Someone reminded me recently that I included the word should a few times in a recent book. The person thought this was a bad thing, but I don’t agree. Should is a perfectly fine word.

On that same day I was listening to a married couple when I heard the husband say it.

“I should . . . .”

“Stop, stop, stop,” I blurted out before he could say anything else. Should, I thought, was a dirty word in this case.

Well, which is it? Good or bad? Useful or oppressive?

Good “Should”

Should indicates an obligation. It marks the difference between what we do and what our Creator intends us to do.

…I should love my spouse and my neighbors as I love my own well-being.

…I should . . . yikes, one more and I will already feel overwhelmed, which is part of the problem with should—there seem to be so many.

But this should is a gift. Only the mercy of God allows us to see that we fall far short of his standards, his glory.

Should is good. This is another way of saying that the law of God is good, because it is through God’s law that we see the distance between how we live and how we were intended to live.

Bad “Should”

Should also means an obligation which is beyond what we either can do or want to do. It usually marks the difference between what we do and what we think everyone else expects of us.

…I should be able to make my spouse happy.

…I should read my Bible more.

This is simply a burden. At best the person who feels this burden will make a token effort to measure up, but failure is inevitable. Either the person’s heart is not in it or the bar is impossibly high.

The husband who said “I should . . .” was saying, “I have heard her say this before, and I guess I should (groan) …try harder.” This should is bad because it omits Jesus Christ and implies a “try harder” view of sanctification. It brings self-condemnation, has no plan, and rarely seeks help. It is a religious version of “whatever.”

So, which is it?

Like most words that are candidates for biblical counseling’s Dirty Word List (e.g., self-esteem, tough love, the child-within), should is not bad in itself but is ambiguous and deserves more careful attention when we hear it or say it. Sometimes you will be blessed to say it, other times you might need to repent when you say it.