It burns in us, this bent, this craving, this drive for the thing we all call freedom. I would dare say every other drive we serve grows from the root of this one. We eat because we want to be free from hunger (or bored), we sleep because we want to be freed from the fatigue that chases us.
As best as I can figure, at the root of all our pursuits is our drive to be free.
It is so deep in us that our dreams and daydreams are about freedom, in whatever form we think it can be attained. And it is in this inner dialogue — Where can I find freedom? — that we encounter our first trap. We all have a picture, a picture that we believe will usher us into this ever-desired state. Is it a beach in the tropics? Is it the job of a lifetime or the income connected to said job? In the same way that when we are hungry, we begin to ask the question, What do I want to eat? Our hearts create an answer to this ever-asked question, What will make me free?
The answer that our heart provides becomes the target of our pursuit. So what if we get it wrong? What if our heart gives us the wrong answer?
And the odds are good that it will.
How can I say that with such certainty? The reason I can say this is directly connected to where we stand in history. The reason I can say this is that we all live in a post-Genesis 3 world.
Genesis 3 turned the corner from which we have all fought to return. That chapter where the entire condition and future of the human race was altered by the choice and actions of our mutual grandparents, Adam and Eve.
If we allow ourselves to peek for a second into the world before The Event, we will discover some things about the life of these two First Humans. Let me describe it for you. And after I describe it, let me tell you what is wrong with my description.
Adam and his bride had no fear. They lived their lives without a shred of insecurity. They were never plagued with anxious, sleepless nights. Their anger never controlled them or injured those they loved. They never felt the sting of rejection or lived with the fear that they might be rejected. Adam and Eve were the free-est people to walk the face of the earth. Now let me tell you what is wrong with my description.
Everything I just described is what they did not experience. I just described their lives from the perspective of one who has only lived since Genes 3. They would not have described their lives the way that I just did. You see, I just described freedom, from the perspective of a prisoner. And it is for this reason, and from this point in time, that we are all likely to define freedom in a way that can prevent us from ever truly experiencing freedom.
Freedom, it seems, looking at it from our place in time, is when we “DO NOT.” We DO NOT fear, we DO NOT get rejected, we DO NOT have insecurity. Could this magnificent all-encompassing pursuit actually be understood as the state we attain when all the bad stuff ceases? I would submit to you something as glorious as freedom should never be defined by what IS NOT, but should always be understood in terms of WHAT IS.
But this is not where we live. We live in the world where we are bested by our temper, or overwhelmed by our drive for acceptance or comfort. We live in the world where it seems we may actually be our worst enemy, and we only wish we could arm-wrestle our pesky drives, thoughts or emotions to the ground. If only that thing that controls me or invades my reality would just go away! Surely I would be free if I could just stop overeating, looking at porn, smoking, drinking, cussing … you recognize the list, and if your pet obstacle isn’t named, just fill in the blank.
We all know what we wish “was-not,” but what is it that we wish “was-so?”
You see, Adam and Eve would have described their world this way.
“We are constantly loved and accepted, and we live in a state of perpetual trust. The love of our Father is a stream of strength and security, and our intimacy with Him and with one another is ongoing. We are at peace and rest is easy and natural. The differences between us strengthen us and bring us constant joy.”
They would describe their world and their existence from the perspective of two people who had never lost those good gifts. They never had insecurity that they should wish it gone. They never had compulsive behaviors that they should ache to cease.
Before our hearts can give us the right answer to the question and the right target for our quest, we must understand that freedom can never be the absence of something, it must always be the presence of Someone.
“Now the Lord is Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom …” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
In all my years as a counselor, every single one of my clients knew exactly what issue in their life they wished would go away. But very few of them had a ready answer for what they wished would be present.
They wanted their spouse to stop criticizing, but didn’t know to ask for effective communication. They wanted harsh words to stop, but did not know how to ask for real intimacy. People who pursue freedom as post–Genesis 3 citizens view freedom from the perspective of prisoners. A child born in his mother’s prison cell knows that he wants to be outside of the walls and the bars of the jail, but he has never climbed a mountain or picnicked on the beach. He knows what he doesn’t want, but has no picture of what he does want once he exits the prison.
I set out on a path years ago to avoid something. I wanted to avoid the mistakes of my family and the generations that went before me. I set out to not have my father’s addictions or my parents’ marriage. I set out to not be an absent father. Along the way, I have discovered a number of the built-in pitfalls in that quest. More important than learning and overcoming the pitfalls, I discovered one paradigm shifting truth. As I discover and become whom God Himself created and redeemed me to be and focus my energy on living that to the fullest, the mistakes of my parents become peripheral, and even of no consequence.
Avoiding mistakes and bad habits may be helpful, but it is never enough.
I am someone (and so are you) who was created in the image of the God of the universe. I am given the assignment to carry His nature and His image into every corner of the world and every piece of geography on which I set foot. I am someone who is designed to love and bring peace to chaos. I am someone who is wired to push back darkness in every form, and I am someone (and so are you) who is designed to carry joy, even when it seems a bit irrational.
I am glad I stopped the bad habits. Or should I say, am stopping the bad habits. But that alone would have been achingly incomplete. Freedom can never be the result of doing something, it must always be the process of becoming someone.