I want to tell you a story so pull up a chair...
There once was a little girl. This little girl always found herself longing…longing for the next thing. She often felt like life was like dangling on the monkey bars on the playground, swaying back and forth, back and forth, this girl was just trying to muster up the strength to swing herself to the next rung, the next big thing.
It started from the beginning. As a young girl, all she could dream about was becoming a teenager. When I’m a teenager, she would say, I can drive and then I’ll be happy because I’ll be independent and free. So swing, swing, swing she would on her monkey bars. She’d ride her banana seat bike with a pink flowery basket around the neighborhood. Inside the basket was a small battery operated radio shaped like McDonald’s French Fries. She’d turn it on and pretend it was her car radio. She would drive in the street, stop at all the stop signs, and make fake clicking sounds with her mouth and pretend it was the sound of her turn signal.
Finally, she swung to that bar she had longed for and drive she did. It wasn’t that banana seat bike masquerading as an automobile though. It was a real car. But what she didn’t know was that being a teenager was hard. It was where some of her deepest wounds were cut in to her heart. Her first heartbreak. Her first encounter of mean girls. Her first experiences of becoming a person she always said she would never be. So, this girl, a little older now and with a license, swung, swung, swung, back and forth, back and forth on the monkey bars of her life. This time she set her sights on college. If she could just swing a little harder and grab hold of her young adulthood, then she’d be happy, free to do as she pleased out in the real world, she thought.
Swing, swing, swing she did and college came. However, college wasn’t all she thought it would be. The freedom she had hoped and wished for wasn’t completely free. There were responsibilities and decisions to make that would impact the entire course of her life. It seemed like there were so many doors, so many options to choose from, and she just didn’t know which one to pick. The freedom she wanted was actually the very thing that sought to suffocate her. This freedom was all hers now, but she just didn’t know which door to choose. What if she chose the wrong one? What if she opened it and fell flat on her face? Pick the one that seems the most important, she said, and then you’ll be happy. So, with one lurch, she swung forward and grabbed a rung that she thought would be it.
It was graduate school and a big shiny career. Careers will bring money and money will give you freedom, she thought. But, as she got deeper and deeper in her studies, she realized she picked the wrong door. It wasn’t the career for her and so her freedom was met with failure. Failure felt like a freefall off the monkey bars, so she had to pick herself up, jump straight up and grab the bar again. But the bars were so high and she was so small. She struggled, trying to jump up and grab the bar she had fallen off of. Struggle and jumping. But, finally she was back on the monkey bars, ready to swing again. Find a man, she thought, because love and romance, that is true happiness and freedom. And so she swung.
She loved the man she chose. He was kind and handsome and funny. And love was fun. But, she was ready to swing to the next bar. Marriage required work and it didn’t feel as free as she thought it would. It was messy at times in ways she never imagined. Two people becoming one meant a lot of downsizing. She had to downsize her pride and that was hard because it was big and she didn’t want to make it smaller. And it felt like something was missing. Babies, she thought, babies will fulfill you and make you happy and free, just swing on over. So back and forth, back and forth she went and grabbed the next rung.
With a death grip, she held on. Babies came. But, they didn’t come easy. There was morning sickness and weight gain. Pains in places she never knew existed. And then there were heartaches with words like miscarriage. Sleepless nights and toddler tantrums. Chaos and disorder. Little beings pushing against her every command. Small humans with wills battling for control. Motherhood didn’t seem so free. If I just get them raised, she thought, then I’ll be free, then I’ll be happy. So she swung, swung, swung a little harder until those babies grew up and got dreams of their own and ran after them.
But, now that little girl, all grown up, just dangled on the second to last rung. She just hung there because she knew she was almost to the end. She had time now. Time to pursue all the things she wanted to do when those babies were home and she couldn’t. But, her body and mind were tired. They didn’t care about working out so much. Or reading a bunch of books. Or shopping alone. Or organizing cupboards and pantries. They just wanted the noise and life that were in the house just a few short years ago. The little girl, all grown up, with newfound freedom, just wanted to swing, swing, swing herself backwards to the rungs behind her, but she couldn’t because they had disappeared. Had she spent all of her time wishing and wanting for things to come without knowing that what she truly wanted was right in front of her? She didn’t need freedom, or at least not in the way she thought. She thought freedom meant being able to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. But true freedom was something so much more than that. True freedom required a fight. It was a battle every day, on every rung to just allow herself to be. To stop trying to swing herself forward and to enjoy the moment she had right then. It meant looking at the scenery while cruising on a banana seat bicycle. It was befriending that equally heartbroken, lonely teenage girl beside her in math class. It required figuring out what she loved to do instead of trying to chase after what she thought would make money. It was going to mean getting down low and mustering up sincere I’m sorry’s in the midst of the struggles of marriage. It would be a sink full of dirty dishes every.single.day. because today tables and couches were turning into forts and princes and princesses were fighting imaginary dragons beneath them. It was a hard fight for freedom. One that had to be fought every single moment at every single rung of the little girl’s monkey bars of a life. But if she fought hard, she found, something was springing up inside her. It was like a tiny light peeking through drawn curtains. Or a small flower breaking through the cracks of a concrete jungle. With three letters, her freedom rose inside her.
The little girl fell to the ground. Her arms were weak and tired from hanging for so long, but the good news was she was off the monkey bars. No more waiting to swing to the next rung. She was done with that. And so off she ran to fight for her freedom. Laughing as she slid down the slide. Looking in to the eyes of her friend next to her as they flew in to the air on the swings. Enjoying the ups and downs of the seesaw. This, she thought, this is what I’ve been looking for. This is freedom.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Here's to finding JOY right where you are!