Confession: “Should” is My Four-Letter Word

Love God. Love others. Love you.

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My counselor looks at me with a gentle smile as I finish sharing yet another expectation I’ve placed on myself. “You say the word ‘should’ a lot,” she observes. “I do?” is the only response I can muster at the time.

But over the next few days as I tune into my own language that initial reaction changes from “I do?” to “I DO!” My conversations are laced with the word. My thoughts are filled with it. Its synonym sisters are there as well: “ought to,” “need to,” “supposed to.” If “should” and its variations were cuss words I’d make a sailor blush.

I sheepishly showed up to my next appointment and told my counselor. “You were so right. I do say ‘should’ all the time! What now?” She had a brilliant idea. I was to make a list of all my “shoulds.” Then I was to go to Scripture and find verses to support them.

Here are some examples of items on my list:

I should be more of an extrovert.

I should enjoy getting up early in the morning.

I should write a to-do list every day and complete it.

Y’all—I wrote THREE pages. You can probably guess what’s coming. As I looked through Scripture, I found out that none of my “shoulds” could be found. I was making up laws for myself based on the culture around me (introvert vs. extrovert, morning person vs. night owl, structured vs. go-with-the-flow). And those laws came with expectations that led to shame and guilt when I didn’t meet them. I had become my own personal “Phari-she.”

When someone asked Jesus what mattered most He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” {Matt. 22:37-40}

Here’s the secret in those words: God gives us the “what” but He also gives us great freedom in the “how.” The ways we live out what Jesus said matters most are going to look different for each of us. Every “should” we create for ourselves is a love-killer because it takes away grace and turns what we do from heartfelt service to guilt-fueled performance.

Let’s start treating the word “should” like a naughty word in our vocabularies. And let’s replace it with an actual four-letter word of an entirely different kind: Love. That’s what we’re created for, what we’re intended to live from, what sets our hearts free.

What are your personal “shoulds”? What does God want to whisper to your heart instead today?

This post is part of the What’s True About Us series.


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About Holley

About Holley

Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author and Life Coach

I like humans, words, and good coffee. And I’d love to help you beat what’s holding you back, become all you’re created to be, and kick butt for the greater good.

Cheering you on,


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