You don’t have to

You don’t have to be good.
You don’t need to emotionally flog your tired soul
when you don’t meet your own definition of perfection.
You don’t have to be right.
Your theology doesn’t have to pristinely answer
all of your lingering, haunting questions.
You don’t have to be certain.
Your waves of doubt aren’t going to drown you;
they’ll help you to finally begin to heal.
You don’t have to be pure.
You’re not some white gown that can be spoiled;
you’re an enchantress, a body, a soul.
You don’t have to be devout.
Your beautiful life isn’t measured in how many
holy books you chant or prayers you whisper.
You don’t have to be tame.
You’re wild like the wind and fierce as fire,
you just don’t know it yet.
You don’t have to be selfless.
You’re a creature of worth and dignity,
and you deserve your care and kindness, too.
You don’t have to save the world.
You’re not responsible for saving more than one person,
and that person is you.


The first line, “You don’t have to be good,” was taken directly from Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem “Wild Geese.” After reading the first few line of her poem, I felt like I wanted to make a list of what I don’t have to do or be; I so often need to be reminded.

22 thoughts on “You don’t have to

    • I was reading an ethnography recently that briefly talked about religious flagellation. And in a weird way I felt like I could relate. I grew up in a religious context that pitied and looked down on people who beat their bodies for religious reasons because they had obviously missed the boat — but I realized while reading that book that I grew up with emotional flagellation. And in an effort to practice self-care, it’s a practice I’m still learning to fully leave behind.


  1. Kelsey, I loved your poem. It helps me feel vividly and personally the danger of a legalistic approach to our relationship with Jesus. Thank you for that. I don’t believe a person should even attempt any of these things (be good, be right, be certain, etc.) until Jesus has begun to change the “have-to’s” and the “need-to’s” into “want-to’s” and “get-to’s.” Life with Jesus is supposed to be freedom and adventure, not slavery and self-flagellation. For that to happen, grace must overcome guilt in our hearts. And that occurs on the Holy Spirit’s timetable, not ours.

    Liked by 2 people

    • sweetsound

      In other words, if you don’t take joy in the self-flagellation, then you’re not doing it right! 😉

      Some people don’t ever feel it a privilege berate themselves. It isn’t humbling, it’s harmful. It makes absolutely no sense to talk ourselves into the dirt and then ask “God” to help us find fulfillment from it. It is the opposite of self-care, something I also learned a lot about after leaving my church. I believe the above comment was well-intentioned (aren’t they always?), but I’d guess is the same rhetoric that Miss Munger is trying to overcome.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m glad that Jeff liked the post and got something out of it, himself. But you’re right about the rhetoric. I know that’s how a lot of people feel but for me it’s not able the “have-to’s” and the “need-to’s” becoming “want-to’s” and “get-to’s” — it’s about finding freedom, discovering self-care, by letting it go completely. I don’t have to — or want to — be any of those things listed. Period. I want to let them go rather than just do them with a different attitude.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks Sweetsound and Kelsey. You’re both generous in interpreting my motive. And I definitely appreciate knowing that my ham-handed attempt at dialogue and expressing my perspective sounded like rhetoric. My goal is to learn, not to lecture. And both of you have helped me better understand your perspective. So for me, mission accomplished. Please forgive me for any clumsiness along the way!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Pastorjeffgunn, all my life I’ve tried to live as Jesus wanted me to. It’s been a joy, because I have found that every law, every rule, every thought that comes from Him is made for our pleasure and safety. There isn’t one that was made only for Him. He created the entire universe, and everything in it obeys His decrees, even our own bodies (try breaking the law of gravity some day…); yet in His great love He gave us the freedom to choose whether or not to obey. Since everything else is in perfect obedience, it is painful to try to go against all of that.

      I tried being a rebel for about a year, got sick of the pain, uncertainty, fear and sickness, and got right back with His plan instead of mine. I’ve have perfect peace and true joy ever since! Following God is the most wonderful thing anyone can do. 🙂

      In other words, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: You don’t have to be… | Daves Photography

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