There are an uncountable infinity of things that I know I need to do. I decided that, despite the difficulties I struggled with over the course of 2020 that I would not go into the new year with this restructured sense of identity and purpose without first one-upping the day in and day out strife that I have been promised, so I ended up losing my job.
With the long dark days of 2020 behind me, I strode forward jobless into a new year and wondered with all of my suddenly acquired free time what I should do with myself. I had, after all, finally gotten the break I so desperately craved all year.
The past few weeks were dominated by the endless sticky note lists of things around the house that I need to finish and begin and my eyes bled from the small writing on the fluorescent pink squares hung against the side of my desk cabinet. I culminated my purpose in this absence of work with the things I should do. I should clean. I should eat better. I should get back to the gym and utilize the membership I’ve been sitting on. I should do this and that and eventually life will organize itself for me.
As I set out to wash the ever-expanding, living pile of laundry which has taken residence inside of our bedroom, I spilled to my wife my freshly wounded heart as I let out all of the fear that came with losing a job at such a delicate time in my life. I had just recently committed to paying off debt and by that, I mean really committed. Much to my wife’s uneasy response, I cashed in nearly every cent we had to pay down our long-standing debt. I left only a bit over a hundred dollars in our account, assured that we would be fine until the following month and would be able to repeat the process.
Two days later, I lost my job and immediately counted the things I did incorrectly and those that I tried desperately to do the right way, in more than just my professional life. My personal life was consumed in the world of “what if” which is a place where I regularly take hazardous vacations.
I told her about all the things I should have done, the way I should have taken better care of my money, the way I should have been a better employee at my best jobs to eventually get better ones. I should clean more, write more, pray more, hope more and I should do all of the small things I never think about just a bit more, and she consoled me in the midst of my small chaos before she left to earn the paycheck for the household.
That day while she was working she sent me a small blog that our friend posted, about the “Shoulds that Hold us Hostage” from Crosspoint Ministry. I won’t rehash much of what they said, because it was short and to the point and you know I don’t do that around here. I like to dig deep. I like to plan and hope and reminisce and wonder, and that is my crutch. Almost as if answering me before I reached the question, I’ve been seeing the following passage from James in my life a lot lately.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
James 4:13-17 ESV
Not only this, but the following passage about fear of the future was a closely held passage to myself as well.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Matthew 6:25-26 ESV
I often remark that this is my favorite book in the Bible, and yet I failed to see for a long time the larger scope behind these words. Recently, a YouTuber, Ruslan, whom I watch frequently made a video about goals in 2021 and what they mean in the context of the Christian Faith. For a long time, I held tight to the James 4/Matthew 6 Theology that I would not worry in the day to day and instead allow myself to do what I wanted when I wanted, as I felt called. Which is great, but it is only part of the message. I would plan, loosely to accomplish various tasks but I made no dealings with what I needed to do. I made no plan to progress or move forward. In as much the same way that I am snapshots of everyone I’ve ever known, a mosaic of other lives, I am too the cumulative result of God’s influence in my life. I am nothing more than the situations I have been presented with and because of that, hold the belief that I hold because I don’t know better. Below, Jesus is talking about what it takes to follow him, but in the context of our own personal lives, it shines an illuminating light on what we are to do.
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:28-33 ESV
I first heard this specifically in that video I mentioned above. This year I outlined goals for myself regarding my own health, my writing, and my overwhelming desire to get debt free. In light of that, I ended up on the video and after my unemployment, I reached the place that I sit today. Too often we take things out of context, especially us Christians who believe undoubtedly that our short wedge view of scripture is entirely accurate. I saw it for a long time as short passages that could loosely connect to one another, each time I pulled something new from the sentences and carried on with my day. I was content for many years believing that the day to day was where my focus should lie, that I should leave my anxiety for tomorrow because tomorrow will have its own problems. So I did that, and when I encountered an error in constructing my house, I paid it down with a credit card, or I passed it off to another friend to deal with, and I realized perhaps a little too late that the house I’m building is not the house I have dreamed for.
Rather, it is exactly the house I dreamed of, but it is not the house I truly desire. Over my years of forgoing plans for my future and wondering where I will be when I am thirty, I am but two years shy of being that old and I realized that I never thought about what I would be doing, where I would be living, and what I had accomplished at this point in my life.
I fell deep into a spiral the other day because I saw in crystal clear pictures all of the things I should have done that brought me to that point. I should have been better with money, I should have fought harder for an education, I should have taken my prior work more seriously, I should have picked up a secondary skillset that could provide for me. I should have done everything I didn’t do and that my friends, is the terrible poison of what you “should”
The truth is, no matter where you are or who you are, you will always look back and remember the things you “should” have done. You will see your errors in perfect clarity in hindsight, you can see them that way because you have a greater knowledge today than you did in 2020. You can see them that way because your personal history is a map that leads you right back to the start of your story, of everything you’ve done that brought you to that moment. And what a woeful thing it is to look forward and know that you “should” do any number of things to assure yourself a better future. But that is the trick, isn’t it?
We can see the perfect past of “should have” and we can predict a nearly perfect future by our “should do” but what do all of us “Should-ers” have in common?
We worry. We fear. We reflect more than most, and we find ourselves too often trapped in the back of our own minds in a battle with our own history. The notion of what could have been, or what could be are dreams and unless we pause for truth, the whole reflection, we will not move forward into this year with any better footing than we had when we stumbled out of the last one.
For each of us, Christian and non-Christian alike should consider this…
Today is all that you have, but one day you will have tomorrow. So consider not what you should do to reach that day, but instead what you can do to make that day better than this one. Be it your health, or finances, or relationships, do not let what you “should do” control you. When you “should” do something, it is because you have not yet done it, and know that it needs to be done. So why wait?
If any of us truly live for today, like we so often proclaim…
There would be nothing left that we should have done.
We would have done it all, already.
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