This one comes to us from our friend Connor Gwin.

41561d9aeae1e59568f035c43703b172-1I have started reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead five times. I know, I know; I really should read it. Everyone says it is so profound and wonderful and moving. It won the Pulitzer for God’s sake.

And I haven’t finished it yet.

I bought the audiobook so that I could easily listen in my car but I haven’t made it past the first few chapters. Perhaps it is the narrator’s voice.

I know I should read it because my well-read friends have read it. I know I should read it because I want to be cultured and classy. I know I should read it because then I’ll be complete.

I am often beholden to ‘should’. I often spend long periods of time ‘shoulding’ all over myself.

Paul, perhaps the ultimate ‘Shoulder’, wrote that “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”

The truth is that I am always looking for the next thing to complete me; the next thing to make me whole. I labor under the belief, both conscious and unconscious, that I should have a handle on things. That I should be in control, that I should be doing x or y.

What I frequently fail to admit is that I never do what I should. I don’t mean that I frequently start but don’t finish classic works of modern American literature. I mean that day after day I fail to do what I should.

I do not pray enough. I do not work out enough. I do not water the plants like I should. I do not sleep a full eight hours.

“For I do not do what I want…”

The list of unaccomplished shoulds is endless and yet, each day, the sun sets and rises on me again. It is as though my own effort does not have an impact on the rotation of the planet. It is as if all of my shoulds are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.


God’s grace cuts through the heaping pile of should that accumulates on a daily basis and shines upon the righteous and the unrighteous just the same.

Paul says in Romans, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.”

We all fall short of the should test, but Paul writes a few lines later, “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Through the love of God, shown in the life and death of Jesus, we can overcome our desire towards should because love and grace never take should into account.

In the Episcopal Church’s General Confession of Sin, the congregation admits “that we have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

Each week we admit what God already knows, that we do things we shouldn’t do and we fail to do things that we should do.

Each week, without fail, a room full of people join together to proclaim they have failed the test in every varied way.

And each week, God’s forgiveness is announced and the community re-members itself around the table to share in the grace of a life, a body, and a meal, freely given.

We are each trapped by shoulds and at the same time we are each loved by a God that searches and knows us all.

Grace destroys the notion of who you should be with the truth of who you are.

The internet tells me that Marilynne Robinson writes in Gilead, “Love is holy because it is like grace–the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.”

Maybe I will finish Gilead one day.

Maybe I will finally do everything I should do.

Until then, I will keep running the race and aiming for the goal, trusting that God will forgive what I’ve done and what I’ve failed to do.