The supposed-to box is full of all of the stuff that I’m supposed to do, think, believe, and even a bunch of not supposed-tos! The box doesn’t start out that way, but family add some supposed-tos, friends add some more, school and work add some, religion adds a fair number of supposed-tos, culture adds even more to our box, and at some point, we end up sort of crushed under the weight of all of these supposed-tos. The problem is that most of the supposed-tos that get chucked into our boxes are just there to make us conform and fit in. I like what my daughter said when she and I were chatting about this topic and the pressure to conform: “Cookie cutters are for cookies, not people.”
To be clear, I’m not suggesting throwing away all laws, guidelines, and definitions of right and wrong. Consider though, what Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40 HCSB: “He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.’” Jesus also spoke out about all of the extra rules the religious leaders had imposed on people, stating that they “load people with burdens that are hard to carry”. (Luke 11:46 HCSB) Religion hasn’t really changed at all, because we still load people with all of the burdens of the supposed-tos that go with our particular sect of belief. If we’re honest, most of them are extra-Biblical requirements that we pressure people to conform to so that they will fit in with our group.
Culture is just as guilty of putting the burden of expectation to conform on us in their own way. Messages like, “dress like this”, or “decorate your house this way”, or “define success by this metric” are all examples of the supposed-tos that our modern culture throw into our box. You only have to pick up a magazine or turn on the TV for the full force of advertising and media peer pressure to hit you.
The supposed-tos from family can be some of the heaviest though. It’s a fine line, because boundaries and guidelines for kids are important. But have we crossed that line when there’s the pressure of “everyone in our family plays basketball”, or “our family are always musicians”? This kind of pressure to conform is even applied to adult relatives! I’ve actually read books that detailed how to use guilt and what amounts to peer pressure to get people to conform to the accepted template for members of your family. Those kinds of supposed-tos should never be added to anyone’s box!
Social media has added even more to our supposed-to boxes in the past decade or so. The internet is a fantastic technological development with all sorts of positive aspects. Social media may have started out as a great way to keep in touch with distant friends and families, but it’s become something of a one-upmanship game. Everyone posts their highlight reel on social media. The phrase “fake it till you make it” is quite at home on any of the popular platforms. The pressure to keep up adds so many unnecessary supposed-tos to the pile.
I spent about four decades trying to fit into the stupid supposed-to box. Do you know what I got out of it? Unhealthy coping mechanisms, health problems, constant anxiety, and the awful realization that trying to fit into the box was never going to give me peace or make me anything but miserable. I just don’t fit in the dumb box. Maybe we’re not meant to fit in the box. Maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t want a bunch of cookie-cutter people and that’s why He made people who don’t fit neatly into boxes.