Do you remember the game Mother May I? It was something I played in early elementary school. We would line up side by side on one end of the room and someone at the other end would pick a person and tell them to take any number of steps, hops, jumps, etc. toward them. If they did it without asking permission, they had to go back to the starting point. But if you said, “Mother, may I?” before you followed the instructions, you were allowed to move forward.
There were many lessons in the game- listening, patience, manners. But at some point before I was 10, we stopped playing. Asking permission for every step, every jump or hop, became exhausting. We finally learned, in that one step we each took without permission, we really didn’t, couldn’t go back and start over. We had to keep going toward the goal and deal with whatever we stepped in along the way.
Part of that game has stuck with me through life. I find comfort in asking permission before I do something new, something scary, something risky. It may be that if I fail, I have someone else to blame. Or it could be that I want the security of knowing someone else has gone before me. They’ve made mistakes I can learn from. I will be able to relate to them more when I am finished.
I remember as a teenager wanting to watch a certain rated R movie. I had seen others, so it wasn’t a matter of the rating. But my dad was adamant that I did not have permission to see it. In that moment, I listened and obeyed. Many years later, as a married adult, I decided to watch the movie. I remember turning to my husband afterward and laughing. I realized why my dad has told me not to watch it. It was awful. The gore, the violence, the language and so many other things this movie was centered around were not worth my time or energy. To leave that out of my mind was the right choice.
I discovered when you trust someone, it isn’t a bad thing to ask permission.
Maybe the term ‘ask permission’ is too much of a trigger word. It carries the idea of someone having too much control over your decisions. It may seem like I am okay with never doing something because someone else said I couldn’t. That is not it at all. So let me rephrase- it is not a bad thing to seek and follow trusted advice.
I listened to my dad, but I had the ability to make the choice for myself.
As a Christian, I believe in the scripture that tells a wife to submit to her husband. But before we jump to scream, submit is not a blind following. It is not a command to do whatever he tells me. It is command to ask permission, to seek advice from a loving and trust worthy man. It is part of the relationship because along with this command, my husband is told to love me as Christ loved the church. Meaning, he is willing to lay down his life for me. Not to control me, but to guide me lovingly to do what is best for us. Thankfully, I have a husband that does that well most of the time. (I say most because neither of us are perfect!)
I know this isn’t everyone’s experience. Whether a husband, father, mother, sister, friend- seeking advice, asking permission of a trusted and loving person is never a bad thing.
Whatever the reason, there are a lot of things in my life I still ask permission before doing. Sometimes because of fear, other times because I respect those around me. Our choices don’t just effect ourselves. They have consequences that pass on to more people than we are even aware of.
Our culture has become more and more “me” centric over my lifetime. We expect our children to make major life choices based on our ideas or experiences. We want others to approve of me rather than looking around and seeking to do what is best for others. I believe that is why asking permission has become so hard. If I am only seeking self, then I don’t care what others do as long as they promote my self love. Asking permission shows others we care about their perspective. It shows a love and respect for their ideas even if we don’t agree.
As I think back on the game, I know I could have walked to the other side of the room at any moment. I could have sat down and refused to play. I could have demanded that I be the person giving instructions. Or I could keep asking, hoping to be given the permission to take the biggest and fastest steps across the room. We all wanted to reach the other side first. Some end up still at the starting line when the first person reached the end. Some in the middle. It’s a lot like life.
Maybe the lesson is bigger than just listening, patience, manners. Maybe the lesson is learning to ask permission so we all stop seeking to do what I want and start seeing those around us with respect. Maybe seeking advice, asking permission, opens our eyes to others perspectives. It gives us the opportunity to love others more than ourselves.
Rather than asking what is best for me, we start asking what is best for those we love, for those we trust, for us as a collective whole.
Find more by Carol here.