(Near) Death by Supposed-to’s

I am realizing these days that I do a LOT of stuff because I’m supposed to. Mel calls this her “approval whore,” which is a hilariously apt description. I do a lot of things at church that I’m supposed to do. I do even more things at work that I’m supposed to do. And I do things at home that I’m supposed to do. And the Christmas season–fun as it may be–is full of supposed to’s. Where do these massive lists of things I’m supposed to do come from? They come from things I read, other people I know, movies I’ve seen, lessons I’ve listened to at church, and ideas in my head about what a person like me (a white, middle-aged Mormon professor/mom/wife?) does and doesn’t do.

I go to meetings at work, at church, and at the kids’ schools that I’m supposed to go to.  And when I get there, I notice that other people who are similarly supposed to be there are conspicuously absent. Yet they continue to work there and their kids continue to thrive at school. In short, no one spontaneously combusts.

I, on the other hand, seem utterly incapable of letting go of all these supposed-to’s.

So I was completely flummoxed a couple weeks ago as I stumbled across a passage in a book called Conversations with God for Teens by Neale Donald Walsch. I’ve never read anything like this book before. I mean, really? The author takes questions supposedly submitted by teenagers (and there are many others of these books) and answers them from the perspective of . . . God. That takes some chutzpah, doesn’t it? Despite the clichés, however, much of the advice in the book is really good.

Aside from the (mostly) good advice, the other reason why the book interested me is because the advice given differs so drastically from everything I’ve been taught to think about God and about what we’re doing here on the planet.

For purposes of this post, the passage that had me stumped was an answer to this question:

So is that what I’m supposed to do?” (after another question regarding how to deal with the death of a loved one)

In response, God says,

There are no ‘supposed to’s in life. There is no blueprint that you must follow, no ‘mission’ upon which you must embark. There is only choice. Pure choice. All the time, every day.

Stop the presses! This white, middle-aged Mormon professor/mom/wife can’t wrap her head around this answer. What does he mean, “There are no ‘supposed to’s’??” No blueprint? No mission?  As Mormons, we learn from a very early age that there IS a blueprint. We’re not just here on the planet for kicks. We have a very specific purpose in life. We have a blueprint that we’re supposed to follow. That blueprint gets translated into a lot of supposed-to’s that I think have bled over into every area of my life. I can’t even keep track of all the supposed-to’s in my life. Sometimes the weight of all those supposed-to’s feels almost crushing.

But can there really be no “supposed to’s” in life? None? Not any? Surely they are some.

I’m wondering if I’m just neurotic (a distinct possibility) or if others have dealt with near-death-by-supposed-to’s. How do you say “no” to an obligation/expectation? What does the conversation sound like when you tell someone you’re not going to do whatever you’re supposed-to do? I need some talking points.