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.