By Pastor David Buchs, Concordia Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fair Haven
Think for a minute about freedom. What comes to mind? Something very American, no doubt. Stars and Stripes, the open road, fireworks, and baseball.
Freedom has all kinds of symbols to represent it, but think a bit more carefully about what freedom is. Instead of giving examples, what’s the definition?
I’d be interested to hear your answers, but the first thought that comes to my mind is something like this: “not being told what to do.”
Freedom like that is what we long for at many of the junctures of life – graduating high school, burning your mortgage, finally retiring. Freedom is getting to do whatever you want to do, not being shackled or burdened by obligation. Freedom is having choices and following your heart’s desire.
That’s certainly a really popular and somewhat instinctive idea of freedom. But, as attractive as that sounds, think about how life would look if you were completely free in that way. Limitless choices. Nothing but your desire to guide you.
At the very least, it would be a wayward life. My desires are as fickle as the weather, and often literally depend on the weather or what I ate for breakfast or how I slept. If all I ever did was whatever I wanted to do, I would quickly become useless and helpless, like a boat tossed to and fro by waves, going nowhere fast.
You know all of that instinctively as well. You know that sometimes, at least, it is good to do things you don’t want to do. Sometimes it is good to act contrary to your desires. Sometimes it is good to have your choices limited and to be guided by something other than your whim or fancy or whether or not you woke up on the right side of the bed and ate a good breakfast.
I want to go a step further and say that it is actually not freedom at all to get to do whatever you want. In fact, it’s slavery of a sort. It’s slavery to your desires. This has become especially visible in our age, in which technology is capable of manipulating your desires. So, when you follow your desires, you think you’re doing what you want when, in fact, you’re often just doing what a marketing firm or a tech company or retailer wants you to do. That’s not freedom.
So here’s my proposal. Freedom is not merely doing whatever you want. Instead, freedom is the capacity to pursue something in particular, to have an ideal, a goal, something that you are devoted to for its own sake, even when it means that you have to put aside your desires.
What I mean to say is this: don’t aim to be free from anything. Instead, aim to be free for something. Aim to have values and character and virtue so that you are not enslaved, driven here and there by your desires or by some begrudging fulfillment of obligation.
Long story short, true freedom requires that you love something. When you love something, your will is bent towards it, and that exercise of your will in pursuit of your love is a true life of freedom.
Then the only question is: what should you love?