The Tyranny of The Should
For a long time, I was stalked by a pitiless enemy, an enemy I thought was my friend. This “friend” promised to give me much yet took much from me, always insatiably demanding more. No, it wasn’t a person. It was a dark entity, a ruthless specter. Appearing as an angel, this demon feasts on the souls of those unwitting victims taken in by its deception. For a long time, I was stalked by The Should.
*dramatic, terrifying thunderclap*
Oh, but don’t laugh. The Should may not be a demon, it may not be a person, but it’s real. The Should is the voice inside a one’s head that continually whispers all the things that should or shouldn’t be. The Should constantly reminds you of what you should do, where you should arrive at, how you should feel, how you should behave, and many other things that should be reality in your life. The Should tells you all this because The Should is your friend. The Should wants what’s best for you. The Should wants you to be pleasing to God. You should listen to The Should.
I listened to The Should for many years. The Should was my faithful instructor. It daily reminded me of everything I needed to have and do in order to be the person I should be. In every area of my life I listened to The Should. Daily, I recited The Should’s litanies…
“I should be doing some kind of ministry. I should have a better job by the time my apartment lease expires. I should spend more time in devotions. I should be making a difference in the world. I shouldn’t waste time. I shouldn’t play so many computer games. I should spend more time being social. I should pray more. I should be a better influence in my family. I should have a girlfriend by now. I shouldn’t be unhappy being single. I should go to churches that have more bachelorettes. I should keep God my top priority…I should spend more time looking for a better job…I should volunteer at church…I should spend time with the guys…I should get to bed on time…I should…I shouldn’t…I should… I should… I should… I should…should… should… should… should…should should should should shouldshouldshouldshouldshouldSHOULD!”
I was faithful in my adoration of The Should. The Should seemed so right, so good. See, The Should knows what good things you don’t yet have…but should. The Should keeps you focused on them. The Should is simply trying to move you toward those things that make for greater godliness, satisfaction, accomplishment, peace, and joy. I wanted those things! I wanted the godliness, satisfaction, and joy of being a spiritual and ministerial exemplar. I wanted the accomplishment, satisfaction, and peace of obtaining a more personally satisfying and materially providing job. I wanted the joy of a significant other, the satisfaction of a social life, the accomplishment of successful ministry, and the peace of knowing I was doing what I should, that I was getting life right instead of missing it.
I fear we Christians are especially susceptible to falling victim to The Should. With so many statements about what is good and valuable woven into our sermons, church culture, family values, and perceptions of God, it’s easy for The Should to find much in our hearts to feed on. Maybe you’ve already thought of some of the litanies The Should persuaded you to recite. Do any of these sound familiar?
I should get better grades.
I should spend more time with the family.
I should perform better at work.
I should discipline the kids better.
I should see more growth at the church.
I shouldn’t be upset about this.
I should [insert preferred spiritual practice] more.
I should spend time serving others.
I should be able to forgive him/her.
I should share my faith more.
You might notice that none of the things that “should” be are bad things. Often they’re things a person truly ought to pursue. But that’s where The Should finds its strength. As long as it’s telling us to pursue things that are (at least seemingly) good we think The Should is a voice of goodness. But the catch is that The Should is very clever at getting us to desire good things in a bad way. Perhaps you’ve already discovered what I did. I listened to The Should because I wanted satisfaction, peace, and joy. But I had no satisfaction, no peace, no joy. I discovered that The Should is full of empty promises.
The tyranny of The Should is that it constantly demands we seek that further accomplishment, circumstance, advance, or change, promising that once we finally get there we’ll have the satisfaction we’re longing for. But The Should is a liar. Once we get to that step, there’s just another level of dissatisfaction to climb. On and on it goes. In a brilliant gambit, The Should draws our attention to good things, only to bait us into the error of idolizing them. I wanted to do ministry because I thought it made my life meaningful and fulfilled rather than seeing my meaning and fulfillment are in Christ. I wanted a better job because I thought it would enable me to pursue personal goals and feel more satisfied rather than recognize that obedience to God and patience in every circumstance are what truly bring satisfaction. Thinking of all the things I should be, do, and have only drew my focus away from who I am in Christ, how being a faithful steward of what He’s given me is the one thing I need to do, and how I have all that I need in Him. In stunning reversal, the truth is you shouldn’t listen to The Should. It’s much better to listen to Christ.
I have so much more peace and joy now. I stopped thinking how I should get to this or that place in life and embraced the truth that I should be here, in this place and moment. God, his kingdom, and his goodness are here just as much as they are anywhere. I stopped thinking I should be this or that and accepted that I am in Christ. He is my identity, and no activity of mine will add to or take away from that. Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I realize The Should has crept back into my head to whisper its sweet dissatisfactions to me again. But I’m much better at recognizing and turning away from its voice now. I’m happy to be where I am, in the midst of all with which God has blessed me, rather than always looking for something else that should be.
Satisfaction, joy, and peace; these are things The Should can’t offer, though it may claim otherwise. But we can receive them from Another. As long as there are good things we can think we need or want, there will be opportunities for The Should to bait us into its cyclic, idolatrous game. Let’s instead fix our eyes on Jesus, the one who offers true satisfaction, peace, and joy.
Image courtesy of Sookie.