DON’T STAY STUCK IN THE SHOULDS

 

Today is September 1, and for me it represents the beginning of autumn.  The first of the BER months.  When everything seems new again.  Autumn is my favorite time of year.  I like everything about fall: the vivid colors on the trees, the crisp, cool air, the excitement of children going back to school, football games, and pumpkin patches.  I love it all.  I even enjoy the nights getting a little longer.  Autumn is such a rich season, a season of harvest and plenty.

 

But this is 2020 and everything is different and definitely not what I planned.  I should be over-the-top excited about Sooner football starting, but it’s more like, “Meh.”  We won’t be going to the games in Norman this year (if they actually have games).  Instead, we took the option of rolling our tickets over into 2021.  It isn’t because we are afraid of getting COVID, but rather because sitting in a stadium that is three-quarters empty and cheering through a mask just doesn’t sound like fun.  No tailgating, no Boomer Bash…the game day experience, like everything else in 2020, will be dramatically different.  Not like it should be.

 

This is the year the Sooners were scheduled to play Army as an away game.  Jerry and I should be going to West Point like we planned.  But not this year.  Cancelled!  How many events have been cancelled in 2020?

 

I guess the first cancellations that hit us, like everyone else, were the large-group gatherings.  We couldn’t go to church for many weeks, and we are only just now allowed to go back.  We couldn’t go out to a restaurant for weeks; in fact our only outing for quite a while was a trip to the grocery store.  Jerry and I cancelled our annual family trip to Rosemary Beach in the early summer.  We didn’t get to see our granddaughter graduate from high school.  We couldn’t be in the hospital waiting room while a daughter had surgery or a granddaughter gave birth.  You have your own stories of cancelations this year: weddings, funerals, school events, and family reunions.  Milestone events that were missed.  Things that should have happened didn’t.  Life should not be like this!

 

As I have been pondering these things on this September morning I am amazed at my own contentment.  I learned a long time ago that expectations are premeditated resentments.  I’ve learned not to be caught up in the “shoulds,” even when the “shoulds” are true.  It’s true: life shouldn’t be like this, there shouldn’t be rioting and looting in our streets, people shouldn’t hate each other, my grandchildren should be able to go to school in person and shouldn’thave to wear masks, and by golly, there should be football as usual!  But what should be isn’t, and staying stuck in the “shoulds” is a guaranteed recipe for unhappiness.  Instead I need to accept what is and learn to deal with it.  This has definitely been the year to roll with the punches.  And amidst all these cancellations, this uncertainty, I have peace.

 

That peace comes from knowing God.  The God I know created this world, and saw this year coming before time existed.  Nothing has taken Him by surprise.  He is our refuge, our safe place when all our familiar props have been knocked out from under us.  He is there when the world faces a pandemic, when we lose our jobs, when our stock accounts shrink overnight, when all our plans have been disrupted and even plan B doesn’t work.  He is there when the “shoulds” turn to “should nots.”  I can trust Him because I have walked with Him for many years and know Him to be faithful and true to his word.  Every morning I ask for new marching orders because I know my own agenda is not what matters and may be cancelled anyway.  So I don’t stay stuck in the “shoulds.”  I go to Him with what is, and ask Him what to do because He has a perfect plan for me.  Proverbs 3: 5-6 tells me what to do:

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WORD THAT IS GUARANTEED TO MAKE US UNHAPPY

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.
Amen.

 

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.

 

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