Why would someone give away their freedom?
That’s the question I’ve been desperately struggling not to confront over the last eighteen months, as the strength of my personal faith has felt like a memory receding ever further into the distance. After a summer in which something I firmly believed God had ordained fell through from a dizzying height, 19-year-old me spluttered, ‘Lord, I’ve trusted you all this time, and this is the result? Thanks and everything, but from now on, I’m doing my own decision-making. I’ll call you if I need you.’
Due to how entitled to this wounded response I felt, it’s taken me a long time to see that this was, and is, simple, classic, vintage pride on my part: the sin that does us all in. It’s simply and subtly that moment when, for whatever reason, we reckon we could do a better job of being God than God. In that moment, we lose sight of his love, his mercy, and our own weakness. It’s like the Tree of Knowledge fiasco all over again.
And this won’t be what you’re expecting to hear, but for a long while, I didn’t regret it. The new freedom I’d found was intoxicating. Suddenly, previous options I’d always considered out of bounds were perfectly viable; I found a terrific sense of release, and new, exciting sides of my personality burst forth. At last, I was liberated from the constant nagging guilt, the relentless resentment bubbling under the surface whenever I would have liked to take another road other than the ‘right’ one.
Was this a misunderstanding of what freedom feels like? Probably not. Was this a misunderstanding of the freedom God offers? You bet your Garden of Eden it was.
In my distress and the constant feeling of fruitless sacrifice, I’d completely lost sight of the fact that freedom in Christ is freedom from our own desires and failings: freedom to choose not to be governed by every selfish whim and fancy, but rather by the Maker of the universe whose love surpasses all understanding, and knows what is best a lot better than us. When I wrongly pre-empted a decision I thought he was pointing towards, I lost faith in him. Don’t get me wrong, I still thought he was there; I just didn’t know how far I could trust him (or rather, how far I could trust myself to hear or sense him) any more. What I lost faith in, really, was my own judgement. And that could have been where I found the greatest freedom of all. Instead, I handed in true freedom for its more attractive, but shallower counterpart. And now, eighteen months down the line, I realise it’s left me wanting. All this time I could have been growing in knowledge of my Father’s love for me; instead, I stuck my fingers in my ears, and began frantically looking elsewhere. In (understandably) running from the pain I was experiencing, I lost out on a deeper relationship that would have seen me through and brought me close to my loving Creator.
That is a difficult truth to admit, especially because it stabs your sense of pride right in the gut. However, my Dad’s got this amazingly useful phrase: his life motto, if you will. Dad always says, ‘Nothing in life is ever wasted.’ (I hear Paul’s been known to say something similar: see Romans 8:28). Having grown up in a Christian household, my younger self used to be really bothered by the notion that I didn’t have any sort of cool conversion story, no road to Damascus event where Jesus showed up on a motorcycle and gave me ice cream and told me to sell my belongings and move to Fiji – you know the sort of thing. Granted, I still don’t have a story like that now. The story I do have now is one about the time I experienced a life where I’m in the driver’s seat. And, while I didn’t crash the car, I definitely didn’t end up where I needed to be. That’s because the vehicle’s been bought at great personal cost to Someone Else, who knows its purpose far better than I do. And you know what, giving that seat back to the rightful owner of the car feels like? It feels like freedom. Real, proper freedom.