Letting Go of Shoulds

I’m writing this in the sanctity of my office, in the comfy chair in the nook of my narrow dormer. My door is open, and voices float up from below–five-year-old grandson and husband in conversation. They are discussing the weighty matter of former pre-school friends going to their respective schools just as grandson is going to his.

I have always written with my office door open wide. “Mom!” “Nana!” come the cries from downstairs, wanting to know how, what, when, where. Countless times over the years my son has come into this room, moved whatever was draped in my grandfather’s antique rocker and plopped into it, spending a few minutes chatting. Grandson likes to sneak in as quietly as a small boy is capable, and throw himself at me. Granddaughter comes silently and stands, patiently waiting for me to look at her, and then she will smile.

Agatha Christie’s son-in-law, Anthony Hicks, once said, “You never saw her writing, she never shut herself away, like other writers do.”

I have always harbored a deep envy of Christie for this ability. My heaven, what a mind she must have had to be able to construct her characters and plots with family life going on around her. Then, too, she did not have the distractions of our modern era: twenty-four hour television of every imaginable subject, internet surfing, e-mail. As I write that, I think: Dame Agatha had books; they go twenty-four hours, radio programs, and surely stacks of letters. She had friends, family, straying husbands, responsibilities, an entire World War, for heavensake! How did she focus on writing and continue to write regularly amidst all of that?

What Christie also had was the excellent ability to choose. She knew what was most important to her, what was right for her, what enabled her to not only get through life but have enthusiasm, and she chose it. Reminds me of the Mary and Martha story in the Bible. Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the best part, and I won’t take it from her.” Mary knew what was right for her and followed that.

Lately I’ve been looking closely at all the things I want to do, need to do, and must do. Those are what make my life, after all.

One of the largest lessons is to discern what I truly want to do–what builds me up and makes my heart sing–from what I feel I should do.

The world shouts so loudly about what we should do and be. Any ten minutes of television commercials give testament to that fact. (Dame Christie came up in an age without television commercials. This no doubt gave rise to her strong ability to make good choices for herself.)

Shoulds are not real wants and needs. Shoulds are not the still small voice, but the voices of other people and other lives. Shoulds are other people’s agendas and expectations that have flown over and gotten stuck with me. They are not even honest motivations. They are from fears, the largest of those being: “What will people think? What if that person gets mad? What if I miss out on something?”

I am in the process of letting go of shoulds. The quote, “If not now, when?” comes to mind. I’m choosing to leave my office door open, and welcome my grandchildren always. I also sometimes send them away with a hug. I frequently hide myself away these days, because I have the need for quiet and space to think. I said “no” the other day to an opportunity to do something for my church. Yes, a good deed. But it wasn’t good for me. It wasn’t even good for my family, because it took energy of which I have precious little.

More often these days I’m saying no to a host of activities, everything from watching a television show to reading very worthy articles online, and even at times to a grandson who wants me to play Candyland. In this way, I’m learning to say yes to what I really want, to what I made to do and be, to the best part.

13 thoughts on “Letting Go of Shoulds

  1. It must be in the air too; I am “dismantling” activity, save for my yoga and poolates class, I am “baring it down” like letting go of physical possessions, I am letting go of “activity”, and this will be interesting to see where it goes. I am definitely enjoying the journey.


  2. Pingback: Thank You, Curtiss Ann Matlock… « 365 Thank Yous

  3. Ahhh, isn’t this the beauty mom talked about with regard to aging? We become more of true selves. With less energy to squander, we dig deep for meaning in our lives. Makes the aging skin seem wise instead of old. 🙂 I think wisdom is the gift given by Grace in aging.


  4. Thank you for these thoughts today. They were just what I needed to remind me that I need to be more like Mary and learn to give up some of my own “shoulds.”


    • I’m glad something I said was helpful. I think Martha is also a fine example. She knew she was one to get things done. But she wanted Mary to be just like her. Mary needed to be herself.


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