The Beast of "Should" at the Zoo

My wife and I took our grandson to the San Antonio zoo on Monday. We saw elephants, tigers, and monkeys. But everywhere we turned, one animal dogged our heels.

Un-caged, in full roar mode, was the beast named “Should.”

At almost every exhibit were “educational” signs that preached at us. Laws full of shoulds and musts and dos and do nots. Laws with threats and warnings and dire predictions should we not follow them.

  • Lists of ways we must stop wasting so much water on non-essentials.
  • The ten commandments of the proper disposal of garbage so it doesn’t end up in wildlife habitats.
  • Preaching on the vices of poaching and pollution as well as the virtues of conservation and limiting our carbon footprint

We went to the zoo simply to have fun with our three-year-old grandson. We left
(1) chastised for contributing to the gradual demise of our planet
(2) burdened with lists of new responsibilities
(3) commissioned as evangelists for the crusade of global salvation.

Basically, our visit to the zoo reminded us that, once again, we have failed to live up to society’s expectations of us. And we must change. We must do better. Or else.

@@No matter where we go, even the zoo, some form of law is hot on our heels.@@ You might think of the Ten Commandments are “big L” Law, and all the commands of society as “little l” law. But there’s not just ten “little l” laws. There’s millions.

  • Be skinny, teenage girl, or the boys won’t pay attention to you. Starve yourself, make yourself throw up, whatever it takes. Otherwise, you’re a nobody. And nobody will ever want you or love you.
  • Be successful at work and climb the ladder, young man, or you’re a failure at life. Make this much money, have this many square feet in your home, drive this kind of car, have this kind of wife, or you’re less a man than others.
  • Be tough but compassionate, young woman, successful in your career but wholly devoted to family, sexy but not vain about it, independent but always asking men for guidance. Balance your life between the gym, the office, soccer practice, PTA, and the running the annual VBS program. Oh, and have enough energy and creativity to be like a porn star in bed. Then you’ll be a real woman.

You get the picture. Log onto social media and it’s the unspoken law. Look this certain way. Give this certain smile-ful, vacation-ful, successful, airbrushed picture of your daily life and you’ll be the way we expect you to be.

It seems all of life is like my trip to the zoo: a life of demands and expectations, criticisms and commands. All of which we can never live up to.

We may reside in a free country but we’re all slaves to laws. Some of this is imposed by society—or the church—and much of it is self-imposed.

Most of this slavery boils down to this: we’re trying to justify our existence. I am worthy of life because I did this or I accomplished that. Love me because I’m this way. Want me because I look like this.

Beneath it all is the drive to make sure we all deserve to be here. We mean something. We’re worth something.

In other words, all our little laws reveal that we are, by nature, trying to justify ourselves before others, and before God, based on what we do and who we are.

Let me let you in on a secret: you cannot be loved anymore than you already are at this very moment. There is a God who thinks that you hung the moon. Who can’t stop admiring the person you are. Before you were even in this world, way back at the dawn of creation, he looked ahead and saw you coming—and rejoiced to see that day. He couldn’t wait for you to be born so he could love you, care for you, hold you in his heart.

Put the entire cosmos on end of the scale of God’s love, and you alone on the other end of the scale, and it will always tip in your favor. God sees you as beautiful and successful, strong and wise, just the way he wants you to be. No parent has ever been more excited about his child than your heavenly Father is about you.

Why? Because he sees you entirely wrapped up in his Son. When Jesus came into our world, he folded all humanity into himself. When his Father sees the world, he sees it in his Son. A world now loved. A world at peace with God. A world of humanity so much a part of Jesus that we and he are one body.

You don’t need to justify your existence. You are more than justified. You are in God’s son. You are in God himself. There’s no need to make yourself look better, or be better, or act better to be loved more. God cannot love you more than he does already. And his love knows no bounds.

Be at peace. No shoulds or musts are required of you in Christ. You are free. You’re a child of God. In Christ, all laws—big L laws and little l laws--are fulfilled. There is no more condemnation. There is only emancipation.

Not who you are in yourself, but who you are in Christ: that’s all that matters.

You are the one God loves.


I am indebted to David Zahl, in this Mockingbird article, for some of the ideas in this post.