue that path.

But the one we want to look at is dedication being used to define a person’s self-sacrifice, devotion, and loyalty to God and His kingdom. While all of these others are excellent points, the most important is how dedicated are we to our spiritual life and God? There is no better place to start than here: How blessed are those who reject the advice of the wicked, don’t stand on the way of sinners or sit where scoffers sit! Their delight is in Adonai’s Torah; on his Torah, they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams — they bear their fruit in season, their leaves never wither, everything they do succeeds.[1]

And Moses gave the Israelite this message: Nothing that a person dedicates to the Lord of all they have, of man or animal or their own land, will be sold or bought. Everything that has been dedicated is most holy to the Lord.[2] This is another way of saying that whatever we dedicate to the Lord should be used for no other purpose than to praise, please, and honor Him.

Many Churches, in dedicating infants to the Lord, follow the example of Joseph and Mary when they brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate Him.[3] And the Apostle Peter touches on this in his instructions: Dedicate your minds for good use. Keep awake. Set your hope now and forever on the loving-favor to be given you when Jesus Christ comes again.[4]

And the Apostle Paul cautions believers to remember that your body is a dedicated house of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you. If anyone defiles and spoils God’s house, God will destroy them. For God’s house is holy and clean, and you are that house.[5] Then he lays out his idea of dedication to God’s service: Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to dedicate your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to dedicate yourselves to Him.[6]

So, what can we say about our dedication to God, His service, His Word, and calling? Is it more of an obsession than dedication? Is it done out of habit or, like God’s blessings, new every morning?[7] Can we truthfully say that our dedication to some present activity is real, or are we using it as an excuse not to move forward and let God use us in another part of His vineyard? Also, when we say we are dedicating something we do for God, are we taking some of “our” time and giving it to God, or are we using time when we have nothing else to do? You can only fool yourself, and perhaps others, but you cannot fool God, no matter how dedicated you may be. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Psalm 1:1-3 – Complete Jewish Bible

[2] Leviticus 27:28

[3] Luke 2:22

[4] 1 Peter 1:13

[5] 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

[6] Romans 12:1-2

[7] Lamentations 3:22-23

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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