For too many years, the bully of “should” beat me down.
I had a list a mile of long of all the things I “should” do in order to be a good student, a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, a good cook, a good housekeeper, a good citizen and, of course, a good Christian.
I just finished a book called Taming Your Gremlin. It isn’t really a Christian book but it was mentioned by my pastor, and I was intrigued. When I came to the chapter about how to be a “Perfectly Pleasant” person, I wondered why I hadn’t written the book.
There’s this list, this ridiculously long and impossible list, of all the “shoulds” for being a perfectly pleasant person.
I had a list this long and more. It’s scary to see it in print.
The “shoulds” that I piled upon my own shoulders got heavier and heavier until I reached a point where I was unable to keep going.
In her memoir, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about how she learned to keep Sabbath after she quit full-time pastoral ministry. “I would read for pleasure and I would prepare simple food, but any activity prefaced by ought, should, or must in my mind was automatically disqualified.”
“Should” is a cruel, unfeeling taskmaster. It’s a mean bully that sees no reason to give rest to the weary.
I picture my own “should monster,” — my inner gremlin — as a mash-up of Sue Sylvester (the malicious, cut-throat coach of Glee fame) and Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid.
She’s vicious and harsh and she doesn’t back down. She’s an evil voice stealer (like Ursula) and a slavedriver (like Sue). Nothing is ever good enough to please her. She barks out orders of “should,” “must,” and “ought to” all day long. And she doesn’t quit once the sun goes down. Her nastiest tactic by far is to hurl “should have”s at my tired soul like poison darts.
I’ve listened to her far too long.
For years I tried to be proactive in battling my inner gremlin. I worked diligently to “renew my mind” by replacing all the negative thoughts with positive ones, and by memorizing lots of scripture.
Those strategies were good. It’s important to know the truth — God’s truth — when it comes to knowing what to believe.
But it still didn’t stop the nagging voice inside, that voice always letting me know what I “should” be doing.
The Gremlin book revealed to me a revolutionary approach, one I hadn’t even considered. I’m not supposed to go all-out attack on my gremlin. I don’t need to engage her in hand-to-hand combat. I’ve been warned not to grapple with her.
I just need to notice that she’s there.
The meddling voice that reminds me of all the “shoulds” is just that. . . a meddling voice. And I have a choice to ignore it. I can hear all the “shoulds” and still choose to do what I want to do in that moment. I don’t have to feel guilty about all the things my Gremlin tells me I “should” be doing.
Guilt is just another form of “should.”
Guilt isn’t something that God ever wanted us carrying around like a heavy sack of potatoes. If he wanted us weighed down with guilt, He never would have sent Jesus to lift the load.
I’m not designed to live a life driven by “shoulds.” I’m made to live free and true. So are you.
When’s the last time you thought about all the things you should be doing? Or maybe about the things you should NOT be doing.
I think it’s high time “should” got eliminated from our vocabularies.
- Do something because you want to.
- Do something because it’s the right thing to do.
- Do something because you feel led or called to do it.
- Do something because you enjoy it.
Be yourself and live your life and be willing to risk making mistakes.
But don’t live with the constant guilt trip of “should.” Learn to recognize that voice for what it is — your gremlin, the little devil on your shoulder, the voice of Satan himself — doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s a voice that wants to trip you up.
Don’t let it win.
Don’t let “should” get the better of you.
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