One of my heroes, Brennan Manning, used to tell a story about a friend of his named Mary. She worked out of her home in New Orleans and in her living room hung a large banner that read, “Today I will not should on myself.” Whenever one of Mary’s friends said something to her like “Mary, you should get back into teaching” she would respond, “Don’t you should on me. Don’t you dare should on me.”
“Should” is a powerful word.
At any moment on any given day, there is an endless list of things I should be doing. I should eat right. I should exercise. I should spend time in prayer. I should read my Bible. I should be more productive. I should be more generous. I should be more disciplined. I should read that book. I should pursue that thing I’ve always talked about. I should get together with so-and-so. I should be a better husband, dad, friend, neighbor, employee.
I should, really.
It can be overwhelming when I stop and consider all of the things I probably should be doing. The list is never ending because “should” is never satisfied. It always wants more. If we are not careful, “should” will rob us of our peace and steal away our joy. I’m afraid this is something I know a thing or two about.
There have been numerous seasons in my life when I failed to see what I was allowing “should” to do to me. Each time the result was a life in which peace, joy and rest were experienced less and less, while exhaustion, frustration and discouragement became more and more of a daily reality.
I meet a lot of Christians who unintentionally find their way into a similar place. They look tired. Empty. Desperate for what they once knew but somehow lost somewhere along the way.
The good news is that there is a way back.
But it’s not through doing more or doing it better.
The only thing that can break the power of “should” once and for all is the Gospel. I love Tim Keller’s summary of the Gospel. He writes in book The Meaning of Marriage, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
This is the Gospel of God’s unrelenting love. This is the gospel of grace. While there are times when “should” and “grace” try to move us in similar directions, they work in vastly different ways.
Should tears down. Grace builds up.
Should whispers you will never be good enough. Grace shouts that “good enough” has nothing to do with it.
Should will try to convince you love has to be earned. Grace will tell you real love can never be earned.
Should will tell you God is cruel to the unfaithful. Grace will tell you God’s acceptance of you and affections for you have nothing to do with your ability to be faithful. You are his beloved precisely because He is faithful, not because you are.
The more we come to realize the depth of God’s love and the breadth of His grace, the more we will find in ourselves a growing desire to be obedient. At the same time, we find a strange freedom to be at peace with each and every one of our failed attempts at it.
What a scandal grace is. If we will let it, grace will free us to put a stop to all of the “should” once and for all. If we will listen, grace will indeed call us to an altogether different way.
Should says, “Get busy and hustle like everyone else.” Grace says, “Come away with me to a quiet place and rest a while.”
Should says, “You’d better bring your ‘A’ game.” Grace says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
Should says, “Do whatever you need to do. You must win at whatever cost.” Grace says, “Because Jesus has succeeded for you, you are free to fail.”
Should says, “There is so much to do, there’s no time for rest.” Grace says, “Come to me all who we are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Should puts a burden on our backs so heavy it will inevitably crush us. Grace says, “Take My yoke upon you for it is easy and My burden is light.”
Should says, “You’re not doing enough.” Grace says, “It is finished. Enough already.”
An earlier version of this story originally appeared at aaronloy.com. Used here by permission.
Aaron is a husband, dad, church planter, coffee addict, insatiable learner and chronic dreamer. He's the founding pastor of Mosaic Lincoln. You can find more of his writing on his blog or on Twitter.