The Exchange for Freedom

How can we break the chains of others if ours are not broken first?

I once heard a pastor reference that, in all the re-telling of the stories we find in scripture, the disciples are never once found praying for themselves, only for others.

But me, I meditate on the things of myself all the time - I’ve been selfish with my path to freedom, because if we don’t first do that for ourselves, how can we ever know how to help the others that we love. We end up drawing them into more bondage, more weight, if we don’t take care of ourselves. It’s not self-help, it’s self-realization instigated by self awareness: knowing ourselves.

We can be shown our worthiness, we can be shown that we belong, we can be told of the light we carry and the things we are capable of (which is truly all things), but the experience of these is what we need because we are an experience-driven world. The truth can be heard, or it can be experienced. We can hear about it and even re-tell it, but until we’ve lived it, we truly have no idea.

There is no manual for spiritual freedom. But what there is is a grueling, beautiful, stripping away that is required for a rebirth into the supernatural. There is also your choice to let it happen. Have I lost you yet? Stay with me.

Experience is the most powerful anecdote that we have. It paints the picture, provides the emotion, and tells the story in first person. It creates the story. But experience re-told is just a story, albeit a very powerful one. But we don’t crave the story, we crave the experience. So what of the experience of broken chains and freedom? For that experience, your life has to be the re-telling of that story. It requires something greater than words:

The stripping away of judgement, condemnation, and comparison just as you have experienced it for yourself.

The realization that there isn’t right and wrong, but there is the truth of Jesus and what your individual soul, what your self means to the creator of the universe, a realization you have to experience for yourself.

The new knowledge that you are responsible for your own choices - you hold the power to choose and you are your own accountability, so what now are you going to choose? What outcome do you want?

When you have come to know this freedom, intentionality and vulnerability both follow. They become your new unavoidable truths. Truths worth sharing, vital to re-tell.

We first break our chains to break the chains of others. We say yes to freedom for ourselves, stripping away lies, untruths, disbelief, and a less-than-worthy opinion of ourselves to experience the breakthrough. And once we’ve known it, then we can share it. But we have to be willing to know it and keep ourselves open to its depth; depth that draws others in. Freedom wants to be known and to be shared, we just have to stay accountable to it.

Petite Allegro

There is something that is a part of the regular structure of a ballet class called petite allegro. Petite allegro basically translates into small and brisk and describes a particular kind of combination of jumps. It’s crucial for a ballerina to know where every single part of her body is at all times and what kind and amount of energy each part is exerting. In petite allegro, the memory,  quickness, endurance, and execution of a dancer is put to the test with this jump sequence. Not only is the dancer forced to remember each step and perform them fluidly, but also use the sequence to travel across the stage, occasionally changing directions. It’s purpose is to make the audience believe that what’s happening on stage is easy and fun, but for me, it was never either of those two things. 

Petite allegro was the part of class I despised the most. I was much more into the slow moving combinations of class that involved flexibility and strength, like grand battements or pliés. My feet did not like to move quickly and they certainly did not like to remember the number of tiny movements strung together from beginning to end – I was way more interested in the end goal than the process of getting there. A long slow curtsy  to say “thank you” at the end of class? Now that was something I nailed every single time. 

As much as I’ve tried to forget, the pattern of a petite allegro is burned into my memory forever: tombé pas de burré, glissade, jeté, and then to the left. I would consistently struggle my way through to the last movement just in time for the final plié and stretch to finish. My ballet teacher would expect this going into the jumping portion of class and knew my challenge with petite allegro. As encouraging as she was by making me do it again and again, she would always end by saying, “Audrey, you’re much too concerned with the end goal and not concerned enough with how you’re getting there.” And she was right. I only wanted to think about the where and the when, never the how. I wanted the completed ending, the final destination, the end scene and roll the credits, thank you and farewell.

 Along with my other struggles, this mentality has translated into every other area of my life. I know what I want the particular ending of things to look like, but I struggle to take the necessary steps to get there. It’s not laziness or lack of motivation, it’s getting caught up in how to go about doing it that’s always the problem.  There’s nothing worse for me than having to think through every single teeny tiny piece of the puzzle in order to arrive at the grand finale - I try to avoid that at all costs and instead blaze a trail full steam ahead in the direction I think I’m supposed to be going. But life doesn’t work like that, and I’m thankful that it doesn’t, even though I would be much more comfortable 100% of the time if it did. Some of you are reading this with zero surprise - hi Sister. Some of you are reading this and recognizing the same qualities in yourself, especially if you’re an enneagram 7...

So, what do we do?  How do we combat the desire to skip through the hard stuff? Well, the good news here is that the “hard stuff” is necessary for the finish that we have in mind. Our grand finale won’t be the magnificent thing we’ve always imagined it to be if we’re not taking the time to give the journey the respect it’s so deserving of. We can arrive somewhere having grown, gotten better, and learned more about ourselves, or we can arrive the same as we were when we started.

The latter doesn’t sound so bad until you think about the beginning and the end of your life; imagine fighting through the same problems over and over again only to realize that making a simple change in your approach and focusing a little more on the in between yields a different result - a better result. One that leaves you more accomplished, stronger, more mindful, less bitter, living with freedom.

I’m still working on this and I bet that some of you are with me on that. So please, if you see me skirting the rules to get by, encourage me to go deeper and really learn the steps; to take my mind off the end goal, trust God through the process, and let the timing of my life play out beautifully by default.

 

Success

One time, I had to answer the following question before a large, anticipating crowd of strangers and a panel of judges:

"What is the definition of true success?"

I took a deep breath, smiled, and said robotically into the microphone, "true success, to me, is doing something you love with your life that allows you to be giving to others while supplying happiness to yourself."

And the audience roared with cheers and applause as I was announced as a finalist for National Cherry Queen.

I'm in no way being hard on my younger self, but knowing I said those words out loud makes me want to run away to another country and stay there until I don't remember how to speak English anymore. Those words were said by me during a season where I had just graduated from college and ran full speed ahead at the world, arms stretched, smile wide, totally clueless.

It wouldn't be fair to say that I wish I could go back and do it over again; I think the worst thing we can ever be is ashamed of our past selves. We were meant to look back with grace and wisdom, thankful for all that we've learned and experienced, not harshly critical of how much we didn't know.

But, I did not have any idea what true success was. I thought I knew and I pretended to know enough to stand up in front of a crowd and proclaim what it was, but now I understand that true success is actually an enigma; we keep trying to measure it to portray how much of it we have, but at it's core, success is immeasurable. 

We think we can measure success with money, followers, likes, awards, accolades, test scores - we think we can do this because we think of success as the opposite of failure. We, as a culture, think of success as what happens when we get what we think it is we want. The world is constantly layering tools in our hands and sending us out with a wave of it's societal wand to head off to make and then measure our personal success. But let's step outside of the box of proposed logic and into the realm on unicorn dust for a second. Trust me, I was almost a Queen.

I have a critical nature. The one person most susceptible to this criticism is myself. When I see the parts of myself that I don't like mirrored in other people, I am critical of them. When I trip over myself because my crush walks past and there go all my kids for cats, I am critical of myself. When my hair doesn't lay just right or my stomach doesn't stay flat in my jeans, I am harsh and unloving in response. All this criticism has grown over time because of my deep desire to be right.

At that previously mentioned point in my life, my success had been measured in scores from judges, scholarships won or lost, exam grades, and hearing back after an audition. There was a great emphasis on everything in my life to get it right, do it right, be right

My life changed when I acknowledge the critic in me and became aware of the daily necessity to lay it down before I stepped out the door, and definitely before I interacted with others. If I didn't, I would hurt people (and occasionally I still do) with a measuring mindset and sharp words said hastily in protection of being more right than them; if I couldn't be right, I'd failed. Now, when I feel the need to be right creep up in my throat, I (most times) take a deep breath and apply grace to myself and the other person, reminding myself to listen and comprehend their perspective instead of supplying a hasty competitive jab with a fist clenched in pride.

 So, now I see snuggled in too close for comfort the word “right” with the word “success”. I see that the younger me believed that what was successful was “right” and vice versa. This thought strangled the creative in me - the creative I was made to vividly be. Until I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I couldn’t untie the two words. My freedom to live and pursue the things I knew in my bones I was made to pursue was stifled by the uncharted idea that success was attainable through accomplishments and measured by how well they were completed. My way of “supplying happiness” to myself was poisonously tainted by the idea that success held the key to joy.

At first glance, maybe there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the answer my 22-year-old self gave. But, beneath the surface, I know what she really knew; she was afraid to step outside of the lines, afraid of what people would think of her if she failed, afraid to be her full self.

Eventually, I figured it out — that success can’t come close to bringing the joy that genuine connection, relationships, exploration, and creativity can. One of my favorite publications posted a quote by Mark Twain today, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with”. Someone, not something. So that second part about true success leaving room for ways to be giving to others? That part makes total sense.

Hope Deferred

Hope is the thing that clutches in our chest when we want something, but we’re not sure how it’s going to play out. It calls on our vulnerability to first admit that we want something and then our courage to take the first step in going after that something. Sometimes, going after that something looks a lot like living with steady patience, enduring the race and taking step after step in only the belief of what is hoped for. 

When we hope, we put a stake in the ground for change. We allow ourselves to believe in the unseen and rely on a dream or a longing. Sometimes, our hope is blind or in vain, because we haven’t been wise enough to check the intentions of our hope before pursing it. 

I’ll be the first to say that I’ve been burnt out on hope. The first sign that I’ve lost all hope in my life is that I stop praying for the things I’m hoping for. I stop praying for people, for outcomes, for dreams to come true. Recently, I figured out why my hope has been left smoldering in the doorway, alone and untouched. 

Our hope is only as good as what we’re putting our hope in. Weird, I know, but it’s true. If we don’t trust our ultimate source of hope, we stop communicating our hope to that source. For me, that source is Jesus. When we stop communicating our hopes to Him, instead, we communicate, “I don’t trust you.”

Our hope burns out because of our vision. Our version of the outcome will be different from God’s version, because what we can imagine will never be as good as what He can do with our lives. If we haven’t checked our expectations of what we’re hoping for against His word and His timing, our hope will set up camp in a forest of heartbreak and letdowns. That’s how we get burnt out - we’re trying to ride out our version of the story and not God’s better version.  

Hope looks a lot more like waiting than it does receiving. In our culture, we live in the juxtaposition of, “give me the things that require hard work over time, but give them to me now.” We’ve grown so accustomed to receiving immediate recognition that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to let something grow overtime into a glorious representation of all that we’ve accomplished. Let’s use wine as an example.

There’s a reason that better wines are more expensive and it’s because of quality and time. We can choose to buy that $7 bottle (I bought one for $3.40 when I was in Rome) and not think twice about pouring a glass, until we feel awful the next morning, our body diluted with sugar and sulfates. Or, we can buy a bottle of wine that has given the grapes time; time to mature, time to grow into a better flavor, time to be enjoyed paired with a delicious meal and wonderful company. It leads me to the question, what are we trying to make out of our lives?  

Living with belief in God, hope is required. It’s not a hope for today or tomorrow, but a hope for what happens after we die - hope in God’s promise of eternal life. It’s this constant hope that gives us the courage to take steps into directions away from immediate receival of things and towards patience, trust, and growth. We can be stronger than the desire for immediacy and we can let our character strengthen over time - imagine the goodness waiting at the end after the struggles endured by someone of whom patience is required. Greatness does not come overnight, it comes from a steady pursuit over time that aknowledges a hope deferred to eternity - a hope that is worth far more than what is required for immediate satisfaction. 

Where in your life do you need to replace settling with guided hope?