The other day I received a “permission slip” from a friend who has walked a torn up road and refuses to let me walk mine alone. I will always love her for it. She texted me, “You have full permission to use this pass whenever you need!” with a picture of a woman lying in bed with the caption, “I’ll be okay, just not today!”

I needed that picture and those words. I needed someone to give permission and sprinkle compassion over my heart. Compassion is when someone enters another’s suffering and resides there with them. It’s not a to-do list, an expectations list, or a how-to-get-better-in-twelve-steps list. No lists, no rules, no deadlines, just a warm body entering your road, grabbing your hand and saying to your heart, “You’re not alone, and I’m not going anywhere!” Compassion, while not entirely understanding another’s pain, is vulnerable and humble enough to embrace the pain and offer hope.

We are terrible at giving each other permission to grieve, to be sad, to be broken, to struggle, to cry, to not have it all together and be a dysfunctional mess! 

As a culture, we strip permission from men at the beginning of their heart’s journey:

“Stop crying; boys don’t cry!”
“Be a big boy and get up. You’re not that hurt!”
“Real men hunt!”
“Real men play football.”
“Real men don’t play with dolls!”
“Real men love sports.”
“Real men are athletic.”
“Real men don’t sympathize.”
“Real men don’t talk about their feelings.”
“Real men don’t sing.”

On and on we go, replacing human emotion with passive aggressive men who are taught to feel nothing.

We’re not good at giving people permission to be happy, either:

“Why is she so happy all the time? She thinks she has it all together!”
“Good grief! Her house is always so annoyingly perfect!”
“She’s homeschooling her kids. She must think she’s all that!”
“She’s putting her kids in public school – must be nice to not be conscious about your children’s education!”
“She’s always talking about what a great job she has. So unrealistic! She must be lying!”
“Ugh! Every picture she posts are of her smiling, perfectly tanned and on the beach.”

We’ve all had these thoughts; we have all judged someone’s grief or happiness because inside we are insecure, selfish, and jealous.

But grief is no respecter of persons. It hits everyone. And sometimes we just need the green light to be sad.

Painful Honesty

I have struggled through the grief cycle a few times in 32 years. I said goodbye to two grandparents before age eleven, held my husband’s (then fiancée’s) hand as he said goodbye to his only brother, gasped for air through my best friend’s memorial service at 21, and two short years ago, watched my Mama breathe her last breath after spending years at the mercy of Alzheimer’s.

Grief is no stranger in our house. We talk about her with raw emotion. We explain to our four children how she can make you cry for no reason or feel tired, so tired. We talk about how grief is a sacred journey we are all called to travel. We talk about the opportunities we have everyday to love grieving people. We are honest with our kids about our heart’s condition by saying, “I’m sad today, I’m afraid today, I’m cranky today, I feel safe today, I am content today, I’m excited today.”

No question about death, grief, pain or struggle is ever turned away in the protected walls of our home. We duke it out with our feelings. We speak truth. Sometimes—a lot of times—feelings can mislead us. Sometimes they trap us, lie to us, hold us in bondage. So we must know them; we must familiarize ourselves with them so we can interpret them more clearly. But at the end of the day, nothing is turned away here. No feeling too big or too small goes unexplored.

No Camping

There are people in your life who need a permission slip today. Sometimes all it takes is one person reaching out and saying, “It’s going to be okay, just maybe not today!” Would you be bold enough, humble enough, vulnerable enough to give a permission slip today?

But it might be you who needs the permission slip.

So here it is, with the best words anyone ever spoke to me regarding pain, struggle, grief, and life! They’re words my mother spoke during one of the darkest periods of my life. “You can go there, [permission to feel] you just can’t camp there [exhortation to stand on and move toward truth]!”

Go there, friends! Here’s your permission slip.

It’s okay.

Just no camping!