As our nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day this Monday, I find myself thinking about what it means to be free. There are many different understandings of what it means to be free, the most common of which has to do with being free from external control. This of course is the understanding the founders of our nation had in mind when they signed the Declaration of Independence, declaring our new country’s freedom in 1776.
There is another meaning of freedom though that I am quite familiar with as a pastor and a therapist. This meaning of freedom is more of an internal experience. This kind of freedom is what a person is feeling when they announce to me, “When I first came in here and talked about my guilt for what I had done, it was really hard. I feel like talking has really helped, I feel that it has freed something up in me.” Another example of this kind of freedom is when I hear, “I used to feel so ‘stuck’ in my grief and sadness, but now that I’ve been facing it, I feel this renewed energy has been freed up in me.”
Whenever we feel trapped or stuck in life, it is most important that we take some time to reflect on whether the cause of this trapped or stuck feeling is external or internal. Most of us have had the experience of thinking we were trapped by a job, a relationship, or the place where we were living, only to realize later after we left the job, relationship or place, that we still felt the same way. There is a wonderful book entitled, Wherever You Go, There You Are that explains quite well that whatever external changes we may make, we take our internal selves with us.
We are all undoubtedly familiar with the ways a person can be held captive externally, but what are some of the ways a person can be held captive internally? I referred to two examples earlier–a person can be held captive by unresolved guilt or by grief. A person can also be held captive by a bad habit or an addiction. Shame holds many people captive, especially people who have experienced abuse or neglect. Worry, anxiety and fear have probably held most of us captive at one time or another in our lives.
In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus and his disciples have a discussion about the external and internal meanings of freedom. Jesus says to his disciples, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” His followers do not understand that he is talking about an internal sense of freedom and they respond to Jesus by letting him know that he is not making sense to them. They have never been held captive by anyone they declare. In their minds they are already free because they are talking about freedom from an external captor. Jesus is inviting them into another meaning of freedom, an internal freedom that is both spiritual and emotional, and is one that they have not yet experienced.
So in honor of the 4th of July, let’s all take this same invitation, an invitation to greater freedom by declaring our independence from whatever may be controlling us internally. The first step is to acknowledge where we feel stuck or trapped–to identify in what way we long to feel more free. After we have done this, we will need to discern what is that truth that will set us free–what must we learn, say or do to get unstuck? Do we need to face a secret in our lives that we have been hiding from ourselves and others? Do we need to have a difficult conversation with someone we love? Do we need to deepen our spiritual life? Do we need to change a bad habit? As we do this, we will soon learn that we may need the support of others in our efforts. We will mist likely need the support of friends, family, a spiritual leader/and or community, a coach, or a counselor. Do not overlook the fact that creating and living out the Declaration of Independence was a group effort too!
As we remember and celebrate those who worked so hard to found our nation, may we be inspired to persevere in discovering and living the truth that will set us free as well. Happy Independence Day everyone!