Sometimes I’m bemused by how the individuals whose lives became the genesis of religious institutions were themselves outlaws: Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad. They were people who just couldn’t follow the rules. Outlaws. Delinquent. Threatening. Then, as institutions grew from their rebellious behavior, the same addiction to orthodoxy reared its possessive head and doctrine and dogma dominates again.

I don’t know whether the tendency to petrify what is living, dynamic and complex will ever be erased from human nature. We like what is familiar and comfortable; we like solid ground. We also like being in control. Humans have a habit of reflexively defending to the death what we feel is our “solid ground.” But what if we are so fiercely defending our solid ground that we are suffocating the life out of us and those around us? What if our version of what is “right” has become a prison?

When solid ground is not the order of the day, clinging just produces quicksand. We can drown in the quagmire of how we think things should be, and sometimes we try to mire others in the muck of how we think things should be. We say to ourselves, “Well, it has absolutely got to be this way!” But when the familiar model doesn’t apply and the world is not behaving, we can become fixated on how we want life to be, we can become entangled in anger and frustration, even hopelessness and despair. We’re flailing in the bog and sinking deeper.

Spiritually and emotionally—we suffer when we’re so stuck on standards we think we have to meet in order to be loved, or someone else has to meet so we can love them, that we never let ourselves or anyone else off the hook. We wait forever to love and to be loved— perfectly.

What if…just what if…we don’t have to wait?

What if when our feelings are somewhere between being a nuisance and truly ridiculous, we’re spiritually just fine? What if our souls are just as close to the divine whether we’re healthy or sick, rich or poor, confused or clear?

What if we’re enlightened even if we’re bouncing off one wall or another like maniac racquetballs? Color me bright red, green or blue… hardly ever pure white. Maybe my enlightened soul is swinging the racquet.

What if when we break from some tradition, and we are accused of being faithless or selfish, we’re actually going towards what will be better for our body and soul? And, though no one may believe it at first, even better for the bodies and souls of others?

What if we can just look directly and simply for what is helpful and healing without worrying about whether we’re abiding by the letter of the law?

What if God is an outlaw path?

I believe there is a higher calling within our individuality—our willingness to be imperfect and therefore perfectly ourselves. There are times when our willingness to be the “outlaw” is necessary to our spiritual survival, even our physical survival. Psychologists who make a study of survival have observed that independent people, people who make their own rules for the mind and spirit, are better at survival. In medicine, the survivor is more often the rebellious patient, the cancer patient who, when told that she has but six months to live, refuses to accept the diagnosis. She is the one who challenges the system, asks questions and is annoying. To survive, she’s willing to be the outlaw.

I have discovered that even in the wilderness of my relationships, when I somehow manage to wait out the fury of my own neediness and the storm passes, all that remains is caring for those I love beyond all conditions. I don’t claim to know whether I got there by luck or intention, but those moments of caring have benefited me beyond what I ever could have imagined.

Consider this. The love that we hold back—we may also be holding back from ourselves. Even if the relationship has changed and we are moving on, we do not need to reject the love we felt. If at some point, we find ourselves able to feel the affection and appreciation we have had for that person, simply and directly independent of what has changed, let that in. Don’t argue. We can let that memory of wonder be healing to the memory of regret. That memory of wonder frees us. We will have that love as a companion to the end of our days.

So, when is it time to be an “outlaw”? When the beliefs that we have held onto have become traps that make our hearts stiff, our souls rigid and our love a ghost that is frightening and threatening. That is the time to break out of jail. It will be worth it.

From Allowing God: Insights to Inspire and Renew the Fire of Love at the Very Center of Your Soul by Woo Du-An and Robert G. Novak