The Tyranny of Should

Several years ago, I was in a meeting with my Spiritual Director. I don’t really remember the content of the conversation, but I do remember that when I finished my monolog, I ended with the statement, “I know.  I should do that.”

There was a pause, and she raised her eyebrow, leaned in, and said, “Should?”

Immediately, I got it.

 Should.  A seemingly innocent word.  We all use it, often in a variety of circumstances.

But personally, I’ve become more sensitive to the word.  I’ve re-thought my use of the word and have tried very hard to eliminate should from my life.

In its purist definition, should means owed, to be obliged to, ought to.  There is a sense of expressing what is expected of us, to have some sort of obligation, and apparently, it’s a more polite form of shall.

What I discovered since the ‘aha’ moment with my Spiritual Director is, when I use the word should I am reflecting some guilt.  Like I know something would be good to do, but I haven’t got around to doing it. Things like:

  • I should write a thousand words a day.
  • I should go on the AIP diet.
  • I should incorporate weights in my gym routine.

When I hear myself using the word, in all honesty, I know I have no intention of following through on what I should do.  It feels like I’m making excuses for the actions that I don’t really want to do.  Because if I was serious and wanted to do x,y, or z, I would do it.  There would be no should.

As a believer in the salvation work of Jesus Christ, I realize that I have been given freedom from the ‘shoulds’ in this world.  Not the ‘shalls’ mind you, in fact, I prefer the ‘shalls’ or the ‘shall nots’.  In a way, it is much easier to follow these clearer boundaries of commands.

But Jesus has taken away any kind of condemnation which stands in the way of my relationship with God.  He has given me, as one of his followers, freedom to be who I am and to do what is right.  If I am carefully listening to him through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then I have help to determine right and wrong, what to do and not to do.

There is no one right way to live in Christ.  The way I live my life is not exactly the manner in which someone else might live their life in Christ.  Similar, perhaps, in some attitudes and points of view, but not always the same.  I was a stay at home mom and wife, am I holier than the Christian woman who had a career and raised her children?  Umm…no.  Is the career woman more holy than I am, because she can manage her job and her family?  Nope. The way I understand God’s word: both of us are holy, loved, and treasured by him.  Both of us have been given the free will to choose how we are going to obey him in our life, as we’ve been called according to his purposes.

God didn’t give us a spirit of false guilt.  Why do we want to stay imprisoned by presumed expectations and feelings of being obligated to do such and such?  We can do nothing for our salvation.  Not a thing.  Christ has done it all.

I’m not saying we can live a life with no restraint towards sin.  Absolutely not.  We constantly battle against our sinfulness. I’m also not saying that there are not times of true guilt.  We are not without sin.

But the only expectation that is necessary is the one God places on us, and our obedience to him is imperative.  If I say ‘I should do this or that’ it sounds a bit like…. disobedience.  However, when we do sin, we know that we have been given the opportunity to confess, and will receive immediate forgiveness as he has promised.  But his love for us, seen in his crucifixion and identified by the Holy Spirit within us, is the restraint we need.

So what place does should have in my life or in your life?

These things I know:

  • False guilt is unnecessary and unproductive. True guilt needs to be handled as soon as possible.
  • The expectations of others on us does not produce a life worthy of our calling, but the love of God compels us towards a life of productivity for him.
  • Obedience is the true mark of our relationship with God, not an obscure remark motivated by something other than him.
  • We do not stand condemned before God, because we know that Jesus has given, those who believe in him, a clean slate.

With these truths in hand, should doesn’t seem to have room in my life.  Not that I want to make it a rule, but why incorporate a word so fraught with guilt into my life?   Jesus doesn’t work like that.  He’s in the freedom business.

What do you think about the word: should?  Does it have a place in your life?  What does freedom in Christ look like to you?


About birdhead456

I have many titles from wife, mother, and Nana. But I am also a gardener and love to create beautiful spaces. To me the soul is much like a garden. It is a beautiful place where we meet God. Just as a garden needs attention, nutrients, and patience, so does our souls require time to be nurtured in order to bring forth the good fruit of a strong relationship with God. I am a Spiritual Director working with Christian woman who desire such time and attention to help build a deeper connection with God.
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