Life Lessons #3: Go Where There Is Room to Play

I had lunch with a good friend last week in Beverly Hills to discuss a decision that has been on my platter for a while, but now it’s time for me to make a final choice. I’m tired of, as the Hebrew prophet Elijah counseled against, “limping between opinions.” Should I move in one direction, it would satisfy a lot of close friends and family in my life, but it would narrow my options for career and personal life significantly. Should I move in the other direction, career choices would open significantly, the ceilings in life would be higher and the friends and family most supportive of me likely would remain so. I know all of you are guessing. Is it church choice? Nashville or LA? career decisions? Yes. Some are resolved. Others are not.

When I asked my friend who often has found himself in the same dilemmas what he would do, he said, “I’ve always chosen to go where there is room to play.” In other words, he chose the places for his employment and his location where there is most freedom for him to believe as he believes, to act as he wants to act, and to live as he feels convicted to live. This tends to work for everyone involved because it allows him to remain most authentic to himself, and yet also to be honest and authentic with those with whom he lives and works.

The alternative is to choose places where there are limits, low ceilings and small expectations. Ironically, these often are the most comfortable places of our religious, family and social traditions. We choose to stay thinking that we are of more service to the cause if we stay than if we leave. That’s rarely the case. Some can tell that we are frustrated or disappointed. Prophets often are not welcome in their home country. Those who try to fly a bit beyond the comfort zone of this security zone are ostracized or ignored. Our intentions may even be pure and among the best: “If I just stay close to “home,” they will accept me. One day they will love me.” If you stay, you will be loved by some. But you will be bitter at the limitations you’ve been given … or let’s be honest: limitations you’ve chosen for yourself. But somehow this makes us feel better about ourselves because we are martyrs for the cause.

It’s better just to go where there is room to fly. Room to be all God made you to be. Room to pursue the authentic voice of vocation. Support for your most basic understandings of yourself and what you are to do in the world. A place where there is room, not only to serve, but to experiment and to play in life’s sandbox until something interesting and new emerges.

Some people never do this, and they just stand around and have annual conferences and meetings with others like themselves to curse the ceiling they have chosen. Over and over, they play the victim tape. “We women … we gays … we liberals … we conservatives … etc.” These are worthy conversations … the first time or two we have them. After this, there comes a question, “Well, if you don’t like it, then why don’t you do something about it?” It’s easier to make ourselves victims rather to force ourselves to take charge of our lives and change their circumstances. When we choose bitterness over the limits we have chosen, we are like the Elder Son who is jealous of the Younger Son who left home because we wonder what we are missing out on in the “far country,” but we stay close to home because at least Dad and Mom, our religious tradition, our employer or our peers approve.

As I’ve made some of these difficult choices myself, and paid some dear costs for them, I have grown a bit more impatient with those who choose to stay within religious traditions, family systems and employment situations where they can’t speak with an honest voice or live out their truest vocations. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life so far is that I stayed in places and with people that I should have left long ago, and instead I somehow believed that I would change them. That rarely happens, and then it’s double disappointment. They never become what I wanted them to become, and I never became what I wanted to become either. We only have one life, and we have the responsibility to make choices that will best allow us to become all we are intended to be.

I’ve grown even more impatient by those who choose limits and then punish those who decide to push beyond them. This rejection of those who leave the inner circle is a reaction that reveals the underlying insecurity of the foundations upon which their judgment lies. People who are secure with their choices don’t punish people who make ones that are different than theirs. In healthy families, religious traditions, and organizations, there is room for play, experimentation and discovery.

Sometimes life gives us limitations (see my recent blog entry on this), and we then make lemonade with the lemons. But there really is no excuse for limitations that we choose — and don’t be surprised if we become bitter and angry, and ultimately ostracized or cut off by those whose approval we sought. My guess is that we are not really angry at those who we feel are limiting us. We are angry at ourselves for not having the courage to embrace a new life and new possibilities where more is possible. We choose “time out” rather than the playground, and we wonder why we’re joyless and unfulfilled.

It’s easier to accept a few limitations once you have room to play. We are always most helpful to others when we work from a place of authentic joy and truth.

If you’re accepting something, or some place, or someone in your life that’s keeping you from being fully alive, then it’s time to leave home. You can still visit, call and touch base. But you and others will embrace you more freely when you live and speak from a place of joy than if you stay at home and sulk.

So when I’m confronted with the decision of whether to stay where it’s safe or to go where there is freedom, I’m learning to choose the place of freedom. Go where there is room to play.

One Response to “Life Lessons #3: Go Where There Is Room to Play”
  1. Karen says:

    Thank you for the challenge and the reminder. Now I have some serious decision making to do that I’ve had on my platter for much too long.

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