Why You Need to Stop Shoulding All Over Yourself

by | Aug 26, 2014 | Encouragement


Peeking through the crack in the bedroom window, I tell H, “I’m going on a walk now. I should’ve gone earlier but . . .”

It’s 10:00am on a Monday morning and I hear myself say it. Is this really how I want to start my week?

“Why am I doing that to myself?” I say to him in the next breath. “I’m shoulding all over myself and why, I have nothing on my schedule, it makes no difference what time I go on a walk.”

He smiles and knows he doesn’t need to say anything.

When I hear the should in a sentence, it’s a trigger that I need to re-evaluate. Should is a sign I’m making decisions from guilt and condemnation instead of conviction.

And really, should is most often a result of comparison. I should be thinner, sexier, less talkative, more thoughtful, a better parent, you insert the adjective. Today I am judging myself based on my productivity about how I am using my hours. In a split second I created an unreasonable standard for myself that became an instant joy-sucker.

Living a should-life is one of diminishment. Instead of flourishing in God’s freedom, we drink the dregs the world dictates and the result is often bitterness.

When God uses the word should in the Bible it is usually a teachable moment. His directive before the Lord’s Prayer, you should pray this way, is not because He wants to make us feel guilty about a lack of eloquence but because He longs for conversation. His examples give perspective, a road map for relationship.

With all the news about Ferguson scrolling through social media feeds, I have revisited my childhood and realized something important.



Growing up in St. Louis County, in a small apartment with my mother, I listened to the deep-throated melodies of Barry White on the weekends while we dusted with the windows open. It was the place I was first introduced to brown-skinned baby dolls by the little girl living in the apartment above us. Her parents wowed me with great fashion sense in the 70’s and rocked an afro with confidence.

There is a part of me that says I should interject what I think about all the banter on television because I actually lived there, but the truth is, that’s more about guilt than being a clear voice of reason regarding racism.

When I hear myself say, you should, in the context of my writing voice, I know it isn’t God leading me but selfish ambition.

And that also applies to other areas.

If I hear myself say, “I should be praying more,” I have to ask myself what is my motivation.  I’m pretty sure God can take care of things despite my lack of commitment.

When I make the statement, “I really should spend more time with my kids,” I’m reminded that my kids don’t want my nearness induced by a guilt trip. People desire relationship motivated by love, not something you check off a list.

Should in a sentence reminds me to assess my motives. If the result comes from a place of conviction then I know my response requires action. Otherwise, I can discard that thought and enjoy God’s fingerprints all over creation. That is exactly what I did on my walk.

Unrequited love brings sorrow yet it’s more honest than guilt-induced intimacy. Love doesn’t use guilt as a tactic so perhaps should is really a sign that I’ve made trusting God an elective.

Are you shoulding all over yourself like I am? How do you evaluate your decisions?


*For people led by the Holy Spirit regarding Ferguson read the wise words of my friends Deidra and Jennifer who actually went there over the weekend.

Linking with Jennifer and Holley.

Subscribe for Shelly’s stories and free resources here: https://shellymillerwriter.com/free-resources/


  1. Laura Lynn Brown

    “I am judging myself based on my productivity about how I am using my hours.” I do that, especially after a weekend. I like how you look at each thing you might be implying underneath every “should” statement. Thanks for the twin reminders to assess motives, and to trust God.

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s one of my greatest faults. And it’s also why Sabbath is good for me, it breaks the cycle. Thanks for your encouragement Laura, it means a lot coming from someone further along in her writing journey.

  2. Becky Keife

    I can so relate, Shelly, and am so thankful for this beautiful and real and timely encouragement.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks for being here, it’s nice to know I have you in my corner Becky.

  3. Clark

    I have been wondering ‘ should I have’ the last couple weeks. I left my son to handle a very important situation on his own. so far things are not working out very well .this outcome could dictate his future . should I have been there to help him make the right decision and say the right thing. What if it doesnt work out. thank you for the insight

    • Shelly Miller

      I think we all struggle with those shoulds, especially when they relate to our children Clark. I get that, I do. And then we have to surrender and allow them to fail and learn and grow, just like we did. Thanks for being here.

  4. Mary Gemmill

    Should was replaced with COULD some years ago now…..so liberating !

    • Shelly Miller

      I’ve been thinking about this all day Mary. You are so wise, you know that?

  5. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Shelly, you are wise beyond your years. The only thing we really *should* do is to love God and people, and yet He doesn’t order our love. He woos us. We can’t resist such lavish, grace-filled cherishing. We love not because we should, from duty, but we do so because we want to, from delight. And when we respond to God’s generosity with gratitude, we can’t help but lavish His love on others—it’s just a natural outflow. I do live in St. Louis, as you know (and have all my life). And sometimes I think I should write about all the pain and pathos that so many in our community are experiencing right now. But I really don’t have a way to do that—a platform, so to speak, at this time in my life. I only comment from time to time on blogs of those who have written about it. I comment because I care about the grief and pain. I long to do something, to provide some solution. But I realize that with my lack of full knowledge, it’s not something that I should do. Like you, I can’t ultimately be a clear voice of reason, because I don’t know enough. But I can try to love. I can try to pray (even that I can’t do without the Spirit’s help). I can try to reach out, one-on-one . . . like yesterday at a memorial service very near Ferguson, where I sang a solo (“Give Me Jesus”). Blacks and Whites checkerboarded the pews, and harmonized our voices in praise to God, our King, and eulogized a beloved sister in Christ. And as we did, we were all brothers and sisters in the Lord. We were one. There was absolutely no division. It was so precious, and I know God was pleased—especially afterward when we all sat together in the dining hall, feasting and fellowshiping, laughing and loving. Jesus often shared love around tables, too. And several days ago, I began a one-on-one conversation with a beautiful black teen who was sitting in a poetry aisle at Barnes and Noble. I decided to sit on the floor with her, and learned that she had a dream of becoming an artist. I got up, momentarily gathering art books and art magazines from the shelves, and brought them to her, to pore over with her. Her eyes lit up like sunrise. I could tell something like hope was rising in her soul. I ended our conversation by buying her the delicious art journal that she admired, handing her my card, with an invitation to write or call and let me know about her art and the art of her life. These are such small things. How I pray that God will show me how to love lavishly. I want my actions to be motivated by His love. I long to know how to be selfless. I know I need a lot less self in my life. Thanks for the beauty you so selflessly share here, Shelly. You know how to love.

    • DeanneMoore

      Beautiful story, Lynn. Such an encouragement to me because of late I have been praying for God to not let me walk by people without noticing them, especially those I could share life (Life) with by lifting them up or encouraging them. I want to love on the way. And I am praying for interruptions, opportunities to be light in this world. My nature is to feel the weight of the pain of others—even those I don’t know and brood about it. I must remember that carrying their pain doesn’t relieve it. Living and loving accomplishes much more than brooding. Yes, let us “love lavishly.”

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        How kind of you to say this, Deanne, and I love this concept: love on the way. This would encompass every aspect of life, because we are His pilgrims, doing life with Him and others, on the way. He is the Way, and He will give you a way to love lavishly. For me, being aware is half the battle (so to speak). I pray for Heartsight….eyes to see what the heart needs to know. And brooding isn’t bad, b/c I sense from you that your brooding turns into praying. Thank you again for reaching out. I felt your lavish love.

    • Shelly Miller

      Lynn, I read your heartfelt, authentic, warm response this morning as I was laying in bed trying to wake up and it touched my heart deeply. I shared part of it on my Facebook wall because your encounter with that girl at the bookstore described so perfectly what it means to respond in love and trust with abandon. And people “liked” it. I knew your words were for more than just those who visit here. Thank you for being such a an inspiration without even knowing it.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Shelly, thank you for unexpectely sharing this blessing. I know without doubt that the Holy Spirit was nudging me not to brush past this girl, but to walk back. What I didn’t mention is that she had moved from another city in MO to Ferguson, and was out of school because of all the unrest (schools had been cancelled till very recently). I pray that she fills that art journal with color and shape and beauty and brilliance. I truly do pray she makes her life into art–art that heals and brings life and joy, hope from death, beauty from ashes. And Shelly, I read your comment to Jennifer’s piece and commented there. God is making art with your life right now. He will give you strength and hope and direction. Oh yes, He is making art with your life. Suddenly, I am reminded of one of art pieces, one of my favorites, that we used to make in grade school. We would color a rainbow-arrayed picture…..lots of different, brilliant hues, and then, unbelievably, cover over the entire piece with a black crayon. Then we would scrape away some of the darkness with a sharp scissors. It was like being surprised by all the color and beauty that was there hiding beneath all along, but that had been covered over. It’s as if I had forgotten the color was there. Your thoughts have been covered over by some confusion, disappointment, and unexpected delays. But the brilliance, the color, the beauty of God’s plan is hiding beneath. He WILL reveal it, and you are going to remember how beautiful this plan really is–part of which He has already revealed to you at first. Trust Him to break through the darkness. It’s going to “come together” perfectly, and the waiting, the darkness will then make sense.
        I love you!

        • Pat Baer

          Yes! What a masterful illustration you’ve created here, Lynn. Who doesn’t remember the joy and anticipation of scratching the black crayon away to reveal the beautiful color beneath? The memory and application will be marinating in my brain today – thank you. And for the record, I agree with you Lynn – God is making art here in this space and in the lives he’s chosen to speak through words. Bless you both.

          • Shelly Miller

            I couldn’t agree more Pat!

  6. Rachel Britz

    I love your reminder that people desire a relationship motivated by love, not something you check off your list. I needed that. Thank you, friend.

    • Shelly Miller

      Loved talking yesterday, you are such a gifted, talented, lovely person. Isn’t it awesome the way God sat us together so randomly that evening at Allume? Hugs.

  7. Sandra Heska King

    I should go for a walk today. But maybe I’ll do it tomorrow…

    I should clean my house, too. No. I really should. So I don’t have to think about shoulding about it.

    Seriously, I’m looking outside at a rosebush with lacy leaves because I didn’t should on myself about fighting those little green grubs this summer. It’s still blooming.

    • Shelly Miller

      I have all those same thoughts Sandy, almost daily. Except for your rosebush and grub situation, that isn’t even on my radar. Love you!

  8. DeanneMoore

    Thank you for processing this out for me 🙂 I often live the following “untruth”: I should do all things and make everyone happy, including God who strengthens me, so I accomplish all for his good (and my sense of purpose) and can lay my head down knowing I rocked the day. I am writing in jest…I think :). What if my motivation was love—knowing I am loved and loving? And what if I let that be enough? I wonder what God could do if all I do was motivated by love rather than expectations I put on myself? Thank you, my friend. Really. Such good words lived lived out with such vulnerability. I should now get ready for a trip to the doc with my Dad. 🙂

    • Shelly Miller

      I think you are motivated by love more than you realize. At least that’s apparent in the way you speak into my life. Thanks for the card btw, perfect and timely. As you always are. I’ve been thinking about you all day regarding being back at it with your Dad. Love you!

  9. Pat Baer

    Thanks for words that move me past my shoulds and into desire to listen.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanking God for timely words and reminders Pat. He is faithful!

  10. Janet from FL

    You caught me Shelly. I am always shoulding myself. It is usually something I think I should do more often, or something I think I should do, but I don’t want to do. You are so right, it is really about guilt, not what God wants me to do. So the question is, when I should myself, I should ask “What will this resolve if I do it?” and “What will happen if I don’t do it?” Now that is a useful should! Thanks for the lesson in good and bad shoulds!

    • Shelly Miller

      Your comment makes me want to jump up and down yelling, “Yes” Janet. I love this. Thankful God spoke to you and I pray you’ll begin to hear yourself when you go there and then correct it.

  11. Paula

    “I judge myself based on my productivity and how I am using my hours.” Oh my, sooo me. Not only do I recognize it, I find it almost impossible to stop, though “all things are possible through Him”. That is exactly why I went to Bible Study this morning when I really felt I didn’t have the time. The thoughts you shared today really resonated with me. Love you, Paula

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s in the genes, isn’t it Paula? Ack. We can change that though, I know we can do it.

  12. Dianne Strangmeier Thornton

    Beautiful, Shelly. This morning I’m “should not’ve-ing” all over myself. I appreciate the encouragement. For this morning, I will rest in His love and forgiveness.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanking God with you for timely words Dianne.

  13. Trudy Den Hoed

    This is so insightful, Shelly. I cringe in guilt and condemnation when I say that word. I try to avoid it, but I think I’m forgetting again lately. I love how you show the difference in how Jesus uses it. Thank you for this.

    • Shelly Miller

      Trudy, I think we all need reminding and often. At least I do.

  14. Sherrey Meyer

    Shelly, you consistently and constantly amaze me! First of all, I’d already visited 4 or 5 blogs from Holley’s linkup this morning and knew I “should” be getting on with other writing but I scrolled up and laughed at the title under your image. Said to self, “Think this one was meant for me.”

    Then I began to read and the words “Living a should-life is one of diminishment.” That is so true. I am really bad about using “should” out of guilt, and part of it is a memory/mimic of what my mom used to say when I didn’t do something the way she wanted it: “Well, you should have done so and so.” Immediately, I felt shamed and guilty. After reading your post, I’m posting the bolded language sections around my desk so I don’t go around shoulding all over myself any more.

    Did read Jen’s post on Ferguson. A southern girl living in TN in the 1950s and 1960s, I know the experiences you and I lived through. Nothing moves my heart more than hearing the word “hope” pulled out as what we need to be doing. Lifting the corner of that mat with hope!

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m nodding over the way you describe the nudge to click when you saw the title Sherrey. That blesses me because titles are not my strength and because I love the way God does that. Thankful you stopped by to let me know. I bright spot here in the comments for sure.

  15. David Rupert

    It is funny how quickly we transform those “shoulds” into “musts.” The guilt trip-wire hangs so low to the ground with these ideals. Well written and timely for me!

    • Shelly Miller

      So true David. I’ve mastered the guilt trip honestly, it runs in my family genetics on both sides. It takes some intentionality and lots of prayer to overcome that habit. Thankful you stopped by, that the words are timely for you.

  16. BlessingCounter - Deb Wolf

    Wow Shelly, I love this! Lots for me to consider here. Freedom is Christ is the answer. You’ve inspired me to start paying closer attention to my self-talk. Thanks and Blessings!

    • Shelly Miller

      Well then, it was worth writing. Thanks for telling me Deb, that makes me happy.

  17. Sarah Donegan

    Oh my goodness I should all the time! Now that I know it is a verb, I will try to be more aware of it. 🙂

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