Freedom is an appealing reality….and an elusive one, for many. Since the creation of man we’ve been reaching for it, and tasting the deep, painful consequences of grabbing ahold of the counterfeit version. It doesn’t help that “freedom” in our American culture is now synonymous with the right and ability to do and be whatever we want to. This, unfortunately, defies the gift of true freedom which God created us to know and wreaks havoc on our lives as we chase what only entraps us in deeper chains.
So what exactly is freedom, then? I heard someone define it this way: “Freedom doesn’t mean being able to do whatever I want to, but rather not having to do what I know isn’t good for me. I think that’s a powerful definition, and captures a good part – though not the whole – of the true picture God intended. Since captivity, or enslavement means that I am bound or forced into doing something that most likely will not end up benefitting me, it makes sense that freedom would release me from such enslavement.
I think of people who suffer with addiction when I consider this definition. Even when they desire to stop doing what they’re doing, because the harm has become greater than the high, very often they can’t quit. They are stuck in a habit they don’t have the power to break. Freedom for them would mean that they could choose whether or not to use that substance or continue in that behavior which is killing them.
Really, we could apply almost any negative situation to this equation, and it works. If I have a bad attitude about something, and I know it’s only going to hurt me (and likely others) in the long run, freedom would be the ability to not have that attitude. If I have a toxic relationship in my life with, let’s say, a family member, then freedom would mean that I can make the choice to put some limits on the amount of abuse or unhealthy interactions I am experiencing with them. If I am tempted in a certain direction, which I know will not lead me in a direction that is right, freedom would mean that I have the choice and the ability to say no, and to choose a different, healthier path instead.
But what about the times when I don’t necessarily have a choice in my circumstances? What about the situations that are painful and hard and crushing – the things that don’t feel very good for me at all – but which I cannot escape? Is there no freedom to be found there? I’ve asked this question recently, as I’ve been walking through things that I have no control over. Choices others have made have unavoidably affected my life in ways that feel very much like a dark prison cell, and no matter which way I turn, “freedom” does not appear to be anywhere on the horizon.
Is it because I have mistaken freedom for a feeling, or for the ability to escape that which is painful and damaging? Is it because I have determined for myself what is good and not good for me, instead of allowing God to be the judge of that? Is it because I need to reexamine my steps and take responsibility for any wrong turns I may have made along the way, any responsibility I may have in the situations that now feel like my prison? These are questions that have come with my hunt for freedom, and I’ve discovered some very powerful answers in the process of what feels like anything but liberty.
First, I have been freshly reminded that there are some things we are not meant to escape – some valleys we must walk through. Jesus entered the grave, and if He suffered deeply, we will certainly have to face some suffering, as well (1 Peter 2:20-21). It might not look fair, and it most definitely will not feel good, but in the path of God’s good and perfect will, suffering becomes an instrument of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). It seems often incomprehensible, and our humanity will almost always fight it, but it’s a truth we can only know as we surrender to the process God has purposed in it, and choose to walk through.
When we face such sufferings, and enter into the circumstances that feel like we are losing freedom rather than gaining it, God’s promise of liberty is no less present and no less active. Those who have been set free in and by Christ are truly free. So what does freedom look like when we are bound to situations and relationships which demand that we remain in them, no matter how hard and painful they become? In these circumstances, we are touched by yokes of bondage – often those that hold the others around us in their chains – but we are not held by them.
How can I say this? Because it was love that held Jesus on the cross (John 3:16), and it is love that holds us in God’s will (John 14:15), even when His will leads us into suffering. And as we submit to hard and painful things – while we cannot understand how they might possibly be any good for us – we trust God to reveal His promises in the midst of those situations. And He is always faithful to do just that.
In the middle of my own death valley, here is what the Spirit of God has shown me about true freedom:
-I am free, even while surrounded on every side, to choose God and be satisfied by Him, to enjoy Him.
-I am free to serve God here, in this place of deep difficulty which I would rather run from.
-I am not free from the emotional effects of the captivity of those I am called to love and serve (I feel grief and pain and anger and sadness hourly), but I am free to be defined by God’s love, not their disfunction or slavery.
-Being wounded does not equal being enslaved.
-Believing the lies that attempt to attach themselves to my wounds equals slavery. I am free to choose truth over the lies, and to seek the help of God and others I can trust in this process of staying free.
-I am free to choose to believe God will fulfill His promises here, in the places and paths where I never thought He would lead me.
-I am free to dance and sing and worship with all of my heart, because Jesus led me out of my chains so that I could stand before Him with no guilt and no shame and nothing holding me back from encountering His goodness and His presence.
-I am free to ask questions when I don’t understand. I may not get every answer I seek, but I will always get His full attention, His undistracted presence, and His unfailing love.
-I am free to stay rather than run from these hard things, and thus to see what I would miss if I was too afraid of becoming enslaved here.
-I am free to stay free, as long as I look to Him, trusting and obeying His leadership. While He may lead me into dark and dangerous places, He will never lead me into bondage, and He will never leave me there alone. The center of His will, even when it takes me to the graves I never want to see, is always the freest place I can ever know.
-I am free to rest in His full acceptance of me – ugly parts and all. Sticky situations bring out all my hidden flaws – everything rises to the surface when the fire gets turned up. But what is exposed in His presence, He mercifully heals and transforms, as we allow Him to. I don’t have to fear that He will turn me away because I am angry, confused, responding wrong, or wanting to give up. His blood has covered all that I am ashamed of, and as I stand bare before Him, His love embraces me with what I need to get up and keep going.
I’m sure there is more to discover on this hunt for true freedom. But more than anything, I am learning what it means to know that truth is not a thing I am going to find. It’s a person I am – more and more – getting to know. The more I know Jesus, the freer I become. And the more His love becomes my burning passion and my deepest strength.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, how I pray that you will press in to know the freedom that comes from relationship with Jesus…from sitting in His presence, with your pain, your questions, and all your ugly, messy parts. There truly is nothing formed against you that can prosper, when you come in under His light burden and easy yoke. He is the resting place for our souls, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Let us fear no evil, no pain, no discomfort, for it is precisely there where I believe we will receive the greatest revelation of true freedom!