‘Shoulds’ can pile up on the shoulders and shape our thinking. But we have efficacy. We have the power to make a change and stop ‘shoulding.’ We don’t have to live under the slavery of a ‘should.’
It was always the same message. ‘You should be doing better.’
‘You’re not getting as good as grades as Bill and Clive runs faster than you. What’s the matter with you? You’re just not trying hard enough’.
Taken on as messages of personal performance, we start to ‘should’ on ourselves. We compare ourselves to others and make judgments about our performance.
‘Well, at least I’m not like them’ or ‘I’m not as good as them.’ The pendulum swings from pride to self-loathing.
We are given very clear messages about who we are to measure up against, and it is always someone else.
The ‘should’ on the shoulder
Recently I won an escooter in a competition.
It’s pretty cool, and I decided to take it out for a spin. I came back, was telling my wife about my ride and how much fun it was. But then I went out, and some random bird had dropped a poop bomb on it.
How accurate was that bombing raid? Right where I put my feet was this white splash of bird poop. I should have brought it inside.
Many of us have been ‘shoulded on’ for much of our lives.
The ‘shoulds’ of others morphe into our internal voice. An inner critic sitting permanently within us expressing little snipes and barbs.
The Yoke of a ‘should.’
The ‘shoulds’ add up to become an obligatory oppressive weight bearing down on the shoulders.
I’ve known people who seem to be more like a beast of burden than a person of freedom.
A beast of burden is an animal that is used to carry heavy loads or to pull a cart or plow. The animal has little choice in the matter. The yoke is placed upon it, and it must labor under its rigidity.
But we are not beasts of burden. We have choice and efficacy, the power to make a change.
The shoulds of religion
Religion has many ‘shoulds.’ The rules, the expectations, the rites of passage. All the little shoulds, both spoken and unspoken.
Here is but a few
- Go to church every Sunday
- Give a certain percentage of income
- Stand while you sing
- Pray a certain amount of times each day
- Wear these types of clothes
All of the ‘shoulds’ can carry a subtle little message. If you do these behaviors, then you will fit in, life will work out, and God will be pleased with you.
The power of a ‘could.’
To disempower a ‘should,’ you need to replace it with a ‘could’ and then ask why.
If a ‘should’ implies obligation and offers a condemnation burden, then ‘could’ speaks of choice, efficacy, and the gift of options.
‘I should have called Dave’ can be changed to ‘I could have called Dave but didn’t because I don’t have his phone number.’
‘I should have Daves phone number’ can be changed to ‘I could get Daves phone number by calling Jim.’
If you’re ‘shoulding’ on yourself, dig a little deeper and ask why.
If others are ‘shoulding’ on, you ask why? Does it say more about them than it does about you? Are their expectations realistic to what you know about yourself?
Kristen struggles with anxiety and depression. She routinely stays in bed all day. It’s a dark world. On the outside, she looks healthy, able to function ok, and have a few friends.
So when her family says ‘You should get a job’ it’s like a sack of cement lands on her soul. She thinks, ‘I am useless. All my friends have jobs, boyfriends and I don’t.’ Shame crushes her back into her bed.
Perhaps though she could say to herself. ‘Do they know about depression, anxiety? Do they know how many times I have tried to stick at a job? Yes, I could have a job, but I know that at this stage of my recovery, having a job would cause me a lot of stress, too much for me to handle. Instead, my ‘job’ is getting well, going to see my counselor, exercise, and mindfulness.’
Kristen finds freedom from the ‘shoulds.’ The ‘coulds’ offer her the power to take the next step. Its all about the options, not the obligations.
‘I could have done that, but why didn’t I? Perhaps I need to explore why.’
A lighter yoke
A wise farmer will craft a yoke to the shape of the animal so that it is comfortable and doesn’t rub harshly.
Recently I met a lady whose business was to custom make saddles for horses. She would come and measure both the horse and the rider and then create a saddle that would be perfect for them both.
Here is what Jesus said.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:29-30
I imagine Jesus coming and lifting off a heavy yoke of ‘shoulds’. Then moment by moment, shaping a yoke that fits perfectly to you. It’s light, comfortable, and serves instead of enslaves.
Quotes to consider
- The answer to having too much obligation in your life is to own your own choice – to quit playing the victim’s role and risk disappointing someone. D. Riddell
- Love wins over guilt any day. It is sad that we settle for the short-run effectiveness of shaming people instead of the long-term life benefits of grace-filled transformation. Richard Rohr When Things Fall Apart
- In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out. Richard Rohr When Things Fall Apart
- Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner. Lao Tzu
Should; shouldn’t; ought; oughtn’t—the enemies of contentment.
It’s hard to feel excited about God’s love when all your religion consists of is ‘count your blessings, pay your tithes, kick the devil, and don’t skip Church’. D. Riddell
- Real self-esteem comes from within; it is the existential, spiritual truth that we have value and worth intrinsically, because we are here and breathing, not because of anything we have or can do, nor how others regard us. Terrence Real
Questions to consider
- How have ‘shoulds’ dominated your life?
- What would a well-fitting lighter yoke look like to you?
- A ‘could’ asks a question. Do you think ‘coulding’ might be more helpful than ‘shoulding’?