Everybody Needs a Permission Advocate



I like to break rules. Not the kind that say, “Don’t feed the animals” or “No trespassing” or “Stand in line and wait your turn.” Those, I tend to honor.  I’m talking about internal and unspoken rules that are embedded into the cultures of our structures and systems. I like to break those kinds of rules.

But I wasn’t always that way.

For many years, I played it a lot safer and tried to tow the line in the structures and systems of which I was part. I was quieter, more inclined to wait for someone to ask for my opinion instead of offering it freely. I was more apt to go with the flow instead of bring up counterpoints. I was far more likely to play nice and push down some of my ideas or perspectives because I didn’t want to rock the boat.

Over time, though, I realized that well-behaved women weren’t going to change the church.

That waiting for the right time, the perfect ask, the stars to align, the ___________ (you fill in the blank) probably was going to mean I would wait a long, long time.

I was stuck with a feeling that I am guessing other women reading might be able to relate to as well—the need to ask for permission to validate our work, abilities, passion, and gifts.

We are often really skilled at giving our power to others, to assume that if there is someone above us, better than us, with more skills than us, stronger than us, louder than us, more educated than us, more articulate than us, more spiritual than us—then somehow they need to grant us permission to move forward on our contributions, our dreams, our passions.

I am not saying that there aren’t authorities we need to navigate as part of the systems and structures we participate in. I don’t get to do anything I want to do—when I want to do it, how I want to do it—as part of my faith community. That wouldn’t be fair.

What I want to point out, though, is how easy it is to fall into waiting for someone to give us permission to do what is already stirring deeply inside us.

To lead.
To teach.
To create.
To love.
To advocate.
To nurture an idea.
To catalyze a dream.
To try something we’ve never tried before.
To apply our education.
To ______________.

Can you think of what your-thing-you-might-be-waiting-for-permission-on might be? Something in your gut or your heart or your flesh or your bones that is stirring, growing, brewing, longing, moving, developing, birthing, waiting, wondering, hoping.

It’s in there, but it’s scary and vulnerable to say it.
It’s in there, but you’re afraid of being misunderstood.
It’s in there, but you know it will ruffle feathers.
It’s in there, but you have a long list of reasons you’re not qualified.
It’s in there, but you are waiting for someone to give you permission to do it.

My guess is that you might need a permission advocate, someone who can remind you that you don’t need permission from outside sources to do what God has called you to do (and also help you give yourself permission, too). I think they go hand in hand.

Eleven years ago, when I was stepping into full-time ministry I needed permission advocates—friends who said to me, “It’s okay to want this, it’s okay to try, it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to step into your gifts.” They didn’t give me permission. I didn’t need it from them. What they helped me do is give myself permission.

My 48th birthday was a few weeks ago, and with every year that goes by I am reminded I don’t want to waste any more time worrying about what people think, working my butt off to try to gain approval, or waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for permission from an outside source to do something God has already nurtured in my soul.

It’s not an easy dance. The voices in our head can really mess with us. You know, the ones that whisper (or sometimes yell):

  • What will __________ say?
  • What will __________ think?
  • They won’t like you anymore.
  • You aren’t enough.
  • You are too much.
  • You need to wait until the time is right.
  • You need their permission first.

This is why we need permission advocates—safe friends and family and advocates who will help us quit waiting for permission from outside sources and encourage us to give it to ourselves.

If we wait for permission from an outside source to act on some of the things that God is stirring in our soul—or wait until we are no longer internally scared or insecure or doubting about our abilities—I firmly believe we will be waiting a long, long time.

When I look back on the twists and turns I have taken over the years as a female leader, I know that if I hadn’t been willing to step into some of what God was calling me to do without getting permission, I would probably be in the same spot I was in 11 years ago—with dreams and skills and passions, in a system that was never going to give me permission to freely lead, to freely speak, to freely be me.

My permission advocates helped me then and help me now. They remind me, “You don’t need permission from others but you sure do need to give permission to yourself.”

SheLoves sisters, here’s to being permission advocates for each other, for others, for ourselves. There’s a whole lot of work to be done that can never get done if we keep waiting for permission.

Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
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  1. This is such a struggle for me. My counselor always tells me that I need to stop having others ressassure me but It is also dangerous to constantly ressaussure your self. Life is always going to be about taking risks and everything will always be uncertain. 🙂

  2. pastordt says:

    Yes, yes, YES! Thank you, Kathy, for naming this so very well. We do need to advocate for one another – to say, “Give yourself permission to be who God designed you to be.” Thank you!

  3. Sandy Hay says:

    I finally have a name…permission advocate. My first was Andy, a lawyer friend of ours. He taught me I had a voice in my marriage. My husband still doesn’t like it (we’re WAY older than you) but I don’t give him a choice. My second was my oldest son Matt. When he was an associate pastor, he gave me permission to teach in his church. That was way over the top for me but I did it and haven’t stopped since. I must be more vigilant about passing that on. Thanks Kathy 🙂

  4. Leah Kostamo says:

    Thanks, Kathy! My own 48th birthday is in a few weeks, and, AMEN! I don’t want to wait around ever again for permission to embark on the glorious things God is calling me to!

  5. “If we wait for permission from an outside source to act on some of the things that God is stirring in our soul—or wait until we are no longer internally scared or insecure or doubting about our abilities—I firmly believe we will be waiting a long, long time.”
    Kathy I needed to read these words today. Their message is something I have been stirring around in my heart recently, and just seeing someone else writing it so clearly reminded me of how important it is for me to stop waiting for permission to live my life and to just embrace living it.
    Your words, leadership, and voice are so needed. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Yes! I wrote about this today on my blog today – about adding “just” in front of what I do rather than remembering that I am qualified for the roles I’ve been given. I constantly struggle with the permission piece. I know I can step up and lead and that my opinions count. And yet, it’s so hard to put into practice, especially in environments where I have not made sure I am absolutely safe to share. Thank you for these strong words of permission.

  7. Kathy, this is so well-reasoned. The first step is God’s: our unique gifting. The second step is ours: following His leading. But there is so much space there between the two for us, as a community of women, to acknowledge one another’s “dreams, skills, and passions” so that we don’t spend our lives waiting for “the right moment” to dare to act.

  8. I love it! I’ve got one of those in my life. When I was blogging but not sharing it with my friends (I was a closet blogger, ha!) they said “woman up,” send it out there. We all need encouragers in our corner!

  9. Bev Murrill says:

    Kathy, this is so well put. Permission Advocates! This is a great role to aspire to, along with being a Dangerous Woman. I suppose the two go hand in hand. I’ve always known this role either as a giver or a receiver, but you’ve put it into words so excellently! Awesome, thanks.

    • they do go hand and hand, don’t they? it’s dangerous to give ourselves permission and other, too! thanks, bev. love from across the miles.

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