Shoulds and oughts are impractical

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How often have you said, "I ought to do this," or "I should do that,"?

Everyone has his own repertoire of what he believes he's responsible for. Your list of should dos and ought nots is usually built into your make up -- the stuff consisting of past experiences, what you've been taught and what you continue learning. But what trauma, guilt, sadness, emotions and even happiness your bank of shoulds and oughts can cause in dealing with other people, particularly inside your family unit!

Christmas, other holidays, birthdays, weddings and children's school programs are just a few of the affairs you feel you should or ought to attend. Funerals and visiting are also high priorities. But where do you draw the line around those events. Which "should or ought you" participate in?

Christmas possibly ranks highest in the competition concerning whom you should spend time with and how to balance out what you feel are family obligations. All the turmoil within often steals the real joy of Christmas.

Christmas can be an enigma. Many don't believe in God but still honor the holiday. They too feel they ought to or should visit significant others, procure gifts for loved ones and attend parties and partake of good food. So regardless of why one observes certain traditions, he nevertheless experiences those feelings of what he ought to and should do.

So what does one do when he simply can't seem to fit all those pressures of responsibility into his life without feeling undue stress? Over Christmas, attempt to be fair to your spouse in deciding which family to visit. Either switch years for both or spend less time with each on the same day. Many celebrate with one family on a different day than the actual one being commemorated. What makes you happiest is to keep "your" emotions in check and think of other people. If you come to a gathering wearing your feelings on your sleeve, brood because your relatives or friends spend more time with another than you, or feel hurt because you failed to receive what you wanted you aren't likely to have experienced a joyful time. However, if you forget your wants and try to help others achieve happiness you will leave feeling emotionally upbeat rather than upset and saddened because you either made a comment squashing another's joy, or felt hurt or unappreciated.

Do the best you can to meet your expectations of what you think you need to do and then forget about it. Guilt pertaining to an issue about which you can do nothing is a waste of energy both physical and mental. I recently experienced a dilemma involving a 10-year-old child attending a great-uncle's funeral. I believed it was important that he grow up realizing the value of honoring the dead, especially those that were close. The student struggled to finish his homework at the visitation, missed taking three tests and consequently wanted to skip school the next day. In retrospect, I feel that we "ought" to have allowed him to attend school since he had a lot on his plate. I felt badly that he incurred extra work because of my feelings of what should be, but I let it go intending to investigate my feelings of responsibility more thoroughly the next time.

The uncle's stepson missed the wake and funeral, being unable to travel a very long distance to arrive in time for the arrangements. He too felt badly because of what he felt he should have done, yet was unable to.

So don't place unwarranted guilt and pressure on yourself when it's impossible that you can accomplish what you feel you "should or ought to do." Reaching all expectations all the time is impractical and unachievable. God understands. Proverbs 3:5 says to "Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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