These are strong words and should not be used lightly. There are times in our lives where of course there are ‘should’, ‘ought’ and ‘must’ moments but these little words can creep into our lives a little too often. They are powerful words because however lightly you speak them; they become a pressure almost instantly even if we do not realise it at first. They are words that bring absolutes into our lives which for us as humans aren’t particularly helpful – we are not an ‘absolute’ kind of being. The more we use these simple words the more we set ourselves up for potential disappointment because inevitably at some point we aren’t going to acheive some of our specific ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ or ‘musts’. They are words of the law, a way to control our behaviour, but it was clear throughout the whole of the Old Testament that the words of law weren’t going to stop us humans from mucking up, if anything they just highlighted it even more. It is right that there is a ‘best’ way to live but in this lifetime here on earth we aren’t going to achieve it so let’s stop giving ourselves reason to beat ourselves up.
I speak from a very fresh revelation of these words – I am someone who until recently has been governed by these words should, ought and must. At times they have been helpful words that have kept me from harm and potential dark times such as ‘I should not smoke’ or ‘I should not take drugs’ or ‘I should stick to the speed limits’ – all valid and probably most people would agree they are good ‘shoulds’ to have, but they began to cause me to live my life controlled by fear. A fear that meant I was scared of not meeting my own ‘should’ standards, that I could become an instant failure as soon as I stood out of my ‘shoulds’. This was of course a completely incorrect and unhelpful way to live; certainly not a life God had designed for me. These ‘should’, ‘ought’ and ‘must’ fears began to drive nearly my whole life:
- ‘I must make sure I don’t offend anyone’ became ‘if you don’t speak to people/ ask them questions you can’t offend them.’
- ‘I must ensure my children are cared for ‘properly.’ became ‘Oh my goodness they’ve only eaten 2 portions of fruit and veg today’; ‘they’ve spent over an hour using screens’; ‘ they haven’t had any exercise today’; ‘ I haven’t given them a bath in like 3 days!’ – constant worry about what I wasn’t doing.
- ‘I ought to be reading my bible everyday’ became ‘I’ve failed as a Christian!’ (I don’t think you can actually fail at this, thanks to God’s amazing love, grace and mercy!)
- ‘I shouldn’t eat too much fatty foods’ became ‘I’m so weak because I can’t resist a packet of crisps or a bar of chocolate.’
Every little decision I made; thought I had or thing I did has been governed by so many absolutes; some may have kept me from harm but I also wonder how much damage they have caused in not allowing me the freedom God longs me to have. The reason he sent Jesus to earth to die for our sins was so we no longer had to live under these absolutes but instead live in the hope that making the right choices would be something that would become more and more natural the closer we were to God.
Be careful you don’t add too many ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’ to your life. Keep tabs on them and if you notice them creeping into your life stop them before they rule your life . If you can get into the habit of saying ‘I’d really like to’ or ‘I hope to’; it may seem wishy-washy and non-commital at first but it can keep us from setting ourselves up to fail before we’ve started. Using less ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ doesn’t mean you won’t being do things ‘properly’ but it removes the inevitable burden that they create.
It’s a continual journey I am on so this post is for myself just as much as for anyone else!
Do you have a life full of absolutes?
(The bird image is to symbol the freedom of living without absolutes!)