When I was a child, I considered freedom to be something grown-ups enjoyed. They can eat what they want, stay up as late as they want, watch what they want, buy what they want, and do what they want.
Little did I know.
As a teenager, freedom meant breaking rules, rebellion, and choosing for myself. As a young adult, it meant not being tied down, buying something I couldn’t afford, and a readiness to explore my place in the world. As a new mother, freedom meant I had three hours when my children were in preschool to go to the grocery store, exercise, pursue an interest, shower, or do dishes.
Those remain the quickest three hours of my life.
Now I think about freedom not as what I can get away with, spend, or get done, but who I am meant to be. What was I created for? What’s constraining me from that?
When we are young, life seems filled with limitless possibility. We have options. We have opportunities. We have an openness that obstacles can’t deter. But somewhere along the way, things go wrong, get messy, and we feel like the colorful kaleidoscope that we once saw the world through has been replaced by a narrowing tunnel that stretches perspective into some far away dot of black ink.
Sounds peppy in a let me go drink a bottle of Pepto-Bismol kind of way.
The reality is life was never limitless, and there are many ways to arrive at your destination that don’t involve a tunnel.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
In the countless ways I once considered freedom, never did it occur it to me that God had anything to do with it. God had commandments, gates to enter, and His will to be done. It hardly sounded limitless until I realized that behind all of those things was this perfect love, a desire for me to know goodness beyond any I could imagine for myself, and a mercy of such magnitude that freedom became synonymous with a boundless love.
I know it sounds complicated. Kind of esoteric and harder to envision than Pepto-pink. But when I think about what I was created for and the freedom I have to do God’s will, I know there is something on the other side of that which isn’t fairyland, but fulfillment.
Every year we celebrate freedom. We honor the men and women who valiantly and sacrificially serve. What they and their families give up embodies freedom. It is the essence of love of neighbor.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled on one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14).
Looking at freedom as merely an opportunity to do what I want is not only selfish, but limited. Freedom isn’t about self-indulgence, decadence, or debauchery. That’s not why we fly the colors of the flag with reverence. That’s not why we send our men and women to war.
Pope John Paul II said, “When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.”
That rule of law is love.
There are many ways to celebrate the liberties of our life beyond fireworks, stars, and stripes. But one that honors both God and our military is to serve others with love. After all, it’s love that makes freedom possible, and love makes freedom worthwhile.
How will you celebrate your freedom this 4th of July?
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