Excerpt from Chapter 9 of WALKING BUTTERFLY
I WAS RAISED IN THE church, my family attended services twice on Sundays, every Wednesday night, and any other time that stuff was happening. Our church was like a wonderful extended family and I loved the way it became a warm and comfortable social circle for me.
The center of that circle was the shared desire to serve God in all areas of our lives. We were taught to read our Bibles every day, attend church as much as possible and spend time in prayer every day. As a teen I can remember starting one Bible-reading system after another, marking my calendar with my self-assigned Bible passage to read each day. I would open my highlighted pink Bible and some days it seemed alive as the words on the page fit exactly what I needed that day.
But I also had many days when the words meant nothing to me and made no sense or were just so boring I had to literally force myself to finish so I could make the little check mark on my calendar. This manner of “serving God” came with me into my adult life.
Though this training was well-intentioned, it planted the idea that I needed to earn my way into God’s heart. If I missed a day of reading or praying, I felt guilty and was constantly feeling that I did not, and could not, measure up as a real Christian.
I remember lessons that compared our spiritual relationship with God to our earthly relationship with boyfriends and girlfriends. One illustration had to do with Bible reading and spending time in devotional prayer. We were asked why we can’t wait to spend time with or read letters from our earthly boyfriend or girlfriend, yet we put off spending time with God. The inference was, that if we really, truly loved God, it would be easy and natural to read our Bibles and spend time in prayer every day. This thought brings heaviness to me even now as I write this.
Haven’t we all heard Christians around us talking about how they don’t read the Bible enough? How often do we hear believers complain about not spending enough time in prayer? But what would you call an earthly love relationship if the partner created a chart to keep track of all the days you missed spending time with him and held it against you? What if you walked around with guilt and fear due to your lack of reading his letters or calling him on the phone often enough? Wouldn’t you call that an abusive relationship?
Playing golf on Sunday, going fishing, or staying home to watch the game on TV were all evidence of falling away from God or “backsliding”. Can’t you just picture God up there checking the Sunday morning roll sheet? I am intentionally not mentioning the specific denomination because I believe this mindset of earning God’s love is seen in a general way in almost all types of organized religion.
For the last several years God has been showing me a brand new way of looking at Him and the relationship between the two of us. For me, the “Good News” is not just about Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. The Good News is that when He said, “It is finished,” it was FINISHED! (John 19:30) Any kind of striving or working to dutifully “serve” God because I owe it to Him is not a love relationship. Striving and working fall under the “should” category and God does not “should” on me.
To make myself read the Bible every day in order to gain points with Him is silly because He has already awarded me all the points available. All of the points. It is finished! I don’t need to grovel or do penance for my mess-ups. I am forgiven. What I do now is get up, brush myself off and bask in how much He already loves me. This new picture of God is more fun and freeing in everything I do. He loves creativity and adventure and exploration and variety. Can you imagine how a God like that must get pretty bored in some of our church services? Do you ever get bored there?
Be honest now.
The God-relationship I enjoy today includes us doing chores together, driving together, and watching movies in one another’s company. Hey, my God even did a Val Kilmer impression for me once! What would you do if you heard that and you knew it was God? Yeah, that’s what I did . . . I laughed out loud and couldn’t wait to tell the others what I had heard!
This is not the same God who “shoulds” on people! Whenever I hear myself saying the “should” word to others or to myself, it becomes highlighted like the spell-check on my laptop. I stop and re-examine what I am saying or thinking.
Am I agreeing to be on that committee because I want to or because I should?
God may not be impressed with or even affected by my service to Him when it is done dutifully because “someone” had to do it. I have been surprised at how the world did not come to a sudden halt when I “failed” to do what I “should”.
What freedom this brings!
I believe the church leaders of the past had good intentions. They insisted we do our Christian disciplines because that is how they were trained and how they lived. But it is also why so many Christians in the past looked and sounded burnt out and angry when they preached. That is not the life I live. Mine is joyful, surprised, and full of pleasure and delight most of the time. The God I love is full of goodness and kindness. I could tell many stories about both giving and receiving “shoulds” after being in vocational ministry for many years. But I will end with this: Should happens, but not to me if I can help it!
You and I now live in a culture that glorifies the problem of being too busy. Social media articles, status updates, and real-life friends who gather together seem to spend a great deal of time complaining about their overly busy lives. In reality, they are bragging about being too busy, as if it is a good thing.
As if it is evidence of the good life and success.
The truth is, an over-packed life is not a healthy life. A crammed-full calendar could actually be symptomatic of allowing others to “should” on you. It might be time to list your activities and get ruthless about eliminating the items that do not give you joy or fulfillment. Ask yourself why you agreed to lead the women’s Bible study or Kids’ Church once a month. Yes, they needed the help, but it is important for you to ration your energy and passion in the best way possible for you and your family.
In any normal church or community organization, there are a few people who do everything and a lot of people who do very little. It is time to spread the opportunities out for others to pick up. There is someone in your group who needs and wants to be contributing more. This is the chance to leave an opening for them to step into. If you have volunteer jobs that have lost the fun, it is time to let them go. Do not allow someone else’s “should” to get all over you.
Step away from the “should”.