Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not covet.
Shalt not. Shalt not. Shalt not.
Does the Bible sound like a big pile of shalt nots? It has that reputation. Many people do not attend church, do not read the Bible, and do not participate in corporate Christian religion because of the long list of “shoulds” and “should nots.” Where is the fun if you have to follow a long list of “dos and don’ts?”
Eat your peas.
No dessert until you finish your dinner.
Be home by 10 p.m.
Who likes to be controlled?
Fear of being controlled presents itself in acts of rebellion. In a toddler, it’s yelling “No!” In a teen, it’s sneaking out. In an adult, it’s over-spending or under-eating or any number of potentially harmful behaviors. It’s a proclamation, “Don’t tell me how to live…you are not the boss of me.”
But, then, what happens when we realize there actually is a boss of me?
SHOULD AND SHAME
According to Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes, shame “is a vague, undefined heaviness that presses our spirits, dampens our gratitude for the goodness of life, and slackens the free flow of joy.” Shame differs from guilt (feelings of sadness and remorse for a wrong deed), by harboring feelings of disgust against the doer. It’s believing I am bad rather than my actions being bad.
Should is a shame word.
I should exercise more. I should eat better. I should volunteer.
I should be someone better than I am.
The underlying judgment is, “I am not good.”
Several years ago I made the decision to stop using the word should. Initially, I would call myself out on it stating, “Don’t should on yourself!” Unfortunately, I would rebuke others too (sorry about that, friends!). It was a serious attempt, done in a humorous way, to stimulate a change in my thinking.
Eventually, I began looking for new words to get around this shame thinking. I found myself using “if-then” statements instead.
“If I exercise more, then I might gain the strength I desire.”
“If I eat broccoli, then I will be less likely to need bigger jeans.”
Replacing the word should with if-then statements began moving my thoughts away from self judgment to the effects of the choices available. It was a paradigm shift! A heavy weight lifted as I realized that I had numerous choices each day that would move me along in either a positive or painful way.
Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books that came out years ago? At the end of each chapter there was a choice. If you chose the first option, you’d turn to a specific page and continue the story under that choice. If you chose the second option, you’d turn to another page and continue a different path. Sometimes it was a happy ending and sometimes sudden death.
What if the Ten Commandments were handed down as if-then statements? Oh wait! Some of them were! Exodus 20:12 states the fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (ESV). This verse contains both cause and effect. If you honor, then you will live in God’s gifted place. A choice!
GOOD ADVISE FROM GOD
God has been offering choices all along.
There were these two trees in Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:16-17). Each was an option, each held consequences.
There was an Egyptian Pharaoh, holding Israelites as slaves, to whom Moses delivered a message. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” (Exodus 5:3).
A choice with ramifications.
God has been giving good advice to mankind all along the journey, not as a control measure, but in an effort to keep us safe. He is aware, while we can be oblivious, of the state of affairs of the world.
Ephesians 5:15-16 warns, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”(ESV). Why do we think that the shoulds and should nots are against us? The scripture is saying, “Be careful to make wise choices because this evil here and you might get hurt!”
Look out for snakes, you might get bit!
Perhaps if God’s children are in imminent danger, He might just speak louder and more direct to the point.
The Bible story of the Israelites in the desert certainly reads as if they weren’t listening. And they reaped the consequences of their rebellion.
If you, dear friend, struggle with shame, I want to speak softly and directly to you. You are so deeply valued that your life is worth leaving Heaven for. Worth warring evil for. Worth everything! That is the story of Jesus.
Hebrews 12:2 says “Jesus…who for the joy that was before him endured the cross, despising the shame….”
The joy Jesus felt was in knowing he was about to intervene for you and me by defeating the ultimate evil…death. Can you imagine! Joy in suffering! Yet Jesus also had feelings of hate. He despises…detests…abhors…hates…shame. He doesn’t despise you or me.
Any effort we make to end thoughts of shame is an alignment with Jesus.
Would you join me in retraining your thoughts away from shoulds and shame and shalt nots?
Step One is admitting that shame-filled thoughts influence your relationship with God and others, particularly those in authority. A choice to let go of shame will result in new outcomes. Even here cause and effect are in order!
Step Two is in using new words. Catch yourself when you use “should,” whether it is “I should/should not” or “You should/should not.” Replace those phrases with if-then statements.
Step Three is confronting fear. Are you now or have you previously lived in rebellion? Are you afraid of being controlled? This fear can stem from all sorts of roots. If it can happen in the Garden of Eden, it can happen where you are too. You might need to seek professional help with your fears. Many people have devoted their lives to that profession, just for you.
And, of course, I recommend the book Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes.
Dare I leave you with one last “should not?”
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 ESV