Who Said You Could Do That?



I had a boss once who used the phrase, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission.” That little sentence used to bother me. I lived the formative years of my life as an oh-so-obedient eldest child, one who asked permission for everything. I spent way too many minutes (years?) of my life worrying about where to go, whom to ask, and how to find permission to try anything and everything.

But 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?”

I grew up at the tail end of the “behave like a lady” thinking that permeated North American culture for generations.  Like children, women were to be seen, but not heard, “respected,” even revered, but not fully included nor even invited into the story of the 20th century church. But in 1950’s southern California evangelical circles, there was one woman who changed that trajectory dramatically.

Her name was Henrietta Mears and she was a dynamo. She broke through barriers right and left. Though I never knew her, her life made a mark on mine. And then there was Roberta Hestenes, an ordained Presbyterian pastor and seminary professor who singlehandedly began to change the way many streams of evangelical mid-twentieth-century Christianity viewed women. She never asked permission for anything, she just quietly followed God’s lead and taught us all some valuable lessons about personhood, calling and obedience.

In the spirit of solidarity with such women through the ages, I’d like to pause a moment and remind us of what we never need permission to do. Are you ready?

You are loved.  You do not have to ask for it, earn it, hoard it or distrust it. That’s the bedrock truth of this universe: God loves you, exactly as you are, before you do one single thing.

You are enough. Drop the scarcity thinking ASAP, okay? You already have what you need to be who you were designed to be. Yes, you may need things like education, training, experience. If so, go for it! But the gifts are yours—all the things that make your heart sing, that make you catch your breath just a little, that raise the little hairs on your arms—those are the clues. They are the whispers of grace, the small signs that you, wonderful you, are the one who can do this thing. So do it.

Your tears are welcome and necessary.  How else will we know we’re not alone on this journey? You don’t have to be made of steel, you don’t have to be big enough or strong enough, or courageous enough, or whatever … enough. Your weakness and vulnerability are what make you beautiful and ultimately, what make you strong and resilient. So weep when you need to, talk about hard things, ask dumb (and not so dumb) questions. Being weary or overwhelmed or sad—these things do not in any way disqualify you from life and/or leadership. In fact, it is those very things that will help to form you into someone we want to hear and follow.

You are never too much.  No matter how loud your laugh, how weird your questions, how big or how small your physical presence may be, you are amazing. Do you know that? You. Are. Amazing. Yes, you. You have gifts that this world needs. Not just the BIG world with a capital W, but your world, right where you are. Your neighbor, your family, your church, your school, your team—whatever and wherever you are, you’re there for a whole long list of reasons. Believe it.

You are allowed to speak up, shut up, stand up, stay up, turn up. You’re allowed to say no, or maybe, or yes. You are the one who knows your limits. Please don’t let anyone else put limits around you that are untrue and unnecessary. Learn to know you—strengths and weaknesses, gifts and struggles, abilities and areas that need help. Listen to wise people who speak gently and truthfully and refuse to hear the ones who yell, cajole, bluster, argue or nay-say.

We all need good, true people to speak into our lives. But we do not need bullies, judges or “friendly” advisors. Whether your platform is enormous or tiny makes no difference. YOU are the one God has placed right where you are, with all that you need, to do all that you are meant to do. Do you believe this? Do you believe this?

Well then. You don’t need my permission for anything, do you? Thanks be to God.