the pressure of “should.”

Last fall, I felt convicted at how many times “should” was coming out of my mouth, after reading some words from one of my favorite authors. Shauna Niequiest honestly confessed to some of her less proud moments and the heart behind them:

For me, the first step was admitting what was true, at first, only to myself. We all have these weird rules about what we should love and what should make us happy and how things should work.  Should is a warning sign, frankly. When you’re using the word should more and more often, it’s a sign that you’re living further and further from your truest, best self, a sign that you’re living for some other set of parameters or affirmations that you think will bring you happiness.

This is what I know: SHOULD never brings happiness.

I felt like I should be so happy because I was doing the things I thought I wanted to do. When Mac was a baby, I felt like I should never complain about how tired I was because I had longed for him so badly. When he didn’t sleep through the night for almost a year, I bit my tongue and didn’t complain because I should have been so happy. I didn’t let myself say I was tired and the math wasn’t working and I was losing my ability to love and taste and experience my life, because that felt like failure, like a stronger woman would have been able to manage it all.

That was almost a year ago that I read and reflected on “should.” Since then, I haven’t been saying “should” as much (especially since I confessed this to my husband and he’s been holding me to my word.) However, in recent days,  I’ve noticed that mentally, I’ve shifted back into a state of “should,” especially in my current transition. I left the job I loved to stay home with my daughter and write. I moved across the country for my third time, this time from Washington to Pennsylvania, leaving behind my family and countless friends who feel like family. Since I’ve known about it for months and I’ve been saying goodbyes for weeks and weeks, I think I’ve had far less grace for myself in this process as I’ve let the “should” attitude creep back in. If I’m fully honest, here are some of my recent “should” thoughts:

I should be enjoying this. I should be able to handle this. I should be having fun doing this.

I should like Pennsylvania, especially if Jesus brought us here.

I should be grateful for what we’ve been given: a place to live, opportunities, help in the move.

I should be able to gracefully handle living with someone new. I did Residence Life for 8 years after all!

I should be able to make it through today without crying or feeling overwhelmed or angry or upset.

I shouldn’t have a hard time putting myself out there and making new friends.

I should enjoy being home with my daughter. I shouldn’t complain since so many moms want this, myself included.

I should be able to patiently endure a one year old’s temper tantrum, without wanting to throw one of my own.

I should enjoy writing. Isn’t this my new dream?

I shouldn’t miss Residence Life so much. Aren’t I glad to be done with maintenance requests and hallwalks and the craziness of Orientation?

Even as I say these things, I cringe. I’m trying to grasp at happiness in the form of looking and feeling more in control. It is doubtful I would ever put such pressure on someone else to feel or be a certain way. I hear the way this sounds. This attitude is so devoid of grace. 

I think one of the problems with this attitude is that the focus continues to end up on me and what I’m able to control in the situation. And the frustrating part is that in this particular season, all illusion of control is completely gone. If I’m honest, it is gone in every other season too. This one just feels extra apparent. So then, since I’m not in control, I just end up putting more and more pressure on myself to perform or look a certain way. It’s exhausting and doesn’t actually work, and is incredibly unkind.

My own words from last fall’s reflections on “should”  have come back to remind me of truth in the best of ways:

I’m trying to take away the pressure of should and replace it with being.

Being present, being messy, being sad, being happy…giving myself permission and the grace to be isn’t easy.

But it feels a lot more freeing and a lot more like real living than should​ ever does.

Being present isn’t about telling myself all the ways I should be doing things. Being present is accepting the Lord’s help to be fully here. On my own, my “should” attitude is the only thing that feels like a semblance of control, and it is shoddy at best. I can’t conjure up gratitude. Believe me, I’m tried. In this season, my own version of gratitude is hollow and empty. Even if it fools someone else, my heart isn’t tricked by the words coming out of my mouth.

I’m currently reading “If you feel too much” by Jamie Tworkowski. I love his unpolished honesty and snapshots of his journey, not just in founding the non-profit movement, To Write Love On Her Arms, but in his own life. He says this, “Reality is the best place to live. Reality is where healing happens. In the honest light and by the voices of our friends.”

So, here’s to real living, today, as messy and gritty and beautiful and wondrous as it needs to be. I’m working to step into that honest light, to be fully here. I’m asking for the grace to ride the waves of laughter and tears, messes and magic, instead of fighting them. Here’s to today, a day that can struck free of “should” and full of experiencing the grace Jesus offers.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Kindsi says:

    Wow! I definitely needed this right now. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom! The “Shoulds” sure seem to get more overwhelming in transition and it’s nice to remember we are in this together! Seriously, so excited to keep reading!


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