Acknowledging Choice: it matters
I received a frantic call from one of my daughters a few weeks back. She told me that she needed to be moved out of her apartment by Saturday at noon (the lease was up) AND she had two finals and two papers due during those same days AND she was working more than 16 hours during that time frame AND she didn’t know where she was moving next…
“So,” I said, “let me get this straight. You have 2.5 days to get packed and moved while working and studying and taking finals and writing papers and no idea where you’re moving to. Right?”
To say that I was beside myself would be a rash understatement. To tell you that it took everything in me to not cancel client calls and get in my car and drive 8.5 hours in order to rescue her would also be an understatement. And I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I momentarily considered buying a plane ticket at nearly 4x it’s normal cost. I didn’t do any of these things. I did wring my hands and text her frequently and hold my breath and remember to breathe. And I did (mostly) trust her…
What I noticed in the middle of that teary call, was that she felt unable to make a choice, like she didn’t have any choice at all, almost-completely immobilized. What I also noticed, shortly after getting off of the call, is that I go to the opposite extreme — into hyper-drive, fix-it mode, making quick decisions, creating lists, finding more options, eliminating every aspect of “unknown” I possibly can.
One response is no better or worse than another, but both speak to agency — to acknowledging, naming, and honoring that we DO have choice (especially when we don’t want to admit such).
My daughter (sometimes, not always) chooses to not make choices. I (sometimes, not always) choose to make more of them than can be counted in a matter of minutes. Her outworking of agency, in this instance, is not taking action — a choice in and of itself. My outworking of agency, in this instance, is being frenetically active — also a choice.
My point in all of this is NOT to determine which choice is better, which is more sane, which feels wiser or stronger or right. Not at all! My point is that agency means admitting — sometimes under a bit of duress — that we DO have choices, that we are not hapless or helpless, that we have the right and ability to make decisions about how we will proceed, what we will do or not do, what we feel, how we will express our emotions, and so much more.
[Let me quickly say that there are definitely contexts in which agency is not available — when true victimhood exists: domestic violence, sexual violence, any number of situations. I am in no way claiming that even in such places we have the power to choose. These are FAR more complex and deserve FAR more wisdom and compassion grace and care.]
Our tendency, often, is to see our agency, our “ability” to choose, as a burden, a weight, an acknowledgement of responsibility. I’m advocating for something else, entirely.
- What if you saw agency as privilege and gift?
- What if choice was something you fully owned?
- What if you recognized that you actually have the freedom (and strength) to make decisions — even though doing so hardly lessens the risks, costs, or consequences of such?
- And what if you saw all of this as birthright and power and you at your fullest?
Historically, women have not had agency. They have not had choice. They have not had the freedom to make decisions. Though some exceptions still exist, of course, we live in a much different reality. And that’s good news. That’s empowering! That’s beautiful and amazing and profoundly overdue and deserved!!!
Acknowledging where we DO have choice matters.
So, back to me and my daughter.
Whether I agree with her choices, or not, I can see (albeit hazily) that she does have them, that they are hers to make, that she does have agency. And my choice to move into problem-solving mode (when it’s not my problem to solve) is agency, as well.
Seeing, acknowledging, naming, and honoring all of this feels like grace. Tough grace. Gritty grace. But grace, nonetheless.
What shows up for you in all of this?
- A good, but hard question to ask is where you do have agency, but don’t actually want to admit such. (I know! It’s so excruciating to see and admit this!! I’m right there with you!)
- Another good, and less-difficult question to ask is where you have chosen agency in your past. Next step: inventory the vast and significant impact of such.
- And a few more questions — some easier, some harder: Where do you most desire agency in your life? Where does choice feel absent or latent? How is that impacting you? What would be different if agency marched its way (or maybe danced its way) into your presence? What resistance shows up? Why?
I know you’re on the edge of your seat…
My daughter did find a place and get moved. She did finish her papers and her finals (2 A’s and a B!). She did go to work for all those hours. I helped where it was helpful and did my best to stay out of it when it wasn’t. Both of us took agency in our own ways. Acknowledging that both of us had it (even when it felt like we didn’t) was what mattered most in all of this. And those kind of lessons? Gift and grace, to be sure.
Every week I write a letter.
My thoughts, my doubts, my beliefs, my stories. (Even what I’m up to, reading, watching, listening to…) I write it because I long to invite you more deeply into your thoughts, your doubts, your beliefs, and your story. (Along with recommendations to read, watch, and listen to…)Then every Monday morning I send it out — via email — to you. I’d be honored if you’d SUBSCRIBE.