Free will is easily misused or, very often, unused. It is, as noted before, the thing that most separates man from the beasts. By exercising our will we can be seen as human, not simply animal. An often unasked question is just how do we exercise our free will? Essentially by making a commitment.
Commitment is not always an obvious part of the will, but it is fundamental. We only truly use our wills when we commit to an action. If I walk into a restaurant without any idea of whether I am going to get something, then decide upon seeing cheap food I’ll eat that I’ve hardly exercised my will, at least in regards to the meal. I didn’t really decide to eat there, it was their decision to have cheap food that triggered my action.
Likewise if someone’s attitude toward marriage is to simply sit around and wait until the perfect woman comes by he is obviously not committed to the idea of marriage and is certainly not using his free will. He is expecting God to conjure up a woman for him.
To exercise our free will we must commit. If I decide “I am going out to eat at this restaurant” that is a commitment, an act of the will. Likewise if a man says to himself “I will cultivate the virtues needed to be a good husband and go look for and pursue a good wife” he will have committed to the idea of marriage.
As these examples hopefully show, commitment is not dependent on the size of the commitment. The small no less than the great require a firm intent; the primary difference is the size of the effect on one’s life: the decision to eat a hamburger vs. the decision to throw oneself upon a grenade. The last is a prime example. The man who seeks to thus save his comrades is obviously committing himself and, because of this, we laud his decision. At the end of life it is the commitments, the true and full acts of will (as full as any man can make) that we remember. We say “She truly lived” not because she expressed such a grand love for turkey sandwiches but because she committed herself to seeing as many children as possible adopted. He had five hundred people at his funeral not because he always chose to wear nice suits but because he committed to making sure injustice was stamped out.
If we wish to be truly human, to fulfill that for which God created us, we must be willing to commit, to truly engage with the fullness of our will in the small and in the great. We will then be fully alive, man and not beast, exercising in ourselves the divine image in which God has created us.