Nobody wants to be should on.
Whether it’s the world shouting a list of expectations and demands at us, social media showing us what life is like for someone else, or even a desire to fit in that has twisted our dreams and goals, when we slow down long enough to really pay attention to the thoughts in our heads, we find we’ve been “should on.”
I’ve had countless opportunities over the years to experience the burden of should on my life. From college to married life, from the workplace to social media, I’ve found myself so thick in the expectations of others (and myself) that joy, peace, and contentment had no room to thrive.
It’s easy for the best intentions of should to paralyze us from moving toward God’s plan for our lives. We start every year thinking that we should get healthy, or we should finally start that project we’ve always dreamed of doing. Before we know it, we find ourselves frustrated at our lack of progress and wondering why we haven’t achieved what seemed simple for other women.” What started as a good goal has turned into a comparison trap that we struggle to escape.
As I’ve explored my struggles with should over the years, I’ve discovered that some deeper issues take me from living with an eternal perspective, holy anticipation, and healthy expectations to feeling like I’ve been “should on: fear, insecurity, pride, comparison, doubt, and unrealistic expectations.
Fear tells me I should get moving because if I don’t, I’ll never achieve my dreams.
Insecurity tells me I should change who I am and how I act because if I’m more like “her,” I’ll feel confident, secure, and invited.
Pride tells me I should do everything I can to keep up with the Joneses so I can be the best and shine the spotlight on myself—regardless of how the typical definition of hustle burns out, wearies, and overwhelms me.
Comparison tells me I should do more, be more—or else I’ve failed.
Doubt tells me I should fake it until I make it, because I’m not sure I belong or am good enough, but I can’t let anyone else know it.
And over it all is a layer of unrealistic expectations that my life, family, friends, work, and faith should look a certain way, and I’ll go to any length necessary to make every piece of my life practically perfect.
I’m exhausted just making that list.
That’s what carrying the burden of should does to our lives. It keeps our eyes focused on everything—and everyone—around us, instead of directing our gaze toward God. Should tries to yell so loudly in our ears that we can never hear God’s voice inviting us to our next best step. Should is bossy and confusing and a liar. If should were a person, it would be someone your parents warned you to stay away from—the mean girl who makes you feel special for a little while but who will eventually turn on you.
Before we can break free from the chains of should on our lives, it might be helpful to understand why it can be so hard to change how we think—about our lives, our circumstances, and ourselves. There is a good reason it’s hard to break up with should.
Blame it on your brain.
Scripture tells us that our words are an overflow of our hearts (Luke 6:45). How we speak—to others and to ourselves—is a reflection of what is in our hearts. Our thoughts follow our hearts, and our words follow our thoughts.
Maybe you’ve heard it like this: garbage in, garbage out. But hearts filled with God, grace, and the gospel bear good fruit in thought, word, and action. Hearts that are focused on the expectations and demands of the world will bear bad fruit. Through salvation and with God’s help, we can be, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2, transformed by the renewing of our minds.
And that transformation can make the difference between surviving and thriving. It’s been said that Satan doesn’t need to destroy us, only distract us, to keep us from fulfilling the plans God has for us. What better way than to distract us with the noise of the world, filling our hearts and minds with all the things we think we should be doing, but then missing out on the fulfilling work God has for us?
Do you want to know the best part? With God, we can change the direction of our thoughts, create new patterns in our brains, and quiet the shout of should in our lives. It’s not impossible, but we can’t do it on our own. All of the idols that “should” has built up in our lives need to be torn down to make room so we can abide with Jesus, serving His kingdom with confidence and peace.
Excerpt from “Quieting the Shout of Should” by Crystal Stine. Harvest House Publishers, 2020. Learn more at shoutofshouldbook.com