Let’s continue the discussion we began last week about my dysfunctional companion named anxiety and one of the ways that our relationship plays out; through shoulds.
My typical day often includes a to-do list a mile long and an entire subheading that seems equally essential called; “shoulds.”
These “shoulds” linger in invisible ink at the bottom of the list in my brain. I don’t remember putting them there, yet there they are.
I will sit down at the end of an exhaustingly full day, and the “shoulds” sit down right next to me. I really should (fill in the blank with an annoying thing you feel you should do.)
Stop “shoulding” on yourself
Early in my fight to separate myself from anxiety I heard this saying, which made me laugh. (Can I just say that when you have anxiety, you need to laugh.) It was a saying that was funny but also very true.
We—moms, I think, especially— see some standard that we feel we “should” be living up to and then drive ourselves crazy trying to attain it.
I’ll give you an example.
I’ve had several conversations with a friend about how she can’t go to bed with a dirty kitchen. But you know what? I can go to bed with a messy kitchen, and I sleep just fine, thank you very much.
Somehow though, I began to feel like I “should” clean my kitchen before I went to bed. Scrubbing each dish irritated me to no end. Making sure the countertops were cleared entirely off and every last crumb was picked up left me frustrated and exhausted. The more I cleaned, the more agitated I became. I hated that I had to clean up before bed.
But wait. Who said I had to?
Was this my friend’s fault?
Something inside me says, “I have to do that because someone else said it’s important.” I don’t even realize I’m thinking this until I’m knee-deep in anxiety because I’m knee-deep in something I don’t want to be doing.
Stop shoulding on myself
I am not a night person; my productive hours are the morning and daytime hours. After dinner, I’m done. I’m good with clearing the table and ensuring the dishes are rinsed and pushed to the side until morning.
So, one night in my irritated cleaning tantrum, it was like a light bulb went off, and I realized I was “shoulding” all over myself. I victoriously threw down my sponge, clicked off the light, and walked upstairs. (Victory dance all the way to bed)
It’s a silly example, but I believe a relatable one. There are things that are important to me but may not be important to you. And vice versa.
And that’s okay.
Who “should” you be
The other kind of shoulds we wrestle with is the most anxiety-producing for me. These aren’t so much a list of to-dos’ as a list of how we should be. These are the shoulds where I’ve always imagined God is standing over me, shaking his finger in profound disappointment.
For most of my life, I believed that I wasn’t a good Christian because I struggled so intensely with fear and anxiety. I figured there must be something wrong with me.
Over and over, I heard the same message:
Christians “shouldn’t” worry.
While this is true because of who saved us and who we put our trust in, the statement itself is not necessarily true.
I believe without a doubt that the reason Jesus warned so many times not to worry and not to fear is that He knew we would.
We are human. We worry, get angry, lust, fear, laugh, cry, and have every other emotion in between.
This is how God made us—with emotions.
I’ve realized something along this windy road through fear and worry; God isn’t shaking his finger at me in disapproval. Instead, he’s reaching out a hand in invitation. An invitation to share the burdens we carry.
The word of God is a love letter. Not something to spout off and beat ourselves or others down with when we see an issue. We turn to the lover of our souls and our kind creator for wisdom and relationship.
God is not shoulding on us
God is not “shoulding” on us—He’s guiding and instructing us. When He says do not fear, it’s an invitation to hide under His wings where His power enables us not to let the fear we feel take control of us.
These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
We can overcome the shoulds and the fear that accompanies them because He already overcame them for us.
Who is “shoulding” on you?
I allowed unrealistic shoulds to take up space in my mind for too long:
As a Christian, I was failing because I “shouldn’t” struggle with anxiety, fear, or depression.
I shouldn’t have the scary, weird thoughts I was having. I should be able to get rid of them.
I was a failure as a mother because every other mom had it all together, unlike me. I “should” be like…
As a woman, in general, I was a giant failure because of the inability to be all things to all people. I “should” be more of…
I was a terrible wife, horrible daughter, incompetent teacher, and uncaring friend. (the list went on and on) I “should” be less…
Unrealistic expectations say—that’s who.
We begin to find the freedom we have desired so desperately when we can identify the why behind the anxiety and start to address them specifically.
I want you to take some time this week and look at some anxious thoughts you may be having. Maybe you don’t have any of the shoulds I’ve mentioned. Perhaps yours are different. But I’m going to bet that if you look, you’ll find some there.
Seek them out, write them down and then meet up with me next week for an exercise in deleting those unnecessary shoulds from your mind and your life.
As always, friend, thank you for stopping by,
*This post was featured on soul food Saturday by Living By Design Ministries.