I was sitting in the library at my college straining to focus for just a few more hours when my roommate walked up to me, bent over, and gave me a loving hug. In the embrace, I heard a soft whisper coming from her, “We were just talking about what we would be like without any constraints, and I wondered, what would you be like without any constraints?”
Although she used the word “constraints,” we both knew that she was referring to the things that had kept me from being free. These include the feeling that what I have to say isn’t necessarily valid because it’s coming out of my mouth rather than a male’s; the incredible anxiety I feel when I’m passionate about something because it can be so easily discounted as “emotional” and not “logical”; the message I hear repeatedly from the media that my only worth rests solely in making myself an object; the alienation I feel because of the normality of gender exclusive language; and more. These are all present realities I face daily. Although they shouldn’t, they do literally constrain me.
Among the thousands of thoughts that swam through my head I began thinking about where these constraints, these limitations, came from. Why have I been told these messages as a woman? What lies have I been believing? For how long?
As a child I understood something that I, to an extent, have since then lost. One of my mom’s favorite memories of me was when a mean boy tried to make me leave the playground, and rather than running away crying, I took the alternative route. Immediately, I grabbed the biggest stick I could find, climbed back up, and staked my ground. Reflecting on that moment, my mom always says, “I remember being so incredibly proud. I got a glimpse of the woman you already were.”
Playgrounds, or at least my experience with them, bear profound parallels to life. Although I could be bold at times, as evidenced in my story with the stick, I wasn’t always that way. Countless memories pervade my mind of the times right before I would jump up to catch the monkey bars. Being blissfully short in height, the chances of me actually catching the bars were undoubtedly slim. I was encumbered by the potential shame of gravity pulling me back down to the woodchips.
In life, many of us are often paralyzed by the risk—as I felt with the monkey bar dilemma. To be honest, it is uncomfortable to take a stand and actually fight against the things that constrain us. The consequences may be costly.
I think back again, however, to my experience with the monkey bars. Unconsciously, I always decided that I would rather take that risk, and be uncomfortable, than not do so, and be comfortable. Comfort, when it prevents us from responding to God’s call, is unsettling, unfulfilling, and even stifling. If we really are honest with ourselves, I think we all can agree on that. What goal of any value whatsoever doesn’t involve some sort of risk or hardship in obtaining it?
Until next week, here is my benediction: May you find the ways in which you can be uncomfortable. May your constraints no longer dictate your life. May you commit to jump up and catch the monkey bars!