Tis the season of giving. This year celebrate YOU! Show yourself some love with a gift that will transform your life: The gift of permission. In the spirit of the carol: The 12 days of Christmas, I give you the 12 permissions.
Before you unwrap your gift, take a moment to clear your mind. Now, slowly read each permission without judgement. Accept each as they are. Envision what each means for you in your life. As you ponder them, you may notice feelings of resistance, freedom, relief, anger, happiness or many other responses. There are no wrong feelings, but do take note of what they stir in you. I've included some additional thoughts following this list. Happy unwrapping!
The 12 Permissions
Permission to love
Permission to be loved
Permission to live
Permission to do what’s best for you
Permission to change
Permission to eliminate toxic energy from your life
Permission try something new
Permission to love yourself
Permission to go or to stop
Permission to succeed and to fail
Permission to take risk
Permission to grant these permissions to others
Why do I believe so strongly in the life-changing gift of permission? What is one of the first words we learn as a baby? It's the word NO! Granted, It is an important concept to teach a toddler in order to protect the little one from harm, but we're not little ones anymore, so why are we still telling ourselves no?
The first 35 years of my life were ruled by the word NO. Because of my fundamentalist, Baptist, upbringing, I believed that there was a constant war raging inside of me. It was a war between good and bad. The good was what God wanted. The bad was what my "flesh" - as it was referred to - wanted. My job was to tell my flesh NO! I was taught not to trust myself because if I followed my desires they would always lead me astray. Therefore, I spent my life repressing my will, my desires, my pleasures, and my satisfaction. I lived a life of denial in hopes that it would please God.
While my story may be more extreme than yours, I wonder how much of your life is defined by that little two letter word? Does the idea of granting yourself permission make you feel uneasy? Is it easier for you to say no than to say yes? Does no seem less risky than yes? Were you taught that denial is better or safer than permission?
Think about how often we hear these comments in our life:
Don't stay out too late.
That sounds dangerous.
Are you sure?
Don't get hurt.
Do the right thing.
Do these sound familiar? I imagine you are thinking of a few more that could be added to this list. What do they all have in common? They are all cautionary. Most of us were subtly or not so subtly taught that permission leads to harm, denial leads to safety. There is the underlying message that when given the opportunity to freely choose, we will most often choose the wrong, unsafe, unhealthy, dangerous, thing. So saying no becomes our modus operandi.
It was in my my mid 30's when I made a conscious decision to replace no with yes as often as possible. I was facing the biggest, scariest changes of my life. I was a married Baptist pastor raising three young children with my wife of over a decade. I was respected. People followed me. Ministry was the only career I knew. I taught my congregation and my family what I thought was best. I taught them that the path to Godliness was paved with self-denial.
Yet throughout all of this I was miserable. I wondered what I was missing out on in life. Worst of all, I felt like a complete failure. I spent my entire life trying to saying no, but failing miserably. Especially in my sexual attractions. No one knew I was gay. In desperation I began what would be 3 years of ex-gay therapy (also known as conversion therapy or reparative therapy). I resigned my church. My ex-gay counselors there were well meaning and compassionate, but ultimately it still boiled down to a war between good and evil that could only be won by denying self and submitting to a God who had created me, given me natural interests, passions, and desires, but demanded that I deny them in order to please him. It was a no-win situation. I grew weary of the defeating battle.
I quit ex-gay therapy, slowly came out, and took a fresh look at life. I gave myself permission to live. To be. To test my faith. I gave myself permission to end a failing marriage that wasn't good for either of us. I gave myself permission be open and authentic with my children. I gave myself permission to be gay.
A new world opened up to me when I changed my no to yes. It changed everything. My relationship with myself. My view of others. My parenting. My attitude. I felt free. I learned I could trust myself. I learned that giving myself permission didn't mean I was going to be reckless and destructive, instead it gave me the space and freedom to choose what was in my best interest.
As we face a new year, why not give yourself the gift of permission? Start replacing your no with a yes. What are you waiting for? Start now!
Next week we'll unpack: Permission to love.