With the celebrations of July 4th looming, many Americans are contemplating what it means to be American. We live in a unique place in a unique time. The story of America is grand and beautiful and tragic. Many men and women have lost their lives to make it what it is. Many continue to make that sacrifice.
Perhaps the word most Americans associate with our identity as citizens of this country is “freedom”. We pride ourselves on our democracy and our founding as a haven for those fleeing persecution. The word freedom is branded on almost all things American.
Liberty is a beautiful thing. Throughout American history, whether it be the treatment of Native Americans or the practice of slavery, we have struggled to really get a handle on true freedom even while we preach it as our highest ideal. Even through our tragic shortcomings, we have claimed to pursue freedom as our highest ideal.
But freedom is just an opportunity. When Americans consider freedom, perhaps we focus so much on achieving it that we do not consider what we do when we have it. And how that, in the end, is the most important thing.
If freedom is the ability to steward your own journey unencumbered, the question it inevitably leaves us with is: how will you steward your journey?
In some ways, I think a lot of us are trying very hard to avoid that question. We want to focus on the ways we are still encumbered. We want to fight for more freedom, which is not a bad thing. Unless, of course, it becomes an idol, an excuse, a process by which we blame others and our circumstances for our own lack of stewardship.
The invitation of freedom is to take control of the three things that are ours to steward (and let go of everything else). To make our decisions, own our attitude and behaviors, and steer our lives toward the vision to which we are called. Otherwise, freedom is just an ideal, just an excuse for apathy and complacency.
How To Spend Your Freedom
There are two simple ways we can spend our freedom more wisely.
The first is going to sound counter-intuitive. One of the best ways we can spend our freedom is by setting boundaries for ourselves. The concept of personal freedom is not so that you can get away with anything you want – it is to empower you to take ownership of your own boundaries.
There are consequences for what we say and think and do. Freedom means we have adopted the idea that the best way to navigate these consequences is through self-governance, each individual taking responsibility for their own boundary-setting.
Although it might seem strange to advise boundary setting as the first step toward stewarding freedom, this is only because we have adopted an immature idea of what freedom means. We think it means a lack of boundaries, but the truth is freedom is enhanced by boundaries. When we set boundaries in our lives, we set ourselves up (protect ourselves, if you prefer) from the negative consequences that come from unhealthy living. If you are in a codependent or abusive relationship, or if you have an addiction in your personal lives, you will wear these things like a shackle. Boundaries release you of these prisons and allow you to roam freely within the parameters you’ve owned and established as safe and productive and meaningful.
The second thing you can do to spend your freedom well is to steward your choices toward a vision. Perhaps the greatest danger of freedom is complacency. It is like the third generation rich kid who spends all his time playing video games and watching Internet videos. Without a vision, we perish. We melt away into an oblivion. This is why Americans struggle with things like obesity, divorce, and suicide at such an alarming rate. We don’t know what to do with our freedom, so we do nothing. And nothing has become the ultimate desire for a lot of Americans – we want to feel nothing, be afraid of nothing, want for nothing. We want the freedom to be apathetic. It is not a utopia; it is a disease.
We cure this disease with a sense of purpose, a life of meaning. We have to discover what that purpose is for our lives and then chase it with all the resources we have, including freedom.