I woke up two hours earlier than normal this morning, and after 30 minutes of trying to fall back asleep, I finally got out of bed. The crickets and cicadas are louder at this hour, and the quiet of the world has been begging me to stop and listen. To create space for thoughts and musings and maybe some written words to cling to for the day.
I think most of us crave words in ways we don’t realize. There are words during different seasons that seem to resonate with our hearts – whether it is one that provides hope in the midst of darkness, or safety during uncertainty, or promise when it seems like nothing is going right. It doesn’t even have to be a word contrasting to life; we can fix to words like joy and faith and intentional when we feel like we are living in those places. These words can come up frequently in every day conversations or books we read or prayers we find ourselves praying. They have a way of following us around, revealing themselves when we need a reminder or when we are looking for affirmation. We seem to love emblems and themes we can recognize in our lives – maybe it helps us feel that there is a purpose in this world, that there is a Master Planner Who is in control and working all things according to His design.
The crickets and cicadas have been a theme for me during these past couple of months. I hear them at all times of the day in all different states of my heart – rest or chaos. When I think about these insects, I find myself grateful for the ways the world is humming around me and following a pattern of seasons even when my life seems all over the place. I hear the chirps and am compelled to sit and think and be. I am curious by the ways I can’t see them, yet their voices come together in a way that you can’t miss what they are singing.
Another concept that seems to follow me around is freedom. I am finding this word constantly, or maybe it is finding me – in my conversations, in the books I am reading, in the Scripture I am processing, and in the goals I am recognizing for myself as a writer and as a person.
With this word comes its own set of questions. What really is freedom? How do we get it? How do we know if we are living in it? Is there something I am not experiencing freedom in, or it is just a word that I need to savor and store for a later time?
I love the way Toad describes freedom in The Wind in the Willows:
Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes first and his complaining toes next, wondered for a moment where he was, looking round for familiar stone wall and little barred window; then, with a leap of the heart, remembered everything–his escape, his flight, his pursuit; remembered, first and best thing of all, that he was free!
Free! The word and the thought alone were worth fifty blankets. He was warm from end to end as he thought of the jolly world outside, waiting eagerly for him to make his triumphal entrance, ready to serve him and play up to him, anxious to help him and to keep him company, as it always had been in days of old before misfortune fell upon him.
Now, Toad is an extremely narcissistic character in the story, so his view of freedom is completely wrapped up in how the world can best benefit him and serve him. He has escaped from jail, and he thinks the world is now open and ready and waiting for Toad to return to it. And I have a feeling that Toad is spot-on when it comes to what freedom feels like, but it wrong when it comes to what it actually is.
I was talking with a couple of college students last week about the Gospel, and as we read Ephesians 2:8-9, I found myself talking about this concept of freedom.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I see freedom illustrated in this grace – that the Christian life is not up to us. Our salvation is not reliant on our ability to earn it and achieve it. Our joy is not a result of trying hard enough to live in a perpetually happy state of mind. The hope we have in eternity does not depend on what we can do. All is a result of grace. And the weight I hold in myself comes off.
I think of freedom in the way that Christian probably experienced it in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go was fenced on either side with a wall; and that wall was called “Salvation”.
“In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” Isaiah 26:1
Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run; but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
Chills run across my arms and legs as I reread those words. As he ran to the cross, ignoring the weight of what he was carrying, it just fell off.
This summer, en route to Alaska, I found myself doing what I hoped I would never have to do: running through the DFW Airport with a 65L hiking pack strapped across my shoulders, my back, my waist. Honestly, it wasn’t so much even running as it was hunched-over waddling at half speed. Or a slow-mo scene. If I were watching myself, I would have said it was unattractive and comical, so you have permission to laugh. It was even worse when I didn’t make it to my gate in time and I burst into tears, mostly from the stress of running across the airport and the disappointment in missing that flight – but let me tell you, I was in pain.
When I try to picture what initial freedom looks like, I picture, like Christian, running up the hill towards the cross, eyes fixed solely on that destination, and the Lord loosening the multitudes of straps holding that pack to my body. The feeling of the pack slowly slipping off and having no concern for what is happening except that I am getting closer to the feet of my Savior. What joy, what gratitude would result from such an encounter!
I don’t know what burden you might be carrying right now, what is weighing you down and jailing your soul. Or maybe you aren’t carrying a pack at all – the straps have already loosed and fallen off, but you have forgotten the weight of the pack and therefore the weight of gratitude for the One Who removed it.
I think I am still trying to figure out exactly what freedom is for me — but I know what it feels like.