There is a common word that all of us use multiple times a day that is guaranteed to make us unhappy. It’s a word we need to drop, or at least question when we hear ourselves using it. The word is should, and we need to quit using it as well as its cousins, shouldn’t, must,and mustn’t. There is even a little psychology joke I tell my clients: “Quit shoulding all over yourself!”
Here’s the thing…much of the time we are justified in our shoulds. The world shouldbe a fair and peaceful place. Children shouldbe safe and loved. We shouldall be able to reach for our dreams. And the fact that these shoulds aren’t reality might ignite a righteous anger in us that serves as fuel to do what we can to change the world.
However I am thinking about the shoulds that are much closer to home. My son should quit using drugs. My wife should be faithful. My boyfriend shouldn’t lie to me. My best friend shouldn’t have betrayed me. I should get a promotion. My ex should pay his child support. My spouse should get a job. I should find my soul mate. Other people should “like” my posts.
Those are some of the big shoulds. Except for that last one. But there are others that occur on a daily basis that frustrate and anger us. My husband should pick up his socks. My teenager should study more. My grade schooler should brush his teeth without being told. My daughter should get up on time. My spouse shouldn’t spend so much money. And the list goes on and on. I can think of dozens of them, and you probably can also.
If you recognize any of these should in your own life, let me give you some good news. You are right! Your child should brush his teeth, your wife should be faithful, and your daughter should get up on time. But clinging to these shoulds is only serving to hurt and frustrate you. And the shoulds keep you stuck. Shoulds are expectations, and expectations are often premeditated resentments. Even if our expectations are realistic, holding on to them too tightly keeps us keeps us bound to an ideal that might not ever materialize.
What do we do when we keep banging our heads against the wall of shoulds? I have found that one of the most helpful things I can do is to pray the Serenity Prayer that recovery groups use.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
This prayer helps me tease out the things I have the power to change from the change I can’t control. I remind myself that I can’t change other people, I can only change myself. When we let go of our own expectations and move into acceptance, often the world opens up for us. We learn to accept whatisinstead of being upset about what isn’t. We can’t move forward when we are still clinging to our idea of what we must have. When we let go of our should and musts, God moves. We get a reality even better than the one we thought we shouldhave.
Letting go of our shoulds also makes room in our heads for positive thoughts. That space that was full of negative, angry, and hostile thoughts opens up and allows us to think more creatively. We see solutions and possibilities we were blind to before. We learn to experience the moment and enjoy the journey instead of wishing we were already at our destination.
I know this is easier said than done, but you can get there. It takes practice. I still have to ask myself what I have the power to change in a given situation. And I have to remind myself that I am not in control. But there is a God who is in control and I can trust his plans to be much better than my shoulds.