To Be Free Is To Be Enslaved
Gospel: Matthew 6: 31-34
We have all heard or used the word “uptight.” According to social scientists, the “uptight” person is not neurotic, but normal. It is fashionable, it seems, to get uptight about all sorts of things that everyone else is uptight about– “getting ahead”; paying the bills; political issues and more.
But the uptight person is enslaved by an inflated sense of his or her ability to manage the future. Today we are reminded as Christians, that we should not be uptight about tomorrow, or worse yet, tomorrow’s tomorrows — for tomorrow belongs to God.
In today’s Gospel, we have these words of assurance from our Lord: “So do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’ Your heavenly Father knows you need for them all. “Set your hearts on His Kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself” (Mt. 6:31-34).
So how do we respond? Jesus is telling us that we will conquer anxious worry by trusting God unconditionally. Curiously, this can be a real problem for those of us who come to Church regularly. We hear it all the time: Trust God! We hear it so often that we’re not listening anymore.
But this trust in God that Jesus teaches us is not merely a surface religious expression — it is the very essence of the Christian life.
Christian life. It is a style of living we learn through the example of the Lord Jesus. It is a style of living in which we trust ourselves so completely to God’s loving Presence that we are empowered– moment-by-moment and day-by-day to effectively deal with those anxious worries. Notice, I said “deal with,” not “get rid of.” We’ll never be able to get rid of all anxiety. But trusting in God’s promise never to abandon us — and trusting in God’s promise never to withdraw. We need to realize that destructive anxiety robs us of life, robs us of the spiritual nourishment we need to grow into our full human potential. The kind of destructive anxiety that Jesus warns us against turns us in on ourselves and robs us of the ability to reach out and be there for others.
In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes himself as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:1). Yet, in his Letter to the Galatians, he wrote, “When Christ freed us, He meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery … My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty” (Gal. 5:1,13).
If these statements seem contradictory, it is because we have not yet internalized the belief that one becomes “a prisoner” of the Lord only through an exercise of freedom. Becoming a prisoner of the Lord is accomplished only by the free act on our parts of unreserved, total, voluntary surrender to Him.
To help you internalize this, here is a real life story from a self-confessed former uptight person– he wrote me: “I used to complain and worry a lot. I used to feel frustrated a lot. I used to question my own worthwhileness a lot. I used to agonize over my unrealized dreams. But all that began to change through my neighbor’s dog. That puppy was neglected, left tied outside to a leash all the time. Enslaved by a collar at the end of a leash, the frustrated animal cried day and night. Then one day, I saw that the dog was loose. Somehow the leash had broken. But the poor thing just wandered about in small circles as though it were still being restrained.
I thought to myself, “This animal gets an opportunity to be free and doesn’t take it? Then it doesn’t deserve to be free.” Then an inner-voice spoke to me: “That’s you. You’re looking at yourself. This humbling revelation was the beginning of real freedom for me. My anxiety had taken me to a point in my life where I simply had to surrender the unrecoverable past and the unpredictable future to Divine Providence. Only then was I able to move from uptight, to alright.”
The meaning of that story is like being drenched by a bucket of cold water. “The Truth shall make you free,” wrote the Apostle John. Only by allowing the Truth, which is Christ, to completely overtake us — to “enslave” us, so to speak — can we free ourselves from the bonds of the “uptightness” of our time. There comes a time when we must let go and surrender our future to Divine Providence.
It reminds me of team building exercises that often occur at retreats. Inevitably, there would be a time where we would have to demonstrate our trust in our teams. So there would be some exercise like a Trust Fall where you physically had to let go of your concerns and free fall into the arms of one or more of your team mates. Some would do it with complete trust and easily fall while others would do it with such stiffness that you would think rigor mortis had set in.
And so it is with trusting God. Some do it with a childlike innocence and live their lives with an undeniable belief that God will manage the future as long as we rely on Him and live His Gospel. Others say the words but spend the time fretting about everything they cannot control. It’s the latter group that has that mental rigor mortis. Those are the people worry themselves sick either about what might have been or what might come to pass “if only I had done this” or “if only I could do that.”
Back in the 70’s there was a popular Christian slogan. So popular that Tiffany’s had a lapel pin made. It simply read: “Let Go, Let God.” There comes a point where you must surrender both the unrecoverable past and the unpredictable future to Divine Providence. There comes a point you must break free from the emotion that you have it within your power to wish away past events or to control the unfolding of future events. As long as we hold onto those beliefs, we are like the dog that was tied up day and night. When he was free, he still believed that he had that rope leash on. Sometimes it takes a serious illness or a life changing event. But there is a point that if we could just stop and realize that we cannot control that which we cannot control,
The key to the Kingdom is knowing that even in life’s darkest moments God will not abandon us; that God is one-hundred-per-cent absolutely trustworthy; that however painful life may become, we can be totally confident in the goodness of God to prevail.
So if you trust in the Lord you can move from “uptight,” to “alright!” It will not happen overnight. It needs to be preceded by an introspective look at how you live . It is a time to reflect inward and it is a time to look for the signs of God around you. It is a time to reflect inward and it is a time to look for the signs of God around you When you do, you can come to believe that not only has He been there for you in the past and in the present but He will always be there for you in the future. It is only then that you can Let Go and Let God. Try it. You will be astonished at the change in your life that attitude can bring. And if you are already there then look to your left and to your right and let others know the joy that freedom brings.
- Posted in: Reflections