“It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free, let it go…”
Freedom is something everyone wants (especially when we’re cooped-up indoors on a sunny day and we can’t wait to be at a beach BBQ again) but not something we find easy to define. I think the most agreed upon definition of what this hard-to-define word “freedom” means comes from Frozen.
Elsa broke free from the palace confines where she couldn’t even play with her sister. She had to repress her powers to create ice — repress who she is. Now, though, she’s free! She’s escaped. No restrictions, no expectations, no parents to tell her what to do or who she should be. (Abandoning childhood limits and for a rush of freedom sounds a lot like she went to university.) Freedom to express yourself without anyone suppressing you — who wouldn’t want that?
We’re better off without anyone who would hold us back from our best life. In light of that, religious ways of life sound like an unwelcome guest at the freedom party. Religion is probably not where your mind goes to when you’re asked to think about freedom. If Christianity (in particular) does come to mind, it might be the villain in the story as an oppressive system or a restrictive institution. It’s more like where Elsa escaped from:
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know”
If someone is telling me to hide something of who I am, then why would anybody go there for freedom? Why should I be who they want me to be? If religion makes me feel ashamed, as if who I am isn’t acceptable, then religion is not just an awkward guest at the party. It’s a toxic one to throw out. Against that kind of backdrop, Jesus is recorded by an eye-witness, his disciple John, as making a bombshell claim:
“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Like religion, truth seems like an unnatural guest at the table. Freedom is a broad thing; there’s no ‘right way’ to be. Truth is a narrow thing: it’s black or white, it’s right or wrong, no matter what you choose. Truth claims, especially religious truth claims, seem to be the opposite of freedom. But when Jesus talks about freedom, is he talking about social freedoms or political rights?
Did you know that the average Netflix user spends 126 hours per year looking for things to watch scrolling their options? We think that uninhibited choice is what freedom means – but is it really this simple?
Perhaps there’s a deeper sense of freedom we’re searching for than simply living however we please, to do whatever our heart desire. Perhaps the deeper freedom is to do with freedom from tendencies within ourselves that cause harm (to ourselves and others).
If freedom really is all about expressing myself without limits or restrictions, I have to ask: who actually am I? If I look inside myself to find out who I am, I find value, worth, creativity. But there’s also capacity for corruption, insecurity, fear. I see a lot of selfishness, greed, self-importance, and fear. If I have to be who I am, which side of me do I choose?
Russell Brand said,
“We have been taught that freedom is the freedom to pursue our petty, trivial desires. Real freedom is freedom from our petty, trivial desires.”
This is what Elsa discovers when she lets go. She swapped the confines of her bedroom for a ‘kingdom of isolation’. Now it’s not just her who is miserable, but the whole kingdom is trapped in ice. She sings:
“I’m such a fool, I can’t be free
No escape from the storm inside of me
I can’t control the curse!”
She’s free to live how she pleases, free from others’ restrictive rules, but she’s not free at all. Not really. Real freedom to enjoy her sister’s company, which is all she ever wanted, is now further out of reach. There’s no point in being free to do as we please when we’re still captive to ourselves.
Real freedom to enjoy her sister’s company, which is all she ever wanted, is now further out of reach because she followed her heart’s worst desires. Jesus elsewhere said that our worst problem isn’t outside of us, or even our actions, but that the problem is in our hearts (read his conversation on that here).
This year, 2020, will always be remembered for learning this lesson. Ordinarily, a liberal society like ours would rail against such a lockdown on society. Protests to that effect have happened in other countries. But we know, instinctively, that our freedom to live as we please would cause ourselves and others great harm and prolong our lockdown. Real freedom in this moment is found in finding a cause greater than ourselves to sacrifice for.
We’re told Elsa’s curse can only be undone by a heroic act of true love. Instead of a prince (like every other Disney story ever), it’s Anna, her sister, sacrificing herself. Freedom, in the end, doesn’t come from expressing herself without restriction, but choosing to restrain some of them in order to enjoy the thing she really wants most: her relationship with her sister.
It’s in relationship she finds freedom to be who she really is. Love turns self-denial into real freedom. This is what all of us do in relationships. Instead of indulging my desires and my freedoms, in big things or small things, I choose to put the best interests of the person I love first. There’s no other way for it to work. Real freedom is found in a love that’s greater than my personal life goals.
There’s one problem with relationships, with love… If love is an open door, the way Anna sang it, then anyone can walk in. How do I know what they’re like? How do I know they won’t let me down? How do I know they’ll let me in? How will I know they won’t reject me for the wrong reasons … or even worse, for the right reasons when they know what I’m really like?
Perhaps the truth Jesus spoke about wasn’t a narrow thing, but a love that’s true to what we most deeply want, that’s true to what we really hope for. Is there something more to Jesus’ invitation than narrow rules and little rituals? Anna’s sacrifice parallels what we see at the end of Jesus’ life on a cross, a love that led him to give up his life, a love for us that remains true even when he knows what we’re like. Yes, he invites us to follow his way of life which he does call narrow. But what if that’s an invitation to freedom, not a road from freedom?