Recently with the kidnappings of Christians in the Middle East and the martyrdom of many of them I’ve found myself wondering, “What if I was taken? What if I was in their place…how would I respond?” My reflections have led me to two conclusions: 1) Death is not the worst thing that could happen to me (a thought for another blog perhaps)! 2) There is a true freedom that is so liberating, even captivity can’t quench it (the subject for today’s blog).
When I talk about “true freedom”, I don’t mean the kind of freedom we might have because we live in a certain country or the kind of freedom that comes from one’s status in life or anything of that nature. I’ve been mulling over the concept of “inner” or “interior” freedom. I’m sure there are many more educated people than me who have a good definition of inner freedom is. In my mind, when I think of true freedom – inner freedom – I think of how so many people are afraid to let others know who they really are – their struggles and failures, their faults and their foibles – and as a result spend a lot of time and energy projecting the person they wish they were or the person they think people want them to be.
You may remember the song Me and Bobby McGee (written by Kris Kristofferson and taken by Janis Joplin to number one shortly after her death in 1971), “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” In the song, the singer has hit rock bottom and has lost everything and in some sense is free because she’s got nothing left to lose. No one and nothing can hurt her because there’s nothing she’s holding onto; she has nothing to protect. But many of us live life fearing we will lose things – our reputation, our image, our comfort, our children, our jobs, our marriage, our health, our lives. It’s hard to imagine any good that could come from losing these things – our identity and our security are tied up in these masks and these things we cling to. We spend our time and effort trying to protect ourselves, the masks we wear, and the scaffolding we need to “prop” them up.
The “me” in the song may just have a point. We don’t necessarily have to hit rock bottom emotionally or physically to get to there, but it is possible for us to get to a place where we live from our true self, unafraid of losing the things around us that give us security and identity. I believe inner freedom comes when we experience the deep love of God in such a profound way we realize we are genuinely, deeply, unconditionally loved. Finding security in God’s amazingly deep and profound love frees us from masks and the things that we let define our lives. Henri Nouwen speaking of freedom and God’s love wrote:
“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world–free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” (Nouwen, Reaching Out)
I would echo Nouwen’s thoughts and take them further. When we are convinced of God’s love not only are we free to speak and act even when our words and actions are not received well, we are also free to be silent even in the face of false accusation; free to turn the other cheek when insulted; free to go the extra mile even if someone is taking advantage of us; free to love regardless of how the other person responds; free to die knowing that what lies beyond is better than what we experience here and now.
In recent years I have found this to be true in my own experience. For many years I projected a “Rick” I wanted everyone to believe I was – godly man, good pastor, loving husband and father – and I sought to live that out. But the reality was I often fell very short. I was insecure and afraid of letting anyone know what was really going on inside me. I would go through patches where I wasn’t a very good husband or father or I didn’t feel my life was all that godly and I was afraid people would discover the sham of my hypocrisy. At that time, I would have affirmed the theology of God’s deep love for me. I would have told you that I was free because of that love but I was living in bondage to my fears and insecurities. I was living like I had to earn God’s love or live a certain way to maintain it.
I remember vividly one morning as I met with God. I had read in the Word and prayed and was taking time to read a book for my own growth. That morning I experienced God’s love in a way I never had before. It was a moment in which my heart was transformed in profound ways I had long desired. And for the first time I had an interior freedom that I had never had before. I was free to be myself and to love others without fear.
Such freedom requires maintenance. Like a garden needs weeding and watering, so does interior freedom. We need to feed on God’s Word; worship; pray; fellowship with like-minded friends. We need to drink deeply of God’s love and constant presence walking with us through life. We also need to weed our hearts; to protect them from drifting back into hiding behind masks and trying to earn or justify the love we already have or trying to find it in imitations. We can do this through regular times of self-examination and reflection where we pay attention to the things stirred within us and list our concerns and worries.