Dear Friend, You Might be a Rebel

We were sitting in the sleek, stiff-backed chairs tucked around our small office conference room.

“Have I told you my analogy about the elephant and the sapling?” my boss asked me while clicking his ballpoint pen. I shook my head. The air conditioner hummed lazily.

“It’s the story of a baby elephant who is tied to a baby tree,” he continued. “The elephant is told that he can’t break the cord, and so he stays within the leash’s radius of the tree. As the elephant grows, it remains tethered to the tree, even though it has long had the strength to uproot it.”

My chair feels rigid on my spine. My boss doesn’t know that he’s speaking into sacred space for me.

“What holds people back from their true potential is not their ability, but their self-image. I see this in you. You are only as powerful as you believe yourself to be. Your old self is more powerful than your new self.”

It’s amazing to me how much these check-ins with my supervisor have become places where truth is put into words.

In comparing me to the elephant, my boss articulated my lifelong struggle with rebellion.

Not my tendency to rebel, but the opposite. My tendency to not rebel.

To quiet myself, to dismiss my gut feelings, to tuck away my outrage, to smooth the wrinkles I see in me.

I like the comfort of following the rules. I prefer the safety of the leash to the wild unknown of uprooting.

“You’re dependable,” my boss said to me. “You will follow protocol and expectations to a T, and people know they can rely on you. And that’s great.”

“But we can all get so stuck in the to-do list that we don’t allow space for creativity and risk-taking.”

Woah, right? (Who is this guy??)

It’s been a few months since he shared the elephant metaphor with me, and I’ve been trying to practice what he encouraged me to do.

I’ve been trying to be less of a to-do-lister, and more of a risk-taker.

I’ve been trying to be less prescriptive and more creative.

This has required grace, release, and space. I’ve needed more quiet time, more alone time.

This is okay, I think.

I am learning that I’m not actually leashed to the tree.

I wonder if I’m not alone in this. I wonder if this is the danger of our age, that we like our rule-following selves a little bit too much. 

It’s easier to meet what’s needed than to do what’s misunderstood. 

It’s easier to slide into apathy than rebel and reach new ground.

It’s easier to be complacent than creative. 

It’s human, I think. We’d rather stick to what we know. We like knowing what to do and what to expect. 

But God speaks to us in our ordinary, and it’s in our ordinary that he also calls us to rebel. This doesn’t have to be big work. But it’s hard work.

It’s harder to be the pioneer.

Harder to leave something when it’s good, or stick with something when it’s awkward.

Harder to admit that injustice is happening and say we’re not going to allow it. 

Harder to realize that the old rules aren’t working anymore.

Harder to get close enough to other people that our lives are changed as a result.

Harder to be vulnerable and risk the shaky conversation that follows.

The chair feels rigid on my spine. The air conditioner hums.

“I know you’re creative. I know you’re a risk-taker. Let people see it,” my boss says. 

And I decide right then and there what kind of work I want to be doing with my life.

The harder, messier work of rebellion. The work of releasing the leash.

Will you join me?

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