Free reminds me that my love should be given as a gift, asking nothing in return.
Free reminds me that my sweet toddler boy is his own wild person, made to test and explore the world unfolding before him.
Free reminds me that I am no longer restricted by the spiritual rules I once allowed to be imposed upon me, because I am free to make my own decisions, and I am capable of defining my own relationship with God.
It's this last one that has most revolutionized my world.
I don't blame the Church entirely. They handed over the cuffs, but I locked them on and threw away the key. I was the one who continued writhing pointlessly under my shackles when I should have been searching for a way out.
You see, the message I heard all my life was that the way to know God (and O how deeply I have wanted to know God), was to read the Bible, pray endlessly, attend church, and serve. I engraved those rules into my heart and I lived them wholeheartedly for many many many years. Then one day, they just stopped working. And the message I received then was try harder.
Draw close to God [in the ways we have taught you] and he will draw close to you.
Seek [in this direction] and you will find.
Knock [in just the right spot] and the door will be opened.
But I felt more and more overwhelmed and confronted every time I opened the Bible. I felt more sick to my stomach every time I tried to pray. I walked out of communion after communion in tears. I left church service after church service exhausted by my own inauthenticity.
So what choice did I have? I felt abandoned, unloved, and condemned, with no end in sight. Forced to choose between my religious identity and my emotional health, I chose the latter. I stopped reading the bible, then praying, then going to church.
I began to art journal. I began to read poetry. I began to glean wisdom from faith traditions other than my own. I began to believe all truth is God's truth. I began to spend my Sunday mornings blissfully away from all the questions about myself and God and Christianity that I cannot answer.
One evening, late at night, I hand wrote the words to a poem by the Muslim mystic Rumi into my art journal. And it was in that moment more than any other in the last four years, that I felt a piece of my heart melt. For the first time in a long long time, I felt a sense of peace and warmth towards God. For the first time ever, I felt comforted, rather than threatened, by boundless mystery.
And that is a gift that free gave me. Free is teaching me to assert the validity and value of my own identity, my own way of looking at things. You can disagree with me. You can object to my theology. But no matter what I believe, you do not get to take Jesus away from me. No matter how unorthodox my life, you do not have the authority to control my relationship with God. It may have taken me a long time, but I have found the key, I have unlocked the cuffs, and you do not get to say where God can or cannot be found in my life or anyone else's.
That is the truth I am finding in the beautiful wilderness of free, and it is mine to keep.