For most of my life, I’ve resisted anything that made me feel free.
Riding a bike.
Swinging on a swing.
Singing in public.
Being free meant not having control. It meant releasing and receiving rather than holding on and restraining. Freedom was unpredictable and unsafe. It couldn’t be trusted. It might hurt me, embarrass me, reject me.
I didn’t know how to be free.
I learned at a young age how important it was to be the good girl, to follow the rules, to do as I was told, and to not rock the boat. I grew up in a somewhat tense environment, as my parents were going through what ended up being a brief separation when I was in kindergarten. My brother responded to the tension by becoming the diffusing bomb, trying to distract my parents from their own dysfunction and turning their focus onto him. I found protection in controlling things, so I became The Golden Child. I was good at being good.
But in the process, I found myself being bound by lies about who I was and what I could and couldn’t do throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
It’s easier for us to hold onto the lies we’ve believed for so long rather than embracing the truth about who we are. But the lies are relentless, and they come from everywhere.
Lies that we are not smart, talented, popular, artistic, creative, musical, athletic, sophisticated, funny, coordinated, attractive, or good enough.
Lies that we can’t do something, won’t amount to anything, or will end up a failure.
Lies that no one will love us or want us. Lies that we will be too much.
Lies. Lies. Lies.
These lies limit us, hold us back, keep us small.
“Who do you think you are?” they ask, mocking us and our attempts to do whatever great thing we are meant to do in this world.
For most of my life, I’ve believed these lies. I’ve let them define me, limit me, hold me back, and keep me small. It pains me to admit it, but I know we find healing in sharing our truths, so here are just a few of the lies that have followed me throughout my life. Perhaps you can relate.
“They don’t want to be your friend. That’s why you don’t get invited to parties everyone else gets invited to, Rachel. That’s why they didn’t ask you to go to the movies with them. That’s why they didn’t invite you to lunch on your birthday. They don’t really like you.”
“Be careful, Rachel. You’ll hurt yourself. Don’t you know you can’t trust your body? It’s betrayed you before. It’ll betray you again. It can’t be trusted.”
“What if your voice cracks or doesn’t sound good? Oh, that would be so embarrassing. Don’t even bother singing. It’s not worth the risk.”
“You like him? Forget it. He’s too cool for you. You’re not popular or fun enough. You’ll scare him off or intimidate him. He won’t be interested.”
“Seriously? Purple shoes? Peacock print yoga pants? Magenta, yellow and orange blazers? You can’t pull that off. Stick to your pastels and khakis. Play it safe.”
“Don’t be too successful, Rachel. If you are, people will resent you. They’ll envy you. They’ll be nice to your face but secretly judge you and talk about you behind your back. They’ll be waiting for you to fail.”
I’ve given these lies space in my mind and in my soul and have let them overwhelm and debilitate me under the guise of protection.
“I’m just looking out for you,” they say. “I know what’s best. I just don’t want you to get hurt or make a fool of yourself. Listen to me, and you’ll be safe.”
In keeping us “safe,” these lies also keep us from living fully, speaking our truth, and authentically showing up to be who we are called to be. Yet, we continue to give these lies power and authority over our lives when all we really want is to be free.
Over the past year, in particular, I’ve been challenging my fears, questioning the lies I’ve believed for so long.
What if they’re not true?
What if “they” do want to be my friend? What if they’ve been my friend for years, but I’ve missed it because I keep retelling myself lies from childhood, something that is no longer my reality?
What if I gave myself permission to trust my body and gave it the chance to experience judgment-free, joyful movement?
What if putting my voice out there moves someone and touches a deep part of their soul? What if it is worth the risk?
What if he is interested? What if he loves the very things I don’t love or accept about myself?
What if I can confidently rock the purple peacock pants and hot pink blazers?
What if people want to see me succeed and would be there to lift me up if I failed?
What if those are the truth?
When we challenge the lies, they lose power. But we have to decide to do that. We have two choices.
Letting go means being free and releasing that which is not serving us, even if it scares us to do that.
By “letting go” I don’t mean “giving up” or being reckless and not caring about our decisions. I’m talking about releasing everything you’re trying so desperately to control for fear that something awful will happen if you’re not controlling it.
It’s exhausting to hold on to so much all the time.
I don’t know if this is true for you, but I find that when God wants me to hear a message, anything and anyone can be used to convey that message to me. Throughout 2016, this message has been, “Let go. Release. Be free. Fly.”
About a week or so ago, I was at Marshall’s doing some last-minute Christmas shopping and came across this mug.
I knew I was meant to see it. I bought one for myself and my mom, so we have a constant reminder about the truth that we are meant to be free.
Since the spring, I’ve been bombarded by another symbol of freedom everywhere I go – butterflies.
I was having a rough week at work and found this mug on my desk, unwrapped, with the words in plain sight.
I asked a dozen coworkers if they’d given it to me, but no one owned up to it. I still have no idea who gave it to me. Maybe I never will.
A few months later, while I was walking on a beach in Oregon with my husband, I asked for a sign and waited for a response.
Minutes later, I saw this.
Earlier this year, I was preparing for a presentation about goal setting with my dad, and we were talking about transformation. He explained to me what happens when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.
As the lowly caterpillar or larva goes through a process of metamorphosis, something remarkable happens. Most of the tissues and cells that make up the larva are broken down, and that material is rebuilt into the adult version – the butterfly.
As the butterfly approaches its moment of release and freedom, when it will finally be able to fly, its wings are pushing, pushing, pushing against the inside of the pupa. It’s that pushing motion that strengthens the butterfly’s wings, so that when it is ready to emerge, it is able to fly. If we were to take a pair of scissors or a knife and slit open that cocoon prematurely, before the butterfly was ready, it wouldn’t be strong enough to fly.
It is strengthened by its struggle, and then it is free to fly.
And so are we.
Butterflies invite us to be free. To open up. To spread our wings.
“Be free, Rachel,” they beckon. “Let go. Release what is not serving you, especially the lies. They are holding you back, limiting you, and keeping you from the fullness of what is intended for your life.”
Just three days ago, I came across this plaque at a gift shop in Rehoboth Beach and knew in an instant I was meant to see it.
Choosing to be free is an act of courage.
This is particularly true when it comes to our bodies. One of the lingering lies I’ve been challenging and attempting to overcome is around what my body is capable of doing physically. I’ve never been a risk taker, unlike my husband, who did flips off couches as a four-year-old, has been skydiving, and recreated his own version of Jackass as a teenager. He struggled to find freedom expressing his thoughts and feelings, so he sought it in movement. He let go and found release physically.
The opposite has been true for me. But, over the past year, I’ve been finding more freedom in my body than ever before through Nia, and, most recently, AntiGravity fitness at Movement Lab in Baltimore. Nia calls us to find what feels good in our body and to move freely, playfully and without judgment.
AntiGravity invites us to trust our body and the hammock enough, so we can let go. I took a class in the springtime but had been too scared to take another since. Turning upside down and hanging from the ceiling felt too free to me, and I resisted anything that made me feel free. After talking to the instructor, Heather, who has become a friend, I decided I’d give it another try.
As we were warming up for class, Heather reminded us of the words of AntiGravity founder, Christopher Harrison:
When you open up space in the body, you open up space in the mind.
Open up. Be free
So many times during class today we had to physically let go – hang from the ceiling, fly into the air, flip ourselves out of a seated position.
My hands would get sweaty.
Fear would creep in.
Would I lose my grip?
The lies would rear their ugly little heads.
“See, I told you you can’t do it. It’s too scary, isn’t it? You’re not going to be able to get out of this inversion. You’re going to fall right out of the hammock and hurt yourself. You should’ve stayed home.”
But, in those moments, we can stop fear in its tracks by responding with truth. “NO. You’re a liar. You have no authority over me. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. I trust.”
And with that, I released.
Fear only has power if we give it power. And freedom is on the other side of our fears. We are not called to live our lives ruled by fear.
We are called to live in freedom, to experience joy and love and grace.
As we enter into a new year, I invite you on this journey with me, a journey of facing our fears, challenging them, and letting them go. A journey to seek the truth about who we are.
To remind ourselves that we are loved.
If you want to go deeper in this experience with your own life, spend a few minutes thinking about and jotting down the answers to these reflection questions. Allow whatever comes up to come out. Be okay with not knowing the answers, but commit to being open to them when they do come to you.
- What lies have you believed about who you are or what you are or aren’t capable of doing?
- In what ways have these lies held you back in your life?
- How would your life be different if you didn’t believe these lies? What would it look like? What would you feel like? How would this impact the people around you?
- What are five to ten things that are TRUE about you? (Try finishing statements like, “I am…” “I can…”)
- What is one thing you could do physically to open yourself up emotionally in the next 30 days?
Thank you for giving me this space. A space to be vulnerable. A space to be real. A space to speak my truth. My hope is that it invites you to do the same for yourself and those around you.
Let’s make 2017 the year of finding freedom, letting go, and living fully.
This post is dedicated to my friend Tori, who has always believed in and loved me for who I really am. It was her comment to me several months ago, as I was doubting myself, that prompted me to write this post: “I hope one day you’ll see yourself as the beautiful, bold, courageous woman everyone else knows you to be.”