One of the greatest gifts that God has blessed us with is the gift of freedom. Freedom allows us to choose our actions and proves to us that we are not bound by some predetermined plan for our lives. God granted us this gift as part of the dignity he bestowed on human beings to be able to be the masters of their own actions.
Yet, just because we enjoy freedom, it does not mean that we can do what we want with it ‘as long as we don’t hurt anyone’. This is a morphed sense of freedom. Since we are in control of our actions, we are responsible for our actions. It’s not about the Church trying to ‘interfere’ in our lives with rules or limitations on freedom. Rather, with great power comes great responsibility.
Freedom is the power to do what we ought to do, which is not always the same as what we want to do. At the heart of things, God gave us freedom as it is only in freedom that we can choose God as the Lord and love of our lives and attain the perfection He made us for through loyalty to Him.
I felt inspired to write this post as I lived in a false sense of freedom for many years. But once I realized the meaning behind authentic freedom in my life, it changed my life and I’ve felt the need to share this truth with whoever is willing to listen.
Our free will shapes our lives. We can use it for what it is intended, that is to direct our lives towards God, or we can pervert this blessing in our lives as a license for doing whatever pleases us, even if we know those things to be wrong.
The bad news is that our freedom has been damaged by sin. This is why we often wrestle between choosing to do what we know is right, and the alternative, which grabs a hold of us and draws us to do something we don’t necessarily want to do. I know I definitely struggle with this. There are a number of unhealthy patterns of behavior in my life that have more control over me, than I have over them, leading me to say ‘yes’ to things that deep down I wish I could say ‘no’ to.
The good news is that through Christ, each of us has grace available to us to fight back and to strive to achieve an ever-deeper level of freedom in our lives. In fact, that’s part of the reason why Jesus came to this world to die for us. St Paul writes how it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1). Freedom is a means to human excellence, authentic happiness and leads us to the fulfillment of our destiny, which for us as sons and daughters of God, is walking towards personal holiness and the salvation or our souls.
3 Ways Our Freedom Can Be Restricted
There are different ways each of us has our freedom restricted. Below are only a few examples:
Desires of the flesh: Many of us live under the power of our appetites, namely hunger, thirst, and sex. Therefore, some of us struggle with overeating or abusing alcohol because we use these things to pacify deeper wounds in our lives. Others live in the grip of pornography, or we frequent hook-up apps like Tinder. Whether its food, drink or sex (in whatever form these may present themselves), if we’re honest with ourselves, we are not choosing these options ‘freely’. Try it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. When you feel the urge to indulge, you cannot actually say ‘no’, and the hard truth is that you are bound by these things. Almost prophetically, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about how the abuse of freedom leads to a slavery of sin (CCC 1733).
Unforgiveness: Deep feelings of unforgiveness, especially against people who are closest to us (who as luck would have it, often hurt us the most), can trap us in a cycle where we find ourselves frequently just stewing in the anger, bitterness, resentment, etc, against the people who offended us. We allow someone else’s actions to control us, when often that person is blissfully unaware of our wounds and how they affected us.
Paralyzing fear/shame: Many of us also live in fear or shame because of things that happened (and sometimes are still happening) in our lives. These fears can range from a fear of rejection or ridicule, or shame from bad habits, and so on. We’re constantly afraid that people around us may discover ‘the real’ us or uncover our ‘guilty secret’. Some of us are ashamed of how we look or believe that we are too fat/thin/short/tall/ugly/stupid/etc. And these beliefs are sometimes paralyzing because they can destroy our self-confidence and self-image.
Rather than being bent inward looking in on ourselves or condemning ourselves for our fears, insecurities, sins, addictions and so on, God wants us to live in the fullness of the dignity of divine sonship/daughterhood He has bestowed on us. A line I once heard Bishop Robert Barron say really struck me: “God has loved us into existence and he wants to love us into wholeness”.
In each fork in the road that we encounter whether in times of difficulties or temptations, we have to work continually to use the freedom we have to choose the path that will take us to still greater heights of freedom, instead of on paths that will take us into deeper slavery to sin. Again, we have freedom available to us through Jesus. If Jesus has set us free through His Cross, we are free indeed (Jn 8:36)! The key to breaking chains in our lives is repeatedly speaking the truth into lies we have come to believe. We are beloved children of the Most High. Our wounds and weaknesses neither define us nor ought to control us.
St Irenaeus, a famous saint from the early Church said, “The glory of God is man fully alive”. I am more ‘alive’ today then I have ever been (even though I still have a long way to go). And it’s all because of Jesus! He gave me the grace to let go of a whole list of fears, shame, unforgiveness, addictions, bad habits, and so much more, that had control over me. And in each of our lives, the way Jesus will do this will be different. It calls for openness and seeking his healing, freely available through the sacraments, prayer ministry, inner healing, counseling, recovery programs, intentional efforts to grow in the virtues we most need, etc.
The way I see it, breaking free of sins, addictions, unhealthy attachments, fears, shame, etc is a part of restoring the fullness of the freedom that is ours to possess and striving towards becoming God’s original masterpiece again. I love the joy and peace that came with the newfound freedom in my life, and I’m sure if you seek greater freedom, you too will attain newfound love and peace in your own life.