“For only when I stand in that sacred intersection of His ardent pursuit of me and my desperate chasing of Him, do I know what it is to live free.”
I am six years old standing in my front yard with my bicycle thrown to the ground. Pliers and a wrench are scattered around unattached, rusty training wheels.
“Let’s go. Try it again.” My dad’s steady voice covers my mounting frustration. He gives me a final push and I take off. My mom immediately stands up from her perch on the front stoop and claps wildly, hooting and hollering. The speed, the balance, the momentum, they all fall in line, and I am soaring. And for the first time, I taste the buds of freedom.
I am 15. My hands shake as I ignite the lighter and hold the cigarette. My friend stands in front of me to block the wind and to keep watch for vigilant mothers. We hide as we smoke down by the creek after school. Finally, we are old enough to be trusted but still too young to be unchained. I am thrilled to be breaking the rule but terrified of getting caught. This must be freedom, right?
I am 18. It is August in North Carolina, and my dad is dripping sweat from hauling my things up nine flights of cement stairs. I shake hands with my new roommate. We hang posters and arrange the desks. For the first time in my life, no one will know when I come or when I go, but tomorrow I will eat breakfast among strangers. And the campus that I thought was large with possibility, now just seems large. My parents and brothers say goodbye. I sit at the end of my new bed and wipe my slippery face. Isn’t this the freedom I’ve always craved?
I am 22. Our Subaru Outback is stuffed with sleeping bags and boxes of granola bars. The windows are down and my hair is loose in the wind. To my left sits my brandnew husband, with one hand on the wheel and one hand on my knee. We are westward bound, with no plans or jobs, no destination or agenda. We are fueled only with giddy excitement about the mountains and the mysteries we will meet while bluegrass and adventure fill the air. I close my eyes and stick out my hand as the wind whips against it. Now this, this is freedom. Yes?
I am 29. There’s a baby on my hip and two toddlers wrapped around my ankles. He plows through the door and drops his briefcase on the wood floor. He kisses me first, next each of the boys, and then he scans the living room. “Looks like y’all have been having fun today,” he says as he laughs. The toddlers take off down the hall in their droopy diapers. We sigh and smile, full and empty from the work and wonder of the day. Finally, we have it–the marriage and the children, the job and the house. Isn’t this finally it? Haven’t I, at last, arrived to know freedom?
I am 31. We stand beside the plastic slide at the park, and my eyes drop when the new neighbor casually asks, “So how many children do you have?” I tell her that I have three boys, and then I quickly run away to chase the youngest. Perhaps I am just running away. Do I tell her about how I have buried a son, that I now have two living on earth and one living in heaven? I scoop up my youngest and throw him over my shoulder as he laughs from the belly. He plops in my lap and we soar down the slide in the brisk of the early evening chill. Is suffering but a shackle? Or is there any freedom to be found in grief?
I have tasted and touched the skin of freedom. I have felt glimpses of it in the shedding of training wheels and the adrenaline of rebellion. I have known hints of freedom in the separation from my parents and in the adventure of the cross-country move. Freedom whispered to me in the coming together of the mapped out life, and it sang to me in the unraveling of broken dreams. But these were mere hints and whispers, just subtle tastes of the sweetness of true freedom. They were the holy beckoning.
True freedom is that absence of fear, that stripping of expectation, that blessed assurance that all will be well. For freedom is not a place but a Person. It is not just an experience, but a Spirit. True freedom is never something to attain but always Someone to discover. Perhaps the pursuit of freedom is simply the journey of faith. For only when I stand in that sacred intersection of His ardent pursuit of me and my desperate chasing of Him, do I know what it is to live free. For, yes, He is under and over all of it, in the romance of moving out West, in the thrill of that first bike ride, and even in the grit of the unbearable grief. Freedom is only found by me, because I have first been found by God.
Photo credit: “With Arms Wide Open” by Repoort on flickr