I remember the first time I got in the car to drive myself. At age sixteen, there was nothing like being out from under authority, making my own decisions, and answering to no one… even if only for a short trip to the grocery.
I felt so independent with the radio blaring and only one hand on the wheel. I hung my arm out the window so it could ride the wind, warned the world about “The Grand Illusion” with Styx’s Dennis DeYoung, and peeled off the line a little too fast when the light turned green. No one could tell me to slow down, turn down, or settle down.
After I parked, I caught a glimpse of myself in the store window, strutting across the parking lot and swinging my keys.
And there, in my reflection, I saw freedom.
Young adults and young countries both have that look. Out from under the dictators of their lives, they can finally sing their own songs and wave their own flags. And strut their stuff.
We Americans feel so invincible with our secure borders and prosperity. We let our fat arms ride the wind, swing around our rights, and worship the images in our mirrors.
And why shouldn’t we feel great? We are so blessed to have our own soil, to safely worship in our own churches, to own our own homes, to pursue our own callings. We truly have the sweetest spot on earth.
But still, we are not free. And we know it.
We sing about “putting boots in their ass” and we dress in our flag’s colors, but no one admits that secure borders and dress blues don’t keep fear away.
We fly Old Glory and rise to pledge allegiance, but no one lets on that they are too weak to stand up to the winds of pressure.
Once a year, we go outside and shoot fireworks to light up the night sky, but inside and every day, we shoot-up or drug-up to avoid the pain of living in darkness.
From ten-thousand feet up, we are the picture of freedom. But the view from within our homes and our hearts reveals that we are trapped by terror, caged by culture, and enslaved to our addictions.
But this is not an American problem. It’s a human problem. All around the world, babies of all colors are born with a liberty bell ringing in their hearts, placed there by our Creator. We all have an innate desire for freedom and all that it offers.
Because God wants us to be free. All throughout the Bible, He holds freedom up as something good that He offers to all of us.
”For you were called to freedom, brothers.” Galatians 5:13a
But we have gravely misinterpreted the tolling in our hearts. Foolishly, we have been duped by the Grand Illusion. We listen to voices that tell us that the worst place to be is under someone else’s thumb, and we stop short of the freedom to which we are called. And we settle for a lesser version offered by a Prince of lies.
Freedom is quiet, countercultural, and sometimes even looks like slavery. So we dismiss it.
For the shiny keys in our hands, the anthems playing on our radios, the power of our engines revving beneath our feet…they all distract us from what’s more. From what’s better.
The process is necessary, I suppose. We must experience, to some degree, an imitation of freedom so that we know that it’s not what it claims to be. We are wise after a coming of age when we find out that the absence of authority isn’t freedom at all.
Not at all.
At sixteen, on the outside looking in, I thought I was the picture of freedom. But also at sixteen, I believed that I was the center of the universe. And my heart was far from being free.
But my Rescuer pursued, and offered me His freedom.
The freedom that comes not from taking up arms, but from One who laid down His life.
The freedom that waves not in a flag of glory, but in the blood-stained cloths found in an empty grave.
The freedom that sings not songs of power or pride, but of grace and humility.