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"Should" Can Be a Four-Letter Word

Is it just me?

You should have woken earlier this morning—despite being up all night.

You should have made sure your kids had protein with those pancakes.

You should have gassed up the car last night.

You should have been more patient with your daughter while getting her ready, more grace-filled with your son when you were running late.

Oh, but you shouldn’t be late.

That’s just a small sampling from the first 30 minutes of a Thursday when I had gotten a collective 90 minutes of sleep the night before—thanks to a preschooler adjusting to a big-boy bed and an infant who is currently nursing at 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 a.m. But it’s true of pretty much every day. Virtually every sentence in my head begins with “should”—and too often ends with feelings of inadequacy, guilt and shame.

The thing that makes those “shoulds” so tricky is that they are often attached to really good things. Things I want to do and aspire to be.

But something about that word puts my heart in a vice and—time and time again—I don’t recognize those phrases for what they are: accusations from an enemy bent on stealing my peace, killing my joy and destroying the security I should find in my identity as a daughter of the risen king.

I once heard a woman compare life as a mom to trying to fit 10 pieces of pie on a plate that was designed to hold six.

Even as someone who is disciplined about not overscheduling the kids, someone who has built in “rest time” in our week, leaving space for organic investment in the people we’re discipling … I still end my days with to-dos spilling off of today’s list unfinished and weighing down tomorrow before it begins.

Perhaps some of it is being overly ambitious with what a mom with three young kids can accomplish in a day. Perhaps it is overestimating how much energy I will have when we cross that 7:30 finish line and put our monkeys down to bed (I chronically coast into the 8 o’clock hour on fumes). Somehow, despite my best intentions, it just feels like there’s never enough. And from mom-friends I talk to, I think it’s a malady of the age.

About a week ago, I went to the Lord with my schedule for the new year. I told him that it felt a bit like a rubric’s cube—and while I knew what the priorities needed to be (namely, consistent time to invest in my physical and spiritual health, time to ensure the kids have rhythms and routines that make them feel secure, and time/space to do life-on-life ministry with those He’s called us to)—I didn’t know how to make the pieces fit together. So I laid my pieces on the altar, I admitted my weakness and I asked my Dad for help. For once, I put aside the “shoulds” that insisted I “should” be able to figure it out on my own or I “should” be more gifted with scheduling than I am—and I allowed God to show me how He wanted me to order my days. It was amazing.

The next morning, I woke up at 4:51 a.m. to nurse Sam with LOADS of energy and clarity from the Lord. I had a vision for how it was going to work and proceeded to put together a crazy, detailed calendar of how our weeks will play out (factoring for UP-IN-OUT, WORK-PLAY-REST). I ran it by my husband for input and started this week genuinely EXCITED to walk in obedience to the plan we’d been given—and to see what God would do with the rails He had given us to run on.

Then Monday happened, and I didn’t get a bike for spin class (you should have anticipated the New Year’s crowd and left even earlier). The boys were up all night and I found I couldn’t start my day at 6:00 when sleep had delivered itself at only 5:49 a.m. (you should have powered through). I didn’t have the energy (in my sleeplessness) to get the house clean for a promised play date (tisk tisk). I forgot to make the casserole the night before women’s ministry and was rushing to do it the morning of (shame!). For all my enthusiasm to begin, I found myself accompanied by a voice that condemned and discouraged me each step of the way.

This morning, I had the great privilege of sitting under Desiree Mortensen’s teaching at Illuminate, the women’s ministry at Summit Church. She had been led to teach on what it means for us to walk in the freedom we’ve been given.

God reminded me of Revelation 12:10 (which is a bit of a life verse for me) … “For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

I was reminded this morning that those “shoulds” are the voice of the accuser, who follows me around day and night—telling me that I am not trying hard enough, not loving my kids well enough. That I am not disciplined enough or accomplishing enough. The voice suggests that I am failing as a wife and mother and friend and daughter.

Perhaps you can relate.

This morning, God’s Word reminded me that the accuser has been thrown down. And those accusations are chains we can walk by or take on. They have no more power to bind us. Our imperfections have been atoned for.

The accuser hopes only that we see them piled there with our name on them, forget that we have been redeemed and pick them up.

Too often, I fall for that trap and choose to take them on. Picking up that bondage and forgetting what Paul says in his letter to the Galations:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

So that is my kairos moment for today.

It is for freedom Christ has set me free. I don’t need to pick up the heavy weight of “shoulds” or listen to the voice that would quickly have me trade the truth of victory for the perception of failure.

The Lord has given me that schedule as a gift. He’s given me this messy house and rambunctious, needy little darlings as a gift. He’s given me a community to serve and friends to love and a kingdom to advance—all gifts. And He’ll give me grace when I fall short (which I do, every single day) and freedom to enjoy them. I just have to claim it.

So maybe my life is 10 pieces of pie on a plate that looks like it only holds six. Thankfully, I know the baker and the plate maker and the one who cleans up the broken pieces when I drop the whole thing.  

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doug@3dm.com'
Doug is the Director of Communications for 3DM, and organization devoted to building a disciple-making culture in the local church.