Over the past couple years "permission" has become very meaningful word to me. It all started when I first came back from spending the summer in Cambodia a couple years ago. I was struggling with reentry to the States and was reading a wonderful blog post by Rocky Reentry that talked about the need to give yourself permission to grieve when you leave a culture.
Permission. In it I find grace and forgiveness. Through it I find freedom. In this season of life, rather than make a list of tasks or goals to complete this year, here are a few things I'm focusing on giving myself permission for.
1. Permission to say things you're not supposed to say
By that I don't mean I'm going to say things like, "That dress looks terrible with those shoes on you" (I'm not the one to consult for fashion advice anyway). I mean saying things like, "Truth be told, sometimes I get scared, and right in this moment I don't want to go to Cambodia." That doesn't mean I won't step on the plane tomorrow anyway (emotions are fickle, anyway, and in 5 minutes I could be pumped about going). It just means fear gets to me sometimes, and it's a very real battle to walk by faith and not by sight.
After growing up inchurch, it can seem un-Christian to be open about our struggles. It's incredibly difficult for me to be vulnerable about fear and faith when it comes to Cambodia—and any change. Yet perhaps admitting our weaknesses and clinging to His grace is the most Christlike thing we can do in these moments.
2. Permission to feel and own emotions
I'm not sure where the idea that emotions—particularly sadness and grief—are weaknesses came from originally. I believed that idea for a very, very long time, but the opposite is true. It takes far more courage to face fear and grief than to run from it.
I've learned the hard way that when we try to numb an uncomfortable emotion, we end up numbing all emotion. For years, I refused to let myself feel emotions because I didn't want to feel grief. A monumental moment for me last year was purchasing a box of tissues. (I know, kind of lame.) But it meant acknowledging tears and grief and in a way, welcoming them. Sometimes we all just need a reminder that it's okay not to be okay. Though it's difficult to sit with my emotions and feel my feelings (I'm not really an ushy gushy type of person), owning, feeling, and sharing emotions is an incredibly healthy practice.
3. Permission to love and take care of myself
This one can also seem downright un-Christian sometimes. What happened to "put others before yourself" and "God first, others second, and yourself last"?
I'm not sure I believe in that mantra anymore. If I'm not taking care of myself, how can I care for others? This is very obvious in the physical realm: if I have a diabetic patient who doesn't take care of his body's nutritional needs, he'll end up with life-threatening blood sugars, wounds that won't heal, hospital stays, etc that will prevent him from physically being able to help those around him. The same—maybe even to a greater extent—can be said for mental, emotional, and spiritual self care. The Lord commanded us to love others as we love ourselves. I think as we learn to love ourselves better, we will learn to love others better too.
4. Permission to ask for what I need
In a way, asking for what I need is part of learning to take care of myself. It's a way of setting boundaries. This is still new to me, so when I put it into practice it feels awkward and like I'm bumbling my way through.
This process is two-step: it requires me to know what I need (self awareness), and then it challenges me to follow through with the action of asking for it. One reason I'm drawn to this practice is that it helps prevent me from blaming others and playing the victim. It's easy to blame people for "not being more sensitive to my needs" or "walking all over me." But in the long run maybe it's better to muster up the courage to clarify boundaries and ask for what I need instead of assuming others will automatically know.
5. Permission to fail often and miserably
This is perhaps the hardest for me to write and accept. The perfectionistic side of me screams that this is heresy. Yet I have found failing often means more growth than success does, and my quality of life soars when I can accept my imperfections.
It's absolutely impossible to move forward in life without failing, without falling flat on my face. So I may as well make a break for it and stumble my way toward living a more full and joyful life.
Perhaps what makes failure so dreadful is not the falling itself or the pain or the slow process of getting back up or even the guarantee that it will all happen again soon. Perhaps the worst thing about it is the shame of knowing others will see me fall. They will see I am a fraud; I am not perfect. I am weak and scraped up and sometimes so broken I seek professional help to get back up. Yet I am encouraged by the wisdom Elizabeth Gilbert received long ago and now shares in her book Big Magic (p. 174):
"'We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we're so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don't give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won't be completely free until you realize this liberating truth—nobody was thinking about you, anyhow.'" —Elizabeth Gilbert
I don't want to wait until I'm sixty to live from that truth.
6. Permission to forgive myself
With #5 comes, in all likelihood, the fact that I will make a fool of myself. And with making a fool of myself comes the challenge of forgiving myself.
A few months ago I was struggling with the concept of mercy, and a friend told me how one of the Hebrew words [checed] in the Bible that's translated "mercy" is also translated "steadfast love." I'm not a Hebrew scholar or anything, but this helped me grasp mercy. It made sense to me. In some cases, mercy and steadfast love are synonymous. This new perspective makes it easier to accept the Lord's mercy and understand how I can show mercy toward myself. To forgive myself, I must love myself.
I'm still thinking through several other things I would like to give myself permission for, and I have a feeling it'll be a lifelong process to put these into practice. But keeping these in mind helps me keep my inner critic in check, and the liberating thing is there is no time limit—they are lifelong permissions, and they are permissions for a more abundant life.
How do you pursue living a more abundant life?
Are there things you would like to give yourself permission for or have learned to give yourself permission for in the past?