I was reading something for a friend this morning, something you are likely to see. The next to the last word caught me.


I circled it and wrote  “could” and had a whole new way of looking at spiritual issues unfold.

For me, the word should carries a set of obligations, and often, not desirable ones. Of course, there are some shoulds that are good for us in the long-term: “We should eat five helpings of fruit and vegetables.” But there are other shoulds that feel heavy. “I know I should do that, go there, read that…” And if we drill down to why that is a should, we find that it is because someone said that it would be a good thing. Like vegetables.

And most of us don’t like to do things out of obligation. We feel like we are always behind, always trying to make someone or something happy. We feel like we can never do enough. In a relationship, if we are always living in the shoulds and the oughts, we get very drained.

But what about could?

What if we looked around and discovered that rather than obligation, we had opportunity: “To express love, I could do that.” Suddenly there is choice on our part, there is a sense of freedom, of the ability to express resolve.

Think of it this way. You love someone, with all your heart. You want to celebrate an event, a 6 week anniversary or a 43rd birthday or a Tuesday (just because it’s Tuesday and you love them). You start to think, “What could I do, what do they like, what would help them understand how much I love them?”

This feeling is much different than, “Oh man, today is my boss’s birthday. I have to do something, what should I do.” One flows out of adoration, the other fear; the one out of affection, the other out of affliction. (full disclosure: I have had great bosses. I love them all. But do you see the point?)

What hit me today is that when we talk about God, we almost always have an implicit should. (“I know I should…”) And we extend that to others: “If you want to be spiritual, you should…” or “You know, a Christian really shouldn’t do that.”

It’s no wonder that religion feels like a burden.

If only we could….


7 responses to “should

  1. Jon,
    This is such a thoughtful and positive spin to what I have been thinking about lately. There is a constant drive to be more than we are. It’s a concept I’ve always embraced. But the implications on my state of being are not good. The simple word “could” changes this entirely:

    Once again, thanks.

  2. oh, meg. when i read your post, you so capture how I so often feel and why I avoid goals (which don’t however, return the favor). But you are right (and I take no credit for the realization whatever), “could” reframes. Thank you for helping make that connection.

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  4. Jon, I’m finding this should/could distinction very liberating over the last couple days. It speaks into so many areas of my life. Thanks.

  5. Thinking alot about you in the past couple of days. About your ministry and your mission. Reading from 20-somethings about church and what church is, and from people who have been burned by the church and frame their view of God on that. I love that you have a healthy view of Church and that your not limited by denomination or walls or location. I’m becoming inspired by connections again, not necessarily face to face interation. It’s a good thing.

  6. this really helped me
    such a simple idea
    it makes me feel less afraid of the week

    maybe more okay with my quality of doubt
    “I should believe”
    maybe becomes
    “I could believe”


  7. lightbulb moment (ding!)
    Thanks for helping set something free in me. My husband will reap the benefits also. 🙂