“We create strategies, make to-do lists, choose activities and organize ourselves within an inch of our lives based upon what we see online or what influential people tell us we should be doing. We’re striving with everything in us toward goodness, toward making an impact, driven by the expectation of what our lives should look like.”
That is a quote from my new book, From Good to Grace, and summarizes succinctly what I’ve been thinking about lately; namely the word should. Should is a “what” without the “why,” a standard to keep without ever engaging the soul, a joy-crusher in the name of right behavior.
Because should typically leads an individual to behavior modification. To squeezing into a mold. And then guilt and condemnation. Does God really want our behaviors minus our joyful motivation? That’s like asking if my husband wants my dutiful love. Yes, dear, you can kiss me. It is my duty as your wife.
However, what I’ve really been thinking about is how our individual shoulds become corporate shoulds, how we put our shoulds on one another, and how those shoulds thrown around too freely have unintended consequences. Like division, fear, judgments and false assumptions.
But the main problem I see with trying to be good is that, by definition, we have to hide our weaknesses and failures from one another. It’s more important that we impress one another. So we create whole churches where weakness is not welcome. We hold impossible standards of perfection for one another, especially for our leaders, and we struggle to trust that grace is the basis from where we’re all coming toward each other. Because sometimes it’s not.
I heard yesterday of a friend being attacked for the very existence of their unwanted wounds. And I thought about how we struggle to find a place for past failure and weakness and sin that’s been repented for in the church. We have standards and we judge those who don’t meet them, often without any backstory or benefit of the doubt. Because of the shoulds.
I’m not talking about being flippant with or overlooking sin. I’m talking about making rushed judgments about others.
I wonder what would be said about some of our beloved Bible characters if they lived in the age of Twitter or if they came to preach in our churches? Hosea, can you believe it, married a prostitute. Paul was an ex-con. Moses could have said things a little better. Rahab had a sketchy past. Those are factual statements that miss the heart of each person and, even more, how God redeemed them and called them to a specific ministry.
The people God uses most are those with a broken heart—broken over their sin, broken by circumstances, broken by the wounds of others. They are people who are not just broken and contrite, but who have allowed God’s redemption to heal their brokenness. Broken yet emboldened, because they’ve seen the power of God made perfect.
What is it that Scripture says? The power of God is made perfect in our weakness. In our past. In our difficult circumstances. In our current wrestlings. In our inability to be perfect and meet others’ standards for the “good” Christian.
Maybe this explains why we don’t often see God’s power in our lives. We don’t like brokenness.
Aside from powerless living and powerless churches, you know what else thrives when we attack the wounds of others or we lead with our shoulds? Shame. Shame throws its weight around in our churches when we’re maintaining our images. Shame maintains silence when stories of redemption need to be voiced. Shame says that brokenness is wrong, that only the unbroken is right with God or can be used by Him.
We’re afraid to put away the shoulds, to cheapen grace. But the longer I live, the more I recognize that life never works according to a formula, and the more I search for and cannot find the end of God’s grace toward those with a broken and contrite spirit. Praise Jesus!
His power is made perfect in weakness. So let us give each other room to experience that power. Let us invite one another to experience that power. Let us speak of how that power has been made perfect in our own weakness. Come, Lord Jesus.