In the book of John, chapter five, Jesus was at the Pool of Bethesda, a well-known spot for healing. Many ill people hung around the water, just watching and waiting for their chance to stand in the swirling waters and be healed.
One particular man had been an invalid for thirty-eight years, but he hadn't received his healing because no one would pick him up and carry him to the water's edge when it began to swirl and stir. Jesus heard the man's story and said, "Get up. Take your mat with you, and walk!" And the man did.
What was different?
The man didn't even have to step into the water.
He didn't know it, but what he had actually been waiting on for nearly four decades was for someone to come along and say, "It's okay."
He just needed permission.
So many of us are longing for permission.
Permission to do something.
Permission to quit something.
Permission to say something.
Permission to question.
Permission to rest.
Permission to cry.
Permission to not give a damn.
Permission to expect better.
Permission to still be upset.
Permission to move on.
Permission to seek a better way.
Permission to be weak.
Beneath all the varied surface possibilities of what we think we want permission for, I believe what we actually want most is permission to be ourselves. Permission to belong, just as we are.
Have you ever secretly wished you could tell someone what you really think? Not necessarily in that, "I'm gonna give her a piece of my mind," kind of way, but just the ability, space, or courage to do what Ronnie Freeman sings about:
Peel back all of the laughter and smiling,
Let your emotions have the day off,
So you can see what's underneath it all.
We've allowed the rules of institutions, the unrealistic expectations of others, outdated cultural norms, plus our own toxic self-hatred to cake on our souls like Playdoh on the chubby palms of my four-year-old. Grime, snot, and purple marker mix with sweat in her little hands, as she unintentionally paints the glass of our kitchen door. Our spirits sometimes look similar: smeared with pain and performance, ego, and fear of what everyone else thinks.
Some days I have to stand in the bathroom, face set firm, staring in the mirror, giving myself permission to be human. Sometimes I still have to remind myself to untether the cape from my neck, come down off the cross, and take a deep breath.
You, too? I urge you to pinch yourself if you have to. Do whatever it takes to snap back to this reality: you are human. You are only one person - only capable of doing so much before you completely forget about the fragile beauty of your being. You have permission to be yourself.
If, as Desmond Tutu says, we are all a piece of God, then let your Light shine! Joined together, one piece at a time, we begin to see God just a little more clearly, as we allow ourselves to be woven into a patchwork quilt of humanity: yours, mine, ours.
We are bruised, yet brave.
Once broken, now re-membered.
Held together by strands of love,
Proudly on display on the front porch of God's house.
A tapestry of red and yellow, black and white,
Flapping in the breeze of the Holy Spirit.
No longer willing to hide.
Slaves no more.
Fists on hips.
Just beneath our ribs.
The man in John 5 had been an invalid: sick and unable to care for himself. Pronounced another way, the word means something entirely different. Invalid: not valid. Lacking substance.
The sick man needed someone to validate him. To confirm him. To approve of him. He needed someone to tell him his life had a purpose. He was longing for meaning. He needed permission to be human - to be weak sometimes.
As Jesus spoke, I imagine the man heard something very different than a simple, "Get up and walk." I think he probably heard something like this:
You have believed your life hasn't mattered for far too long. You have worth. In spite of your past, your imperfections, and what everyone else thinks about you, I am giving you permission to get up and walk away. Get up and leave this place. It is time to move on. Be different. Be new. Don't look back.
Did you notice that Jesus didn't even address the man's issues? Jesus wasn't blind: I'm sure He noticed the guy's problems. But Jesus loved beyond the labels. He saw past the illness, to the heart of a human being, who had been created by Love. Others threw down a towel to catch the man's mess or tossed him a few coins to silence his cries, but Jesus came along and embraced him with a second chance.
In recognizing the man as a person, Jesus helped him find purpose in the midst of the struggle. In recovering his value, the man was able to see himself as an equal, probably for the first time in his life. And that may have been the greatest grace of all.
Whoever you are, whatever your story, listen to the invitation of Jesus, saying:
Come to me, all you misfits. Come and rest. Bring your story, covered in grit and grime and glitter and let's write something brand-new together. Come to me, all you who have been told you don't belong. Let Love create beauty from the ashes. Sit next to me, you who have believed you'll never be enough. There is space at the table for each of you who've grown weary from holding your breath for far too long. Come to me. Come and rest. You are welcome here, just as you are.
When you feel about as strong as an eggshell, the first courageous thing you can do is to ask for help. Asking for help means you have to stop hiding and start telling the truth. Finding a safe person feels like reaching down deep into your soul and mustering the courage to connect with someone you trust. Someone who makes you feel valued, seen, and heard. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or an unbiased professional, you don’t have to navigate life alone. Asking for help can begin by starting a new conversation with the person in the mirror, and giving yourself permission to be weak sometimes.