I remember the first time I bowed out of fun plans.
I was 11.
My brothers’ youth group had invited me to join them at an amusement park. They promised fun rides and free food. They told me they would hang out with me all day.
“No, thanks,” I said.
Instead, I stayed home with my parents that Saturday.
It was my first, willing, honest-to-goodness “No”, and it wouldn’t be my last.
I said “no” to seeing the sights of the Nuremburg Zoo with friends.
I said “no” to being a member of a youth group.
I said “no” to the guy who invited me to attend the Opera with him. (Really? The Opera? Who says “no” to that?)
I said “no” to dancing at a friend’s wedding.
I said “no” to a mystery dinner and dress-up night with friends.
I said “no” to tubing on the Platte River.
I said “no” to a job interview.
I said “no” to countless fun events, dinners with friends, and unique opportunities. I didn’t refuse because I genuinely thought I wouldn’t like to do something (again, the Opera, who says no to that?). The comfort of staying within my own little circle of familiarity outweighed the enticement of a good time. I couldn’t see the appeal of letting go of inhibitions and shyness to embrace the unknowns of life. I had to live by rules that kept me constrained in a lifestyle of poise and control.
I confused being a good kid with being a boring kid.
I sat in the bleachers, watching everyone else play in the game, and supposedly content in my lot. I didn’t know or care what I was missing. My declined invitations to adventures stemmed from stunted growth. I grew up in an environment of always trying to put one’s best foot forward and pretending to be perfect all the time. I was the preacher’s kid. The missionary’s daughter. The baby of the family. The one who knew all the Scripture verses, sat in the front row of church, and taught the children’s class.
What became of my girlish desire to dance? When did the chatty, friendly kid evolve into the prim and proper priss? How could rules be more important than having fun?
And it’s not like these rules were beneficial.
I couldn’t go to the movies because of previews for R rated movies.
I couldn’t hang out with a youth group because the girls wore pants.
I couldn’t read Harry Potter because of the witchcraft.
I couldn’t listen to John Denver because he was a hippie.
I realize I’m treading a fine line. I know the place of structure and guidelines. But wordlessly obeying man-made rules turned me into a self righteous snob. I was so afraid of messing up or looking silly that I couldn’t even listen to the soundtrack of Aladdin without waves of guilt washing over me. At some point, I should have transitioned from obedient child to discerning adult. An opposite phenomenon occurred: I became paralyzed in fear.
Boundaries are valid. Rules have a purpose. Yet, keeping all these commands sucked my joy.
Jesus spoke about the abundant life. His words were a mystery to me. Because I couldn’t move past these roadblocks on my own, God sent me some help.
A friend named Courtney. She pronounced everything to be, “So fun!”
Skiing? So fun!
Ice skating? So fun!
Youth group leader? So fun!
Dancing? So fun!
White water rafting? So fun!
Spending time with my joy-filled, light-emitting friend opened me up to experiences and adventures. I learned how to say “yes”. I went white water rafting, carved pumpkins, went to game nights, climbed mountains, went on camping trips, twisted an ankle, fell down while skiing, and clung to the orange cone while ice skating. I felt an awakening in my spirit. The poet Walt Whitman wrote, “I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me as is did before Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has become a mean sleep.”
Letting go of the rules woke me up to the radiance of life.
God designed us to get into the game, not merely to be spectators. He created this amazing, pulsing, vibrant world for us to explore and to enjoy. Why are we sitting in the bleachers? Why are we content to sip soda and comment on how everyone else is playing the game wrong? Has it become so easy to write things off as “wrong”? When did I learn this idea that God will be angry with me if I have fun?
After God created the world, the Bible says He saw “every thing he had made, and behold, it was very good.” We still live in this world that He created! God thrills when His children dance and play and sing. When we lose our self absorption and fling ourselves into the beauty of creativity, light, and love, God is glorified. He didn’t make us to live in a box; He made us to live in community with each other—living, praising, and participating.
So I have a choice. I can let life float past me while I shrivel up on the cold, hard seat of the stadium. Or I can get in the game and play with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength God gave me.
Recently, I told my husband, Thomas, “You know what, I’m into doing things I’ve never done. Like having adventures together. What should we do?”
“I don’t know,” he responded.
Isn’t that the beauty of life? We don’t know what is around the bend. We can’t see the opportunity on the horizon. The art waiting to be created. The job waiting to be taken. The friend waiting for us. We can’t see into the next day. We sometimes stumble over which path we are to take. We don’t know what the ocean’s tide will roll into our lives. We just take deep breaths, whisper prayers for courage, and take our next steps.
Last week, a friend invited me to go snowshoeing with her…in the mountains…in the dead of winter.
It sounded like an adventure, so…..
I said, “Yes.”
P.S. Anyone want to go to the Opera?