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…if there is one thing I’ve learned well in the past few decades, it is this: permission is highly overrated. Too often, the word has been dangled over our heads (our female heads, especially). With eyebrows raised and fingers pointed, we’ve been asked, ‘Who said you could do that?’” (Diana Trautwein, “Who Said You Could Do That?”)
It was my junior year of high school. I was teaching a weekly Wednesday night class for 3rd to 4th grade girls at my church. Having recently come off a summer of teaching VBS and backyard Bible clubs in neighborhood churches, and homes – I was learning how to best use my gifts with children.
I was crazy in love with and excited about God! I had met Him in a deep way that summer.
Even though I had loved Him since I was a very young child – this was the first time I felt safely found and known and held by Him.Have you ever had that experience of knowing deeply how much you are held and known and loved by the Divine?
At the request of adults who knew me well – I had stepped up into this new role with excitement. I was going to team teach with another adult, but a few weeks into the year the other teacher had to back out.
I was teaching these young ones all on my own.
While teaching was not my favorite thing, I was learning how to interact with and listen to and spend time with children. The gifts I had discovered on the field that summer and in my parents’ home living with and being big sister to the foster children we sheltered I was now learning how to bring into the local church body.
I was learning great big lessons on how to share God and how to show children the heart of Jesus by sharing my love for him.
I was teaching them what the love of God looks like in the context of their lives. I fiercely loved those girls. And many of them came to newly know God.
In return they taught me much about their hearts and their lives and what they thought about God, this world, and their place in it.
I learned a lot about their families – what they shared with me confidentially and openly.
When Shame has a Face
Fast forward to the annual Wednesday night parent night which occurred during the middle part of the year. As I entered that room I stopped dead in my tracks, a parent sat in the corner of the room with his back to the wall and his arms crossed tight across his chest.
I was confused at first then I remember why he was there – and my heart lurched.
I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked to have been.
I could feel his presence strongly in the room. Suddenly I felt afraid. I felt shame. I felt like I didn’t belong.
I felt like I was going to need to bring one big performance.
It felt like no matter what happened in that room…I was going to fail.
Every part of his demeanor shouted, “I am watching you. I am displeased with you.”
It felt like he needed me to prove that I had a right to be there. He was not friendly. He was not kind. He was not my brother-in-Christ.
He felt like a father intent on finding me deficient.
And all the voices that tell a 16 year old girl she has no place to be there shouted loudly at me.
I was a teenage teacher alone in a room with a dozen 8-10 year old girls and a 40 year old churched man.
I should have felt safe, but I didn’t.
Up to that point this room had been a safe place for us.
While that parent did not take one moment to actively participate, he did not say one thing to me, or the girls – we knew why he was there.
Kids – teens – know when they are on notice. Our behavior together, my actions were being judged.
His presence felt angry and entitled and right about me.
I could tell that man believed I had no right to be there.
His crossed arm, smug expression, and knowing posture – told us everything we needed to know.
He wasn’t there to encourage us, share with us, or love us.
He was going to confirm what he thought about me and what was happening in our class together.
I was going to fail.
I felt my every move watched, monitored, and accessed.
Was I capable of leading these girls?
It hurt. I remember even now the panic and fear and ridicule that parent brought into what up to that point had been a safe place among those girls and I.
This room was a safe place for us and now it suddenly felt NOT OK.
I could feel his judgment in my bones.
- The kids were obviously different, there was a parent watching us.
- I was obviously different, he needed me to perform.
I am Not Asking Your Permission
Years later I would sit across from that parent at dinner and that man would make it perfectly clear to a much older me – that I had had no business teaching and leading those young girls.
Those were the exact words out of his mouth.
And it all came full circle. I had been right about his intent. My intuition and feelings about what was happening had not been wrong.
What I had felt was not just the insecurities of my teenage self – he HAD been judging, monitoring, and determining my worth.
A part of my heart believed that he was right about me.
I weep now because who the hell was that girl?
Why did she let him say those things to her? Why didn’t she stand up and tell him to, “Shut the hell up?”
Why didn’t she say what she was thinking instead of silently letting him speak more harm and shame into her heart?
Why did she let him determine her value – her worth – when all he spoke was toxic lies?
Why didn’t she ask him what she was thinking:
- “Where were you – o wise, mature grownup – to stand beside me and lead them?”
- “How many children did you love for Jesus that year?”
- “How many kids came to know God a little bit better because of you?”
- “How many of those girls found YOU to be a safe place?”
- “I was alone… did you offer to help?”
You know what happened after that man sat in that room judging that 16 year old girl?
Do you know HOW that teenage me responded?
She agreed with him. She let him determine her worth. She let his judgment – speak right into her heart and life.
She walked out of that classroom and away from those girls she loved – and she didn’t go back.
She found excuses for that spring session – she busied herself with the business of school and music – and she didn’t return.
That teenage version of me – and then that young adult version of me – allowed a church man to tell her what she was worth, what she was good at.
And he didn’t even know her.
She lived her life as if she needed his permission.
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Who Said You Could Do That?
Diana Trautwein wrote a beautiful, wise article about permission that carries a message I believe all people need to hear – especially women – especially me.
Her words have stayed with me for weeks – because I lived for a very long time looking for permission. I sought it as if my life would not be OK until I had it – from all those wise grownups around me – from pastors and pastor’s wives, parents and in-laws and grandparents and friends.
And yes, even from that father watching me teach that class.
It was like I needed other people’s permission to feel complete or whole – or approved in moving ahead in my life.
I needed other people to give me permission to be myself.
And you know what – I rarely got it – only the people who know me well have ever loved me enough to be OK with me when I am the real me.
If those wise grownups were watching and they did not approve – even if they were terribly wrong about me – I believed them and changed course.
I was after permission to live my life on the terms that other people determined.
It was one part approval-seeking, and one part people-pleasing, and all parts suffocatingly horrid.
There can be no authentic giving of self when you are seeking permission, approval, and trying to meet what other people need from you.
I ended up feeling flooded, anxious, and weak.
I dwelt in shadow lands for a very long time.
I had become a ghost of who I was created and purposed and intended to be.
My parents did not raise me to be a sniffling child-adult simply because a grownup said so.
So I quit. I quit dwelling in toxic places, in the midst of toxic people. and I found my voice and my own eyes and my truth.
I took back my life and my heart choosing to live the manner in which I needed to live – and that meant burnt bridges and choosing silence in all the ugly places and living the hard truth.
I stopped believing those voices that said I was not good enough. I stopped needing the toxic favor of people who never saw the real me no matter how loudly I shouted her truth. I became ME and I learned how to love her, cherish her, and speak her truth.
I chose my voice – over muted submissiveness.
I am the woman my God created me to be independent and compassionate and real, daily stretching towards authenticity, and wildly in love with my Creator, amazingly good with children, a great lover to my husband, a loyal daughter – who cherishes her parents as friends, and a courageous writer.
I now know these things about myself.
I am not afraid to live those truths.
I am not asking for your permission.
Once upon a time I found that my fierceness and courage and wildness had been tamed, my wings had been clipped, and my mouth muzzled and my truth shamed.
Bound in that shadow land – afraid I would have to dwell in that yuck forever – I wised up, stood up, and began to share my truth.
Sharing my truth, writing my hurt and my real and me, was a lesson in choosing authenticity.
It took a bit, this “growing into a woman” thing.
I realized that to live well – I do not require your permission.
There is nothing wrong with me… there is nothing wrong with the way that I am, with who I am, or how I love and live.
I am not asking for your permission.
Join the Journey,
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