When should “should” be used?

should1I began writing this on Sunday, November 22, 2015. I did not go to CMC services that morning because the temperature was 12 degrees, there was snow on the ground and My Joy who usually gives me a ride was out of town.

I am using modal auxiliary verbs to help me describe my decision-making process. Though I knew I could find a way to CMC I thought I shouldn’t go, because at 89 I must be careful and so I wouldn’t risk the trip.  I put the modal auxiliary verbs in bold print so that they may be noticed.

Must1I routinely go to church services for many reasons: to gather with people, hear the beauty of voice and instrument in song, get new insights from old stories, learn new data, be stimulated by the variety of preachers, give thanks for a long life, learn of ways to serve, and be challenged by shoulds.  A church service worth its salt is full of unspoken shoulds.

Some “shoulds” can be dismissed.  Until midlife my church and my conscience told me not to wear a necktie.  Then the church relaxed and I began to wear ties. For a time afterwards when I put on a tie, an imp on my shoulder whispered “you know you shouldn’t be doing that”.  I told the imp to shut up and go away.  I was teaching  my conscience that I could ignore the shoulds that echo a law-limited past.

forgiveThough I believe shoulds have a  place in a church service, I agree it is better if this word is seldom spoken.  A good should is an inner urge to respond to the call of Jesus, the church and my heart to treat myself well and do good to my neighbor. If I happen to perceive a must, I tend to demote it to a should and ask “why?” If the answer to the why adds weight to the should, then I choose to do.

Hear the haiku:

Should’s a messy word
best understood if taken
in its full context

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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1 Response to When should “should” be used?

  1. Carl Metzler says:

    Martin, while reading this morning I came across this phrase: “… words often bring with them a surplus of meaning that does more to scramble communication than promote it.” It made me think of your struggle with “should”.

    My reading was “How wide is God’s mercy?” by Charles Hefling in the November 11 issue of Christian Century. I recommend it for reading by anyone who has ever considered the question: Is God’s Kingdom made up of Christians only?

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