Freedom is breathing deeply and feeling fully and being loosed from chains. Freedom is the release from that weight that crushes your sternum and your spirit, it’s the relief from whatever’s enslaved us.
In ninth grade I stuck a tiny gold pin on my backpack that I’d been given at a visit to Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. One side of the golden handcuffs was firmly clamped shut, a life enslaved to sin, and the other side of the handcuffs was open – free from sin and no longer in bondage. It made sense, and I probably hoped that via osmosis it’s meaning would shift from the flap of my Jansport to my heart.
‘Freedom’ has been peppered into sermons as a spiritual concept, sure, but not very often. And I think about it in regards to my faith even less often.
If the word comes up, it’s mostly in a patriotic context – one that I celebrate with gratitude, resplendent in a wardrobe of red, white, & blue.
In the context of my relationship with God it’s just not at the top of my Christian vernacular. And I was very much caught off-guard when a pal that traveled the world with me last year said across the table “It’s so obvious how very little freedom you feel.”
Homie say what?
Unfortunately she wasn’t wrong.
Anyone else out there a die-hard fan of Bravo’s Real Housewives?
New York City is one of my favorite group of crazytrains, and there’s a scene with alpha Bethenny where she’s described by her pal Carole as “…having only two speeds: wound tighter than a top or crying.” And methinks my pals would say the same.
What knots my nerves and bones and minutes is anxiety, fear, anger, pain, and doubt.
It’s evident in each day, and it’s magnified in the things I hold dear – even the things that should offer the most freedom…
My walk with the Lord.
And my relationships.
We’ll save the warning for how my lack of freedom has affected my significant romantic relationships for another day and we’ll let Eve share her thoughts on freedom in our walk with the Lord for this Saturday.
Of the seven branches this week’s theme of freedom will address, I’m here to pull back the curtain on freedom in friendship.
It doesn’t take a genius to know how highly I value my friends. All it takes is an instagram account to see the photo journal that’s been created over the last few years documenting almost every moment with almost every pal.
I believe in building altars to what God has done, echoing in our modern age what His kids did in the Old Testament – and many of those photos are reminders of how He provided through the love of one of His children to my heart and life. But there’s also an undercurrent of enslavement in those photos…
I can’t lose my friends, they’re all I have.
In a season of recovery and still lingering heartache, my friends have ‘chosen’ me while I process why no man has, or has but changed his mind.
In a season where I feel like the stepkid God got but didn’t want, my friends are the ones whose prayers I trust He listens to.
In a season where I wonder if my family simply tolerates me, my friends are the ones who celebrate my me-ness.
But it takes a lot, a lot, of work to maintain those friendships when, truth be told, I’m not #1 to any of them. They each have a fiancé or a husband or a wife, most have 1-5 kiddos, they might have mighty important careers or a passion for travel… so I simply can’t be their best friend, they already have one or two or more.
Yet somewhere on the list of things they care about, hovering between #3-#17, you’ll find my name.
But I’m afraid if I don’t treat each person in my tribe as if they’re my #1, I’ll lose them. And that’s not a silly fear, it’s tried & true. Friends I’ve thought that would be life-long have left when they didn’t get the amount of attention they were used to receiving, the lavish gifts they wanted, the listening ear they’d grown to expect, the free babysitter or free party-planner or free hairstylist or free meal-maker… If I’ve been more sad than I’ve been fun, if their new boyfriend didn’t like my loud personality, or heck – sometimes just by getting a new boyfriend/husband/baby – they don’t need me anymore.
If I’ve made a mistake or a misstep, they’ve simply moved on.
So I tend to over-analyze every single conversation, every text, every birthday, every coffee-date… everything. Did I ask enough questions? Did I pay for their lunch? Did I buy them enough pretty “for-no-reason” gifts? Did I pray for them enough times? With enough tears? Did I send enough ‘Thank You’ notes? Emphasis constantly on earning.
Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
It is. And it’s so much my ‘normal’ that if I’m not exhausted from my relationships than I’m instantly thrown into over-drive, assuming I’ve failed and have to make up for it as fast as possible.
And friends would read this and reprimand me … “Just be yourself! I don’t need you to do __________ or be __________ or buy __________!”
But don’t they?
Would any of us choose to be in relationship with any of the rest of us if we did nothing?
Think about it…
If we didn’t care, didn’t help, didn’t do… why would anyone choose us or keep us around?
What does the Bible say about relationships? Specifically friendship?
Throughout scripture we are told that a true friend sharpens us as iron, a true friend offers wisdom and rebuke, that it is better to be two than one so that if we fall down we have someone to help pick us up and vice versa…
But none of those verses found with a preliminary search for “friendship” in the Word speak to the enslavement that’s keeping me wound tighter than a top… or crying.
Freedom in friendship has a deeper catalyst and it’s one that you’d find as the root for freedom anywhere – the very heartbeat of our God, from the mouth of Jesus in the New Testament:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
The construct of seeing God as master and ourselves as servants might make more sense… but being called His friend?! Scary! Because we certainly didn’t earn it!
We didn’t have to choose Him first, we have been chosen.
All He asks is that we remain in His love and spread it around like wildfire.
That is a love and that is a friendship that makes my heart uneasy. But it’s God’s design. And it explicitly champions FREEDOM!
Are the figurative stacks of braided bracelets on each wrist tight like a closed handcuff or is there freedom in the those friendships that mirrors the open end of that tiny gold pin?
Freedom starts with loving God firstly and being confident in His acceptance of us. It follows that we love others with ease not looking for how they’ve earned us or exhausting ourselves to earn them.
Easier (much easier) said than done…
So where do we start?