it became harder and harder to cope under the weight of all of the expectations I created for myself. The walls of the box were closing in on me and something had to give.

This Game We’re All Playing

The following is a speech I prepared and gave at the Church Within in Indianapolis (Fountain Square


You’re probably wondering why I brought this dirty old box here with me today…

I’ll get to that really soon, but first I want to tell you a story.

it became harder and harder to cope under the weight of all of the expectations I created for myself. The walls of the box were closing in on me and something had to give.When I was a child, let’s say 7 or 8 years old, me and my brothers and sisters and a few of the neighbor kids from down the street often played a game called Mother May I.

The rules of the game go like this: One player pretends to be the “mother”

In our family this was always my older brother Randy.

And the rest of us always played the “children.”

To begin the game, the mother stands at one end of the room, or in our case, the top of the driveway and turns around facing away while the rest of us lined up at the end of the driveway by the curb.

The children take turns asking for permission “Mother may I (for example) take 5 baby steps forward?” The mother gets to decide, “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not do that. Or sometimes the mother can come up with an alternate suggestion. Like instead of taking five giant steps forward, you can take three baby to the side.

The point of the game is to get closer and closer until you reach the mother and then you get to be the mother and boss everyone else around.

So you can see by now that favoritism can play into this game a good deal. And my brother who was older and smarter had a way of making sure no one reached the top of the driveway. The game usually ended in yelling, crying and name-calling and everyone quitting before anyone else ever got to be “in charge.”

And although this game is played mostly by children, I recently realized how well it aligns to the way we play the game of life.

We all grow up learning what we have to do, be, or have to move forward in life, or in other words, to feel accepted and acceptable. Each and every one of us stands before the rest of humanity silently asking for permission, wondering what we need to do or say to hear the words, yes, and you may.

When we look closely at the word permission it comes down to establishing consent or authority

And what that means is that the authority over your life either belongs to you,

or it belongs mostly to the external world

Most of us experience a combination of both.

So this box here represents for me, the ways that we allow the external world to have authority over our lives. It demonstrates how we are confined or bound by our need for approval.

We live in our boxes, using our energy to become what we think we need to be to fit in.

And believe it or not, some people (I’ve come to discover) seem to be quite happy in the box. They get in there, kick back with a soda and watch tv or play some video games. They’ve learned to be quite content with the scope and parameters of its walls.

And today I can’t speak for those people because I’m not one of them.

You see I spent far too many miserable years confined by my need for approval, eagerly wanting and needing everyone else to tell me who to be, what to wear, say, do and think. I stared at the walls of my self-made cell looking for clues.

  • I looked for the perfect job which would make me seem responsible and successful. I wanted my job not to fulfill me but to define me and give my life purpose
  • A relationship that would make me appear loving and lovable, I wasn’t looking for someone to pour my love into, I was looking for someone who would approve of me as a woman and a human being. I wanted to get love, not give it.
  • I kept looking back at my parents and siblings for affirmation that I was doing things right. My family had the last word and could easily say if I was making good decisions, or not,
  • I turned on the television and other media to figure out what was normal, I followed along with the voice of our culture to know how to look, act and think
  • I entered the university to appear intelligent, I wasn’t sitting there in the classroom wanting an education or knowledge, I wanted to be a good student. I wanted the teachers to see me and approve, to affirm that I was the best student in the class.
  • I gave up going to church because it was the last place I ever felt like I could fit in. I’d made too many mistakes, was too laden with sin to show my face there.

I got really good at faking a lot of stuff so I could fit in the box. Everyone had their own set of rules and regulations for who I should be, and I listened closely, trying to assemble the perfect formula for being human. It was a little like playing Twister as I had my feet and hands going in all sorts of competing directions.

I did try, but these mixed up pieces of the puzzle never seemed to fit together very well – I could never shake the feeling that I was doing things wrong, that I’d lost the manual that was supposed to help me be me. Needless to say, I was terribly unhappy and a lot confused.

And all that time, my soul was constantly asking permission to get out, to live out loud, to have a greater say in my life, to take bigger, bolder steps. And, as the Mother of my life, I was always saying, “no you can’t take five giant steps forward,

You can take three baby steps backwards. And be quiet.

At the time, I didn’t trust my soul to have the answers, or to know what was best for me. I didn’t listen to its rumblings, nor ask its advice.

I like a lot of people, was raised with the idea that God, and all things related was out there somewhere. Invisible, inaccessible. Unavailable, to me…I was never taught to go within for answers, The soul was just a concept in my head. It was there, but it didn’t hold much importance in my life. I simply ignored it like a tree that grows in your yard, going mostly unnoticed as you pass it every day on the way up the drive.

Not only was my soul suffocating from confinement, it became harder and harder to cope under the weight of all of the expectations I created for myself. The walls of the box were closing in on me and something had to give.

You see, there is a problem with the game we are all playing. We’re not putting the pieces together in a way that show us that the soul IS our life waiting to be expressed.

You see, when asked where the soul resides, most people (like me) will point to the vicinity of their chest or their heart area. This. Small. Space.

We make our souls small by choosing external approval over divine acceptance. By allowing outside sources to give consent for our actions and our thoughts. No wonder we often feel like we live in a soul-less society. So many people think that their soul is small enough to fit in this box, maybe even smaller, this box! And so that’s where they reside, conforming instead to the expectations of society, family, work and even their Facebook feeds.

This is the box that contains us.  

When I was listing off everything I’ve sought approval from, maybe you were thinking of a few of your own.

Maybe you’re working a job where you feel like you constantly need to prove yourself

Maybe you’re in a relationship where you feel that you’re always compromising who you are to stay in it.

Maybe you have a hard time being yourself around your family because you don’t think they ever understand you.

I’d like to invite you to take a moment to write down that one thing…or two on the post-it note you received when you came in and if you feel comfortable sharing, come on up and attach it to my box, right here.

LONG PAUSE – while people participate

I want to read you something from Angeles Arrien’s essay, “Gateway to the Soul”

“We are here on earth to become who we are meant to be. Being who we are is the heart of soul work, for a two-way relationship between soul and personality lights the path to becoming fully ourselves. The need to be who we are always brings us back to soul. I don’t believe we’re ever disconnected from the soul. I think that’s its always there waiting to be recognized, even though we may have turned a blind eye to the soul or stopped paying attention to our inner guidance.  Many people think of the soul as a space to be filled, not knowing it is an opportunity. And so they go looking for something to plug the hole, rather than seeking to re-connect with the soul. They fill this hole with diversionary addictions that keep them looking outside for satisfaction. The answer however is never in the “outer.”

The answer however is never in the “outer”

I want you to know that your soul can’t fit in this box, it’s simply too small. When we set it free, our soul can expand to the edges of the universe. It has no real borders or boundaries.

This is an important thing to get because…Your soul has an idea about who you could be outside of this box of societal expectations..And it’s quite amazing and beautiful, I think.  

Richard Rohr, in his book Simplicity: The Art of Living reminds us that…”God promises us a spacious place within – and that’s the place we call the soul. We don’t save our soul, we discover it. We don’t go there and try to make ourselves holy, we wake our souls up. We’re already united with God; the problem is, we don’t believe it.

This is the question of faith, but we’ve turned it into a question of our worthiness. We turn everything into an earned value. We can’t understand grace. We can’t understand love. We can’t believe that we are loved for nothing, absolutely nothing. Our real value depends on what we are and not on what we do. We continually try to be good people, whatever that means. In reality we are not always good, but we are holy. Being good is something that you earn or acquire or achieve, but we’re holy because we came forth from God. That’s just a fact.”

Accepting this truth about who you truly are takes courage. Giving ourselves permission to follow that takes faith and courage because living without the four walls of the box we’ve become accustomed to, can make us feel as if we’ve been launched into outer space. We may even find our own thoughts a little alien.

We might agree to do things we’ve never done before.

We may end up speaking to strangers and making friends of the most unlikely people… other aliens.

Things we once thought were important may seem to lose meaning and we find ourselves with space and a weird feeling that that space has an important function in our lives as humans on this planet and at this time.

Rohr tells us that “we often feel more comfortable with our slavery than with freedom. Freedom means that we have to assume responsibility for what we are.”

Choosing to let the soul lead our life is almost always a more difficult path in the beginning, You need to allow yourself a wide margin of error, You need to give yourself a lot of permission to fail, make mistakes, and try again, because the road you’ll be on is uncharted territory. No one has gone before you to blaze the trail or clear the path on your unique journey. But one thing is certain, your soul knows the way if you choose to follow it.  

My friends, the divine wants to have its way with you. Take it from me, if you can’t trust your soul, what can you trust? So the very next time your soul asks you permission to do something crazy, to take a giant step forward; please say YES. And after several, when it reaches the front of your life, hand over the reins willingly, no whining, no crying; give it control of the game.

Listen to the audio recording HERE

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