The Treachery of Should (My Story Part 3)

So when I last left you, I had just jumped from the greatest, scariest precipice of my life in My Story Part 2 (<— read this first). I had gritted my teeth, and with a wild-eyed determination that things in my life must change or I would die trying, I took a leap after the richest, most beautiful voice I have ever known. His voice came to me in the way it had thousands of times before – as a thought that comes from deep inside my middle, instead of a thought that originates in my mind… I don’t know how to explain it any better than that, except to say that it is so very clearly not a self-generated thought, but one from above – A Spirit thought.

This Spirit thought-voice had said that if I would be who He created me to be, that everything would flow out of that place. Everything, being simply the ability to live the life I believed belonged to me and that I ought to be living – being kind, generous, not self centered, productive, and fully alive. This is the life I believe belongs to every believer in Christ – that because we believe in Him, because we follow Him living surrendered lives to Him and His will, we live fully alive, redeemed lives with promises and a great inheritance that was designed for us before the beginning of the world. 

This, my friends, is not what I was living. Nothing close to it, actually.

I was depressed, alone, given to swinging wildly between wallowing fits of self pity and raging anger. And all for very good reason if I did say so, myself. Life was difficult, the economy was crashing along with the housing market, a tree had uprooted and destroyed our home, causing us to leave our church family, I had just cut ties with my only and best friend in efforts to escape codependency, and I was home all day long, every single day, with two cherub faced, curly headed toddlers… which yes, should have been the one redeeming factor of my life at the time, but I was lonely and ached for grown up conversation, connection with other human beings that wanted more out of life than the next Curious George episode. (Although George is still my favorite) And regardless of how justified or understandable my current internal landscape was, I was absolutely drowning in guilt and shame for not being able to live the victorious life I believed I should be living. I simply was not.

After the great leap (which to the outside world didn’t look like much of anything at all), I was free falling, the wind whistling around my ears. I had no idea what was next or how to get my feet back on the ground. And heard His voice again. This time he asked me a question.

“Where are your motivations?” 

Putting around the kitchen as you do day in and day out with little kids in the house, I thought very hard and long about what He had asked. 

Where were my motivations? What was it that drove me to do all the things I did? Motivation has always been a tricky subject for me. I guess that is because it was always so deeply wrapped up in acceptance, although I don’t think I could have seen that at the time. I flipped and flopped back and forth between trying hard and giving up, trying harder, and giving up – because the things I was doing, were all to gain me love, acceptance, belonging, but the tasks I did manage to pull of never seemed to give me what I was looking for. Being the perfect housekeeper, being the perfect mother (till I lost my patience again), being the perfect witness for Christ, leading the most meaningful worship services… all of it left me feeling flat and empty as I was before. Only now, I was also exhausted from the effort. And as I thought through the things I was trying to accomplish, I realized that every single thing I did, without even one exception, was driven by an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. 

I was driven to perform, to hold the standard high, to “be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (whatever that actually meant was lost on me, it was merely the rule that showed me my absolute failure) – It was impossible. I was desperately trying to be that person everyone expected me to be. I mean, just the inability to be perfect, alone, kept me hogtied, so I didn’t even have to get to any of the actual failures in my life to hold me down. I was spending every ounce of my energy trying to outrun guilt, trying to escape shame, instead of living a life that resembled in any way, the life I believed belonged to me. And the more I understood that I was fighting a losing battle, the more fiercely I began to fight anything that had the slightest hint of telling me to be what I should be or else I was very, very bad, and that I should be very ashamed of myself. But that didn’t come from Him. He told me to be who I was created to be… not try harder to be the perfect image of who I “should” be. And a light began to dawn in the darkness in my mind. Maybe just maybe I really have been seeing this all wrong. Maybe all those years of being terrified of being seen for who I actually am wasn’t justified. Maybe should has actually been a prison instead of a guide post for my life. What if…

And out of the questions, a wildness rose up in me with a certainty so sure, that every time I thought, “Well I should…” that is as far as the thought would go. A kick would trip in my gut, and a roar would rush up from deep inside of me to slap down that thought. F*@% SHOULD!!!! I would growl between barred teeth, with a clenched fist, and wild eyes. NO MORE!! I seethed, anger ripping up from some stifled place inside me. No more “should” be this, “should” do that nonsense. Because it was nonsense, and once I began to understand that, the trap was sprung and I was catapulted out. I finally understood that never would I ever escape my limitations by trying harder to do what I should do. I would never be who I was “supposed” to be by allowing guilt and shame to drive and motivate me. It was a lost cause and I would never win that fight. I was awash with fury for all the years I had beaten myself black and blue to conform to some image God had never required. In fact, he was saying the opposite. I did not need to beat myself out of being the scum I believed myself to be, rather He wanted me to know the beauty and life and fire He had created me with so I could live authentically, loving freely, and that this would bring Him more glory than any obligation I could offer up. But first — came the rage, which interestingly enough is normally what does come when you suddenly begin to understand that you have believed a lie and have lost years of joy in your life trying to live up to it. Sometimes anger is a quite appropriate response, and can be helpful in breaking out of prisons. 

At the time I didn’t know what the answer was, I only knew what it was not. I knew enough to understand that guilt never made anyone righteous, and shame never caused anyone to rise to their potential. Never. But it was all I had ever known, and all I knew at that point, was that my perspective had to change or I would be imprisoned by this unrealistic expectation forever. 

A long period of unraveling began in my heart and mind that began with a surge of power only new found freedom can bring. I was a wild, bucking horse released from a corral back into it’s native landscape. I kicked and ran, bucked and jumped, and sang out the deepest whinnies from all the way down inside me that echoed back from the surrounding mountain tops.  I was free! And I chased after all the things I had not been allowed to have before. The sweetest grass and the clearest sparkling streams of cool water. But as the sun began to set, I realized there was nothing to protect me from the mountain lions growling in the surrounding trees, nothing to keep me from freezing to death in the dark. And as I looked around, I realized I had no idea how to survive out there. I had no framework built to keep me safe from the wild and the elements. No stable, no food, no knowledge of the wild, nothing to keep me warm at night. So I had run out of the corral like a shot, right into hostile untamed lands, and was completely unprepared to live there. So right back to the corral I limped for shelter, my head held low. That wasn’t quite the way either, I thought, embarrassed and feeling the fool. And shame whispered to me, “What made you think you could really be free? What gives you that right?” And in my fresh failure, shame mocking me with glee, God met me there and silenced the taunting, surrounding me in safety, warmth, and familiarity. He began to teach me what real freedom looks like, (that it’s not just running wild with abandon with the wind flowing through my mane) and how Love is the framework that allows us to live free. Because love without freedom is not love at all, and if we don’t know Love, we don’t know Him, because He is Love.

The next few years were a slow progression of changing perspectives from one of living out of guilt and shame, into one of Love and freedom. It took so much longer than I thought it should. (Ha, yet another should that had to die.) I lived the slow and tedious process of shifting my perspective by reframing every thought that began with “Well, I should…” and replacing it with another thought, and learning what to replace it with, and that it looked a lot more like passion and desire than I had ever dreamed. And that desire was not the evil I had believed it was. But that is a story for another day. 

For now, friends, I leave you with this thought. Even the darkest treachery that comes to lie to us can be battled and won with Love, Truth, and Grace. There is no dark place we can be imprisoned from which the Son has not already set us free, even if that dark place of treachery is only in our minds. It’s kind of his specialty. He came to make us free,

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