I recently had a conversation with a student about shoulds. In the conversation, we discussed the feelings of obligation that come with them. They tend to cause us to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves which then lead to guilt when we don’t fulfill those expectations. As someone who doesn’t really like to be told what to do, when I feel like I should do something, I have less motivation to actually do it.
I don’t know about you, but I too often let shoulds run my life—there are times when I should all over myself. There are a lot of things in my life that I feel like I should do. These shoulds carry a lot of weight with them and if at the end of the day I feel like I haven’t completed enough of them, I may go to bed with a heavy heart.
These shoulds can also impact the way I live my life. I do things not because it’s the right thing to do, but because I feel like I should do them. Shoulds have a tendency to turn into have-tos, and those can feel real heavy. Not all shoulds are bad, but those that cause us to set unrealistic expectations and that induce unhealthy guilt are those that we might need to really evaluate and call into question.
Shoulds can oftentimes spill over onto our image of God. It becomes an image of God standing there shaking his finger at me, making me believe I’m not good enough. This is, in my experience, so far from who God is. Instead, God wants to free us from the shoulds. I believe God uses coulds. Coulds feel more like an invitation than a demand. When we’re invited by God, we do things out of love, not shoulds.
Ask yourself where you’re shoulding in your life. Are there tasks that you’re resentful towards and you allow yourself to easily be distracted from? Chances are there’s a should behind it. Are there spaces in your faith life in which you do things because God is shaking a finger at you rather than inviting you? Chances are there’s a should behind that too.
Robby Francis is the Campus Minister in Fusz and DeMattias Halls.