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How can I be free to live my life?
January 24, 2022
Most of us believe that you have to be free to decide what is true for yourself and you can do whatever it is you want, as long as no one else gets hurt. But oftentimes this attempt to be free makes us nothing more than a slave of our own worst impulses. What if true freedom is not the absence of all restrictions but rather embracing the right kinds of restrictions in order to flourish?
As modern people, we believe that you have to be free to decide what is true for yourself in order to be authentically human. You can’t let anyone else tell you what to do or how to live your life. As a result, freedom is defined as the absence of all restrictions. You’ve got to be free to do whatever you want—as long as no one else gets hurt. That sentiment is so widely accepted that hardly anyone would ever question it.
But the problem with that conception of truth and that way of pursuing freedom is that it is—at bottom—vacuous. It does not offer any interesting answers to the question of how we should actually live. More often than not, this attempt to be free makes us nothing more than a slave of our own worst impulses.
Perhaps I could illustrate this point with an analogy. Years ago, my children had a collection of multi-colored GloFish, which we kept in a small aquarium in our apartment. Let's imagine that one day Stripey (for that was one of their names) thinks to himself: “No one tells me what to do. I am tired of this fishbowl existence. I need to escape this confinement because I was made for greater things.” In this moment of inspiration, Stripey leaps out of the tank. And as he sails through the air, he cries out: “I'm free!, I'm free! I’m finally free!” Stripey actually did this on more than one occasion.
But I don’t need to tell you, the exhilaration would be brief. This attempt at freedom would not result in liberation, but in death. Why? For the simple reason that fish are not designed to live and thrive in the air, but in water. Unfortunately, Stripey learned this lesson about freedom the hard way.
This analogy must—out of necessity—modify our definition of freedom. True freedom is not the absence of all restrictions. Rather, true freedom is a matter of embracing the right kinds of restrictions in order to flourish as human beings.
Fish were made for water. But what about us? What is the element we must embrace in order to thrive as human beings? In a word, the answer is love. We find and fulfill our true humanity in love.
But this leads us to a surprising realization. From the standpoint of Christianity, God made us for love. But love constrains us. Love places restrictions on our freedom because the essence of love is self-giving. That means, in order to be my true self, I have to give of myself.
True freedom, it turns out, is the exact opposite of what most people think. It is not freedom from God and others to live for myself, but freedom from myself to live in love for God and others.
That is what Jesus has made possible. Jesus experienced the freedom to be his true self by committing himself to love. He lived, died and rose again to free us from the dungeon of our own ego so that we might discover the freedom to be our true selves. It is only by loving God and others that we discover our true humanity.