“Shoulding” vs. “Doing”


God gave me this word early one recent morning.  I knew it had to be God, because the thought of the word actually startled me awake. And as I lay there wondering why this word just shouted in my head, Good Word Project came to mind.  In my sleep stupor, I slowly made the connection that it was God placing this word on my heart.  I knew in that moment that the Good Word “intentional” that I would be writing about would be paired with another word, “should”.  Of course, I wasn’t sure exactly how that was going to play out, so I knew what I needed to do next. I needed to pray and start talking to God about it.

Being intentional is something that I have struggled with over the years in various aspects of my life. And quite often – truly, too often –  I am convicted about how I need to be more intentional.  There are countless distractions that get in the way of being intentional – busyness, doubt, fear, bitterness, lack of discipline – I could go on and on. So when God gave me a word about being intentional, I was so excited because I knew that he had something very specific to say to me about it!  And I was eager to learn!

As I was reflecting on “should”, a fellow Good Word Project team member reminded me that a speaker at a recent conference we attended had something to say about “should”.  I revisited my notes, and chuckled as I read what I wrote down from that talk: “I get stuck in the shoulds”, “I hate to get should on”, and  “stop shoulding on yourself”.  Clearly that resonated with me at the time, but as I was reviewing my notes, I was truly internalizing them for the first time.  These statements ring true for so many things, don’t they?  While this speaker was reflecting on the word in context of following your dreams, I couldn’t help but think God clearly has a similar message for me in following His path in the everyday.  Why does “should” play such a big role in my life?

How many of us often times find ourselves saying ‘I should have spent more time with (insert name)’, or ‘I should not have spoken to the kids that way’, or quite simply ‘I should be more intentional in (area) of my life.’  Friends, I have been “shoulding” on myself for years!

I cannot tell you how many times I have come out of the other side of a Bible study or prayer retreat and jotted the words, ‘…be more intentional about (insert a multitude of things here).’  Recent ones that come to mind: ‘Be more intentional about my time.’ ‘Be more intentional in my marriage.’ ‘Be more intentional about my spending.’

It has been nearly two years to date since I made the decision with a friend to go on a seven-month fast, sparked by Jen Hatmaker’s “Seven”. She and I recently looked back and examined…what has changed? What’s different? Did we gain anything long-term?

The time we spent with the Lord during those months was amazing. When my friend was challenged to spend a month taking intentional Sacred Pauses* each day, the peace and growth she experienced was incredible. She set her phone alarm to go off six times per day in order to ‘pause’ and connect with God. She found that the discipline was not as hard as it may seem.  She is a teacher and had to work her schedule a bit around the ‘pauses’, but remained faithful to spend this designated time with Jesus throughout each day.  The more intentional she was about walking with Jesus instead of just going to Him when she needed help, challenges and stress seemed to unwind.  In the time that we spent with God during those seven months, we experienced more peace, clarity, and contentment than ever before.

There was freedom in knowing I had physical (earthy) limits (in the form of countless distractions) and by intentionally moving those, God filled the gap.  There were no “should do this’” and “should do thats”, because I literally removed that ‘should’ posture from the equation. I simply did it.

As that friend and I reflected, I found myself in the “shoulds”.  I should have learned something from that and I should have maintained that level of intentionality.  I should be more intentional now with those seven key areas in my life…

Simply stated, I should be more intentional is an oxymoron. “Should” and “intentional” do not belong in the same sentence.  I believe God is challenging me to remove the word “should” from my vernacular. What might it look like to simply stop “shoulding” and start doing?

God gives us the handbook for being intentional, so off to Scripture I went.  Intentionality is strewn throughout His word, but I believe the most applicable passages of being intentional are found in the “one another” passages of the Bible.

Love one another – John 13:34
Encourage and build up one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Forgive one another – Ephesians 4:32
Serve one another – Galatians 5:13
Be kind and compassionate to one another – Ephesians 4:32
Pray for one another – James 5:16
Spur one another – Hebrews 10:24
Speak truth to one another – Ephesians 4:25
Comfort one another – Galatians 6:2
Care for one another – Philippians 2:4

God never says, “You should love one another.”  He simply states, “Love one another.” There’s no “you should encourage each other.”  Rather he commands, “Encourage and build up one another.”  Countless scripture verses call us into intentionality on how we are to love others, serve well, steward our resources, and approach our days.  Here are just a few of them:

  • “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” – James 5:12
  • “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33
  • “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:15-17
  • “Lord, Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

God is intentional with us.  He is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  If that doesn’t say intentional I don’t know what does.  I simply needed to be obedient in return, and dare I say, intentional, about my ‘shoulds’.  I believe that God wants me to have a big highlighter over that word. I believe it is something that he wants me to continuously examine. Where am I leaving ‘shoulds’ undone? What is getting in the way of extinguishing my ‘shoulds’ in my relationships and in how I spend my time and resources? Do my priorities reflect God’s heart?

I too often rest on the idea that I should be doing (something).  I need to stop ‘shoulding’ on myself!

 In his book, Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters, John Maxwell writes:

If I wanted to make a difference… Wishing for things to change wouldn’t make them change. Hoping for improvements wouldn’t bring them. Dreaming wouldn’t provide all the answers I needed. Vision wouldn’t be enough to bring transformation to me or others. Only by managing my thinking and shifting my thoughts from desire to deeds would I be able to bring about positive change. I needed to go from wanting [or “shoulding”] to doing.

There is hope. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

I’m challenging myself and I hope you will too.  Is there just one area in your life in which you know you need (see what I did there, I didn’t say ‘should’; I said NEED) to be more intentional?  My Good Word team member, Erin Shreyer gave us God’s perfect formula for being intentional: seek God’s will, employ self-discipline, and be accountable. Let’s choose just one thing we will be more intentional about in the coming week and follow the formula. Feel free to share in the comments and I’ll be praying for you and cheering you on!

Please join me in saying this simple prayer:

Lord, I pray for the discipline to push forward, and I ask that you illuminate and help me eliminate my ‘shoulds’.  Thank you for your patience and grace, and I thank you that you do not expect us to be perfect, but rather as a loving father, you want the absolute best for us, and that comes when we’re intentional about following you. Amen.

*Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day by Macrina Wiederkehr


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