On this July 4th, 2020, the United States commemorates the day in 1776 that independence from Britain was declared. It would be years before true freedom was actually achieved for the dominant class of people living in the original thirteen colonies. Today, 244 years later, I find myself reflecting on my own freedom and the independence of the United States, and I am struck by the illusion of freedom that actually exists for us.
Where has our freedom has gone? Did we ever really have it? On this holiday weekend, we find ourselves without parades to attend and fireworks to enjoy. COVID-19 numbers are on the rise, forcing people to once again limit interpersonal interactions and socializing. People of color fear for safely, and many persons of all skin tones are taking to the streets to protest this injustice. The systemic racism in the US finds its origins long before independence was even declared. The inequality of resources continues to threaten the lives of those who are living on the margins of society. Those who are most vulnerable have been impacted by the economic down-turn from the pandemic, and they seem to have been hit the hardest. This barely scratches the surface for what oppresses us....for what robs us of freedom.
In my own life I realize that I struggle with my own desire for freedom. There is within me the real need to control all aspects of my life, including relationships with family, friends, and God. The trouble is, when I seek to always have control, then I really lose my freedom. Roman Catholic priest and theologian Richard Rohr says, "The freedom Jesus promises involves letting go of our small self, our cultural biases, and even our fear of loss and death." As a self-proclaimed control freak, "letting go of [my] small self" is no easy task. My desire to know what is coming next, and when it will appear, inhibits the trust that Christ calls me to exercise.
In order to achieve the level of freedom and trust to which I am called, requires much, and it starts at a deep place within me. I must have the willingness to open up my heart wide enough to allow God to move in, take up residence, and guide me in my life. With the Lord dwelling within me, my thoughts, behaviors, and actions begin to align with God's will. There was a time when I believed that giving God control of my very being would make me feel somehow stifled or constricted. Instead, I discovered there is new-found freedom in the act of letting go of my will, my agenda, and my need to control. While God is not animating me like a puppet, God continues to place in my path relationships and activities that will help me thrive and others that will inhibit my growth. I get to choose, even as God nudges me toward the ones that will help me be my best self.
Still, trusting the invisible Creator is no easy task, but it is essential if I am to live a life of integrity. To live in such a way helps me to value my fellow humans, whose inner and outer diversity creates the divine tapestry that is my life and community. True freedom is only possible when my actions have a positive impact on others, allowing them also to thrive. To exercise my right as an American to do as I please, can often have dire consequences on others. Wearing a mask in public, even on a hot, summer day protects others and myself. Washing my hands frequently is an essential part of my life now, evidenced by the abundance of hand sanitizer at my disposal. Social distancing, even with those who are closest to me, is critical to keep all of us healthy. God calls me to this kind of interconnectedness with humanity and creation, and it goes far beyond my response to the pandemic and the racial unrest.
Barbara Brown Taylor, author, teacher, and Episcopal priest, had this to say about the interconnectedness in life:
"God is the web, the energy, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts
were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship
that animates everything that is."
As I become more aware that I am within this web that is God, I find it easier to let go of my need to control so that I may experience the freedom that God provides for me, and for all of us.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
On this July Fourth Holiday weekend, I invite you to spend a little time thinking about your freedom, or lack of it. What behaviors help or hurt others and need to be changed? Galatians 5:13-14 (CEB) talks of the love that is found in freedom with Christ: "You were called to freedom, siblings; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement:'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " And, because so many events have been cancelled, why not use this extra time to practice freeing up your schedule so you have more time to grow your relationship with God and others? There is freedom in letting go....there is freedom in trusting Christ.
Creator God, just when I think I can handle everything in my life all by myself, things start to fall apart, and I realize I am being held captive by my own agenda. I offer my heart to You, Lord; help me to experience freedom with You at the center. When things get difficult, I thank You for hearing my plea, providing comfort, and then guiding me towards a more fulfilling path. I couldn't do life without You. Amen.
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