Permission #3: Permission To Live

“Live! Live! Live! Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death!”

- Auntie Mame

I fell in love with Mame the moment I saw Rosalind Russell’s portrayal of her in the 1958 movie version of the classic story. It wasn’t until years later that I understood why she resonates so deeply with me. Mame embraced life fully and unapologetically no matter how her circumstances changed. Her life was one of unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows, and wealth and poverty. What remained constant was her choice to feast at the banquet of life, regardless of what life presented to her.

It seems like from the moment we are born we are encouraged to live a life of “shoulds”. We are taught what we should do and not do. We are taught how we should act and not act. We are taught what we should like, dislike, how we should talk, dress, sound, smell, and the list goes on and on. Most of these shoulds are predetermined not by who we are and how we are wired, but by societal expectations, religion, tradition, family, authority figures, and more. As we grow older, the “shoulds” grow with us. When faced with a decision, we ask ourselves: “What should I do?” instead of “What could I do?”. Think about the powerful difference between those two questions. The first implies that there is only one right answer that is determined by forces outside yourself; the latter opens the door to options free of judgement.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother expressing her concern for me not liking the things I should like. I was an imaginative, creative, and artistic child. I enjoyed anything that allowed me to use my imagination and express myself creatively. Throwing, batting, kicking, or catching a ball seemed pointless to me, so when my mother would force my brother to drag me along with his friends to play baseball I was perfectly content to pick clover and create little art projects from whatever resources I found nearby. What was I doing? My little spirit was choosing to LIVE instead of allowing myself to be forced into what my mother or anyone else thought I should be choosing.

Unfortunately, those youthful days soon faded and my life become increasing defined by what others thought I should be instead of what I could be. I believed should be a good, Godly, man who was willing to sacrifice all my desires in order to become that.

My family and religion taught me that life was meant to be endured, not embraced. The lives we admired the most were those filled with suffering. I believed that life was meant to be sacrificed for a better afterlife. I remember seeing the plaque that hung in our home: “Only one life, so soon it will pass. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” It was the martyrs and suffering that were held up as those who we should emulate. I adopted this belief for my own life.

It wasn’t until many, many years later on cold, rainy afternoon when I stood alone in my bedroom staring blankly at the small church building across the street . I was the pastor. Pastor Joel they called me. I started that church from scratch, and it represented years of intense labor and sacrifice. I moved my wife and children to a new and unfamiliar city and “planted” a church. This was the logical next step for my ministry career. I poured my heart and soul into establishing that church. I thought it would be my life’s work, but there I stood just 4 years later saying “I don’t think I want to do this the rest of my life.” I was terrified but also empowered by giving myself permission to utter this realization. I realized that I was starving at the banquet of life. My joy was gone. I was trapped in a life of shoulds. Doing what I should do. Saying what I should say. Looking like I should look. Denying what I should deny. Being who I should be. Living the life I should live. Years of living this way left me in fear of truly living. While I had a moment of realization on that cold, rainy day, it was the beginning of many small permissions that led me to a more authentic life. A life that was no longer defined by denial and living up to the perceived expectations of others.

I feel quite sad and frustrated when I come across people who have chosen to starve instead of feast. They’re starving in their relationships, jobs, environments, finances, lifestyle and more. No one else can tell you what your banquet is, but everyone can tell when you aren’t feasting on the banquet life has given you. I see people sitting at the banquet table yet eating the crumbs off the floor. Why do people do this?

Fear of the unknown. Fear of the uncomfortable. Fear of what others may think or say. Fear of risk. Fear of change. Fear of loss.

What do I mean when I use the word “live”? It means finding answers to life’s questions:

Who are you?

What brings you joy?

What puts the spark in your eye?

What brings fulfillment?

What are your passions?

What do you love?

What do you long for?

The list is endless and the answers are only yours. It is recognizing that life can be an evolving journey of self-discovery.

Life is waiting to be experienced. Replace your shoulds with coulds.

Think about who makes a great inspirational story. It isn’t the person who stayed within the lines. It is the person who broke free from the shoulds and did bold, daring, and risky things.

Only one life, so soon it will pass, SO GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO LIVE!

Joel Barrett LGBTQ Writer, Speaker, Gatherer



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Joel Speaks Out

Kansas City, MO