Help! I’m Drowning in Shoulds

Photo by Simon Howden at

I know there are things I should do – like floss and plan meals and clean the linen closet. And I know there are things I shouldn’t do – like stay up late and speed and overdose on chocolate. But shoulds and should nots oppress me. I rarely succeed because of a should. As a matter of fact, the legalism of should makes me want to do what I should not all the more.

Should is good. We can’t live without shoulds. Look at these from the Bible:

  • Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. Rom 15:2-3
  • If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Gal 6:1
  • Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place. Eph 5:4
  • If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God. James 1:5
  • Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19

Interestingly, I found that there aren’t all that many shoulds in the Bible – not near as many as try to dictate my life. So I’m testing an alternate thought pattern: If… Then…

  • If I floss, then I won’t be embarrassed when I go to the dentist.
  • If I plan my meals, then I won’t be thawing frozen meat in the microwave at 5.
  • If I clean the linen closet, then I’ll have more space for my sheets & towels.
  • If I go to bed earlier, then I will have more energy the next day.
  • If I don’t speed, then I’ll be more relaxed and won’t risk a ticket.
  • If I don’t overdose on chocolate, then I’ll be less dependent on it and lose weight to boot.

I know this, I’m really glad that the Bible doesn’t say, “You should confess that Jesus is Lord” but rather, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe…, [then] you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)

I also know that, as my Counselor, the Holy Spirit will gently remind me, “Barbara, if…. then….”

So, what do you think? Am I on to something or playing mind games?

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