My husband doesn’t actually like movies but sometimes I convince him to watch with me, snuggled together in bed or on the couch. He likes the snuggling part. I try to choose movies that might pique his interest; this generally involves a story related to sports. And while I don’t actually like sports, I do love watching the evolution of a character. A good character-driven plot.
My husband grew up in West Africa without toys or books or craft supplies – all the things we deem necessary to raising healthy, happy kids where we live. He would spend hours playing alone, creating imaginary soccer matches using little ceramic tiles for players. Moving them around, calling the plays, losing himself in the game. And like many little boys around the world, I imagine, he knew the name Pelé by heart.
So a few weeks ago, we snuggled in to watch Pelé: Birth of a legend, on Netflix. I’d been struggling with anxiety and weariness and needed to just shut off my brain and get lost in someone else’s story for a while. I find story so powerful – powerful in its ability to heal and encourage, to provoke and call to bravery.
About a third of the way into the movie, a young Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) is practicing his skill with his dad, juggling papayas off his chest, knees, and feet. He’s stressed and sad, having recently lost a dear friend. And his dad says to him, “don’t try so hard; just enjoy yourself.”
That one line spoke straight to my soul, piercing deep between joint and marrow.
That one line spoke to all my weariness and the pressure I put on myself to make stuff happen. My fears of never really growing up fully into the woman I want to be, my mostly unconscious concerns about how I will prove my worth. As though I must pay rent for the space I take up in this world.
Don’t try so hard; just enjoy yourself.
If my husband hadn’t been watching with me I’d have rewound that part over and over again to make sure I got it. That I heard what I needed to hear before moving on.
But I heard.
I heard that I struggle to rest. That since I was a little girl I never quite believed I was good enough. I always felt I didn’t quite have what it takes. I heard that I am often so serious and rarely let down my guard; sometimes I feel so achy with the need to laugh, let go, and just enjoy myself. I heard a call to freedom.
I took a deep breath and exhaled.
The path to freedom is littered with stumbling blocks. Deep creeks to cross, thorny branches to push through. People who wish us harm, our minds play tricks on us. We need each other.
We need a safe space to rest and receive nourishment. Bandages, soup offered, no strings attached. A place to lay our heads awhile until we are ready and strengthened to get back up and continue the trek, Northbound.
We don’t need to preach or have all the answers or know how it will all work out in the end. We can just show up. We don’t need a fancy home to welcome a stranger; we just need to keep a light on. We only need a willingness to reach out and lift up one weary traveler at a time. Or to open ourselves up to help when we are the one who is hungry and parched.
Our neediness is not shameful.
There are seasons in which it is hard to see light or to pick up joy. But mostly, I think, mostly joy is a choice. And rest is a choice. And deciding to enjoy yourself (myself) is a choice. I forget often but I acknowledge that it is my choice.
(You might like: This is my Beautiful. Real Life)
For the past few weeks, since watching Pelé’s story, his father’s advice reverberates loudly in my heart and mind. I can’t shake it, I don’t actually want to, and I know that it was the answer to a whispered prayer. Manna gathered up, hungrily, precisely when I needed it.
It seems I have adopted a new mantra for the coming year and I wonder if it calls to any of you.
Don’t try so hard; just enjoy yourself.
NOW WHAT? A year later I am still rehearsing this mantra daily. Stepping out of perfectionism, comparison, and fear is a daily practice; I’m not sure we ever fully arrive. What are you practicing?