Ahh freedom. The ability to do whatever you want whenever you want, right?
Well, that’s certainly the way I always pictured it.
For me, “freedom” was always tied to money so having “freedom” meant being financially successful enough to do the things I wanted to do without worrying about whether doing them is going to keep me from doing things I needed to do like paying rent.
Of course, as we all know, freedom doesn’t come without a cost. To achieve financial freedom, the cost is very often long, hard hours of work sacrificing time with friends, family and relaxation in hopes of reaching that level of financial stability.
For Christians, the cost of freedom was the death of Jesus Christ.
For those of us in the United States, that cost is the lives of everyone who has served in our military or law enforcement who work day and night to ensure we have the life we so often take for granted.
As I thought about a topic for today’s challenge, it was this thought that spurred me – that freedom isn’t free. It actually costs all of us and it actually has nothing to do with the military or money. Let me see if I can explain my thought process here.
As many of you may know, the Bible tells us that just prior to Jesus’ death, He cries out to God, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NRSV)
Now what I find interesting here is that Jesus is telling God to forgive people. Why would Jesus have to remind an all loving, omniscient, omnipotent God to forgive? He didn’t need to. It is in God’s nature to forgive. This was actually for those on the ground participating in the crucifixion, for those who would read about it later, and for the human portion of Jesus. What Jesus did here was to show us that forgivness isn’t about the person who did the wronging, its for the person who was wronged. Jesus was certainly the one wronged yet he asked for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him so in his human state he would be freed from the burden – if for only a moment – of unforgiveness.
Without forgiveness, we cannot be truly free to enjoy the things around us. As one minister I heard once describe it, it’s like we all have this backpack that we carry around with us that gets filled with rocks every time we have something that we choose not to forgive. The more things that have happened in your life that you are unwilling to forgive, the more rocks are added to the backpack and soon, the pack has to be drug or wheeled around behind you just to accommodate the weight.
Now, I know its quite possible that not everyone has been hiking or had to carry a heavy backpack, but just think of the last time you had to carry something heavy for any length of time. How much did you actually enjoy the warmth of the sun as it gently shone down on you? Did you even hear those birds chirping or smell the intoxicating aroma of the flowers in the garden near you? My guess would be no. All of these things were lost on you due to the weight of your burden. Emotional burdens do the same thing. They keep us from enjoying the freedom that we have to enjoy the life we have been given.
It took me a long time to learn this lesson. For years – decades, really – I carried anger, pain, hurt and frustration from my life with me. I remember there were days that I knew the sun was shining and people were talking about what a beautiful day it was an I all I could sense was this big thundercloud that seemed to follow me everywhere. I couldn’t get out from under it regardless of how hard I tried.
And then I learned forgiveness.
I finally realized that forgiving another person has actually nothing to do with the other person but rather how I choose to respond to them. When I learned to extend forgiveness to those around me, I was suddenly free from the burden of the anger and hurt that I had carried with me everywhere I went. The cloud was gone and I could feel the warm sunshine, hear the birds sing and smell the flowers. I could also deal with those people that hurt me just as they are today, not as they had been surrounded by all of the wrongs I was holding against them.
Now, I know that there are a lot of you reading this who are going to say things like, “but you have no idea what I’ve been through”, or “my life is far worse than yours. You probably had easy things to forgive”. First, let me tell you you do not know my life any more than I know yours. Some of my burdens were tremendous. And I am not saying that the process of forgiveness was an easy one, but I can tell you that the freedom that I have as a result of that forgiveness is worth every ounce of pain.
And it was painful to forgive.I had to be willing to accept any role I might have had in a given circumstance and then, for those things I knew I was truly a victim to, I had to choose to let them go anyway. My carrying them around wasn’t hurting anyone but me and the same could be said of you and your burdens. Even if the event in your life was horrendous – life altering and excruciating – how is your carrying around anger, resentment and unforgiveness hurting the other person?
It isn’t. If they are aware of it, they probably don’t care – which probably adds another stone to your pile.
But the thing is you have complete control over this.
It will hurt.
It will cause you to cry out in agony of the unfairness of it all.
But in the end, it will be like the joy of new birth.
For me, I could finally see people less like burdens and more like how God sees them; broken, fragile creatures that sometimes do despicable things, but still creations of God.
Forgiveness allowed me the ability to break free of being chained to that person and that ugly memory – or memories – for the rest of my life.
That, my friend, is true freedom and it is worth every drop of blood it took to get there.