Freedom Never Walks Alone


by Robert Docter – 

May your unfailing love come to me, oh Lord, your salvation according to your promise. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Psalm 119:41,45)

The prayer at the first Thanksgiving must have offered gratitude for life itself. Half the 100-odd souls who had marched off the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock now lay buried in the sod of Breeds Hill. Also, the prayer must have thanked God for brotherhood as they were joined in the feast by natives who had preceded them to this soil. Yet, even more, it must have expressed appreciation for the freedom and liberty achieved by the grace of God and the courage and fortitude of the celebrants.

Freedom–among the first critical principles articulated by our nation’s founders, freedom never seems to travel alone. I walk in freedom, O Lord … because I follow your guidelines. Even the changes required in the prepositions following the word Freedom in Norman Rockwell’s beloved series Four Freedoms subtly change its meaning. Freedom of–freedom from.

While we hear the word often, most of us have only a partial sense of what it means to us, how it develops within us, or how we relate to it.

Some seize freedom. They walk away with long strides, alone, self-contained, self-assured, self-sufficient, never looking back. Some ignore freedom’s gift. They chain themselves in self-imposed dungeons of their own creation. Some find freedom thrust upon them. They move tentatively through the earth postponing their living, fearful, limiting the scope of their endeavor, narrowing the dimensions of their relationships. Some whisper freedom’s enchanting name in awe and see its gift distributed with abandon only to others in some elsewhere kind of place. Some, in fear, have not the will to own the word and deny it ever existed for anyone anywhere in any time. Often, they bury freedom in legalism. Hoping to protect it, they kill it with a “cold, unattractive sanctity, lacking a sense of the significant, giving priority to trivialities, putting procedure before people and conformity before compassion. Their religion becomes all law and no grace.” (Coutts)

Some see freedom through eyes that soar on frames that fly and hearts that mount up on wings as eagles. Unfettered and untethered, they glide like a John Coltrane solo through the wide spaces of life, lifting all around them to unexpected heights and magnificent, intricate beauty. Some see freedom only in political terms. If they live in oppression, they believe it to be the panacea of their existence. If they live in liberty they often believe it means they can do and be whatever they want whenever they choose.

People who have freedom rarely study it. It often goes unappreciated. Asking someone to define it is an exercise in frustration. It is revered only in its absence.

Freedom never walks alone. It has company. It holds the hands of trust, of dependability, of discipline, of faith, of responsibility, of will. It does not exist in the absence of its brothers. When freedom’s friends are absent, what one believes is freedom has other names. It is called license, licentiousness, laziness, contempt, arrogance, self-centeredness.

True freedom

To find true freedom, one must walk with her brothers. Let’s meet them.

Trust grows in the presence of a reciprocal, trusting relationship. As one’s risk to trust is validated, trust grows. Freedom from fear in the relationship emerges and becomes freedom to be as trust develops. It is a meeting of spirits which provides a greater awareness of who and what one and the other may be. Its product is increased self-acceptance. As intense relationships emerge in life’s ever-evolving patterns, one achieves a greater sense of meaning in life. This feeling of security, gained with meaning achieved, provides the confidence necessary to live in freedom.

Unreliable behavior indicates self-centeredness. Dependability reveals a recognition that one is surrounded by others in community. As some demonstrate they can be counted on by the community, greater freedom emerges within the community, and more of its members risk trying new behaviors and allowing relationships to grow in intensity.

Discipline is simply learned behavior. It involves a person’s willingness to subordinate his or her own desires to an accepted moral code. This code may be individually imposed, as in self-discipline or group-imposed. It is more than a set of rules. Instead, the code represents guiding principles of behavior embraced by a person, a group or a culture. Moses interpreted God’s guidance as specific rules. This was appropriate to the developmental level of the children of Israel. They had been a nation of slaves and were, thus, “strange to the meaning of liberty.” Christ, however, being God, articulated principles. Rules bind. Principles free. In embracing a disciplined lifestyle, one gains order. The orderliness provides liberty.

While trust relates to reliance on an individual, faith expresses a relationship with spirit. Faith frees one from the dread of nothingness; from the loneliness of isolation; from the anxiety of a totally unsettling reality. One grows in faith by being faithful–by being true to a belief system which guides one’s life effectively.

What does it mean to be responsible? Does it mean that we are trustworthy, dependable, moral, accountable? It can be defined in many ways, but in a deeper sense, one is required to recognize the individuality of one’s own responsibility. As an adult, one is completely responsible for oneself. Even if I submit to the authority of another, it is still my own decision. I, and I alone, must measure the dimensions of my faithfulness. I must determine the quality of my relationship with God and with the significant people in my life. I must define my being. I’m responsible for the way I communicate myself. While I can’t be responsible for the way others feel about my communication, I can be sensitive to the likelihood of certain consequences and, therefore, choose to modify the form of my communication. As I make all these assessments and begin to establish an increased awareness of my own willingness to accept myself as the author of events I have precipitated, I recognize my own role in the creation of my “self.” Rather than blaming others, then, I become increasingly aware of my own feelings, my own suffering, my own predicaments. I accept the responsibility of authorship and gain freedom.

Awesome responsibility

For many, it is not comfortable to live with such awesome responsibility. It can be a lonely place from which we flee, for we seek order and structure. Sometimes we strive to find it un-authentically and surrender ourselves to almost anyone or anything in hope of finding orderliness. We doubt our ability to determine our own destiny. We are free to do as we choose, but do we have the competence to choose wisely? We fear our freedom and engage in meaningless compulsive ritual, or maneuver to shift responsibility for choosing to someone else. We deny the very requirement of responsible living by refusing to believe we are the creator of our own problems.

One may choose to believe that one walks through life alone, or one may choose to believe that we have the potential to be linked in spirit with each other through our Creator–that he is willing to share himself with all of us if invited. We have the freedom to choose even that.

It seems meaningless to speak of an “un-free will.” The will is tightly connected to freedom. It is the “action” ingredient. It is, as Irving Yallom states, the “responsible mover.” It represents the opportunities available through the responsible use of freedom.

The will develops in stages. Often we speak of a “willful child” when the child tests boundaries of freedom and acts in opposition to the will of the parent. As one owns the parental injunctions, this earlier “counter will” (Otto Rank) matures. In later childhood and adolescence it becomes a “positive will”–willing what one must. A final stage has been identified as the “creative will”– willing what one wants. Sadly, many never escape the first two stages. They are either permanently rebellious or complacent. They fail to discover their true self.

What do you wish?

Many cannot articulate what they want. They don’t know. Some use energy and resources in vain pursuits to please others. Some spin wheels with impulsive decisions. Some only follow patterns established by others while never testing their own potential. Those who don’t know what they want have never learned how to wish. The wish is father to the want. What do you wish? What are your fondest hopes–your wildest dreams–your ideal career –your optimum life? Genuine wishing demands that one feel. If there is no deep feeling connected with the wish, it is selected only because it has been identified by others or on a whim.

We tend not to be a feeling culture.We seem to reject feelings and rely heavily on thought as the primary determiner of our direction. Both are essential, and both need to be pre-eminent at different times.If we are to become aware of our most personal wishes, we must become equally aware of the depth of feeling within us about those wishes.

And so, the wish fathers the want, and the want fathers the will. We get to the point, then, of being able to use our freedom by deciding on a course of action. I once knew a young man who came to a fork in the road. He plowed into the sign posts advising him of the choices available to him because he couldn’t decide which way to turn. Decisions are difficult. They often impose a death experience in that the act of choosing requires something to be relinquished–given up. This is frightening, and often, we try to delegate the decision to someone else. On other occasions we use some mechanical device or chance, as in the flip of a coin, to make the decision for us, thus invalidating our authenticity.

The joy of God is man fully alive. It is his will that we experience life to the fullest. We resist the opportunity because we want to define “fullness” ourselves. We tend to neglect the notion that life includes eternal life, and that the way we use our freedom to live in this life is a factor in determining the nature of our later life.

We are free. It is a gift of God articulated by Christ as the “abundant life.” But while challenging us to soar, he also commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Moreover, he gave us a narrow gate of self-discipline and responsible behavior through which we must enter first. Each of us must sort out the paradox of freedom and responsibility ourselves. It cannot be delegated.

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