by Jennifer Phillips
I’ve probably given freedom a myriad of definitions throughout the years. At eight years old, freedom was permission to ride my bike around our entire townhouse complex, sans parents. When I was thirteen, freedom looked like rolling someone’s house at nine pm, and then boastfully rejoicing with my co-conspirators as we strutted victoriously through the neighborhood … until that cop arrived, chased us on foot, and shined his flashlight down on our heap of adolescent bodies that did not realize there was a significant drop-off behind the bush our good buddy Clay leaped behind. Clay got away. I hold no grudge. I also never lie.
Freedom has appeared as minivans parked at karaoke joints for epic Girls’ Nights Out. (Why, yes, that is spit-up down the back of my sweater, but dadgum it, I have broken out of my house of toddlers and I will own this stage. Bored middle-aged woman in the back who wishes she had another job, cue “Alone” by Heart, please. This is MY TIME.) It has also arrived as sweet anniversary trips with my husband (take me back, NYC!), and uninterrupted heart conversations with dear friends over hot drinks and the perfect chocolate cake.
Emotionally, freedom shows up as healed wounds and grudges laid aside and choosing not to assume the thoughts and motivations of another. It comes in living in the now instead of what was, and resting in what I know and not in what may or may not be.
If you have read any number of my blog posts, you know that I champion freedom from the expectation of perfection because life is messy, faith is messy, and in this world, brokenness abounds. I preach this to myself. I preach this to others. I walk in this kind of freedom. Yes, I do.
Except, two people who know me well recently told me I don’t.
How dare they?!
I’m finishing up a lecture series by Julie Sparkman called Idol Addiction (Run, don’t walk, to Restore Ministries and download these lectures. Seriously life changing.), and I was telling my husband about how the study has given me insight into the cycle of anxiety I often find myself in. I clearly expressed my situation:
Me: “I get it now! The lie I believe is, ‘I can’t cope with ________ situation,” so anxiety builds and I respond in these ways. I just need to preach to myself that God is enough and has given me everything I need for any situation.”
Brian: “That’s true, but I feel like something else is driving that lie…like, the expectations you place on yourself and others.”
Ex-cuse me? Oh no he didn’t.
The next day I shared my epiphanies with another friend, who replied, “It sounds like you don’t think it’s okay for you to mess up.”
Okay, those are fighting words. Have you two not read my blog? I am all about that grace, people. I’m all about some resting in Jesus because only He is perfect and I realize my limitations.
This may be my mantra, but my anxiety level shouts a different story.
It’s kind of like that time I was singing a worship song during church. It was a familiar song, and my mind was miles away. I neared the end of the verse while probably dreaming of my Sunday afternoon nap, when I glanced over and saw two friends doubled over in hysterics. It was at this moment that I realized I had been confidently, VERY LOUDLY singing verse three when everyone else was singing verse two. I was singing entirely different words than everyone else, and I had no idea.
Such is the case for me and my tangible living-out of brokenness. I say I am broken. I say my environment, relationships, and people I love are broken; therefore, I can’t expect perfection.
BUT I DO.
The knots in my stomach. The panic. The anger. The desire to jump ship and take up karaoke full time – they all say, “How dare my life be full of thorns and thistles! It’s all up to me to manage the madness, and I am failing miserably.”
Of course I feel like I can’t cope! If my expectation is peace in the home at all times, then when the conflict throughout the fifteen relationships that exist under my roof is incessant, of course I can’t deal! If my expectation forever and always is a clean house, no wonder I lose it when the toys are sprawled across the floor again. If I expect myself to respond calmly and lovingly to my child every single time, then no wonder I’m devastated when I don’t.
Can I tell you? I am shocked to see this driving force behind my anxiety. But should I be? We are fighting an uphill battle, my friends. Walk into any Christian bookstore, and peruse the parenting aisle. The titles are almost accusatory. They may as well say:
Connect with Your Child – or Else!
Your Child Should be Happy All the Time!
Don’t Blow it with Your Teen!
This is Your One Shot – You’d Better Make it Count!
You Can Be the Wife of a Happy Husband – if You Follow These 987 steps!
Julie Sparkman says, “Moms, you’re not as important as you think you are,” but 98% of modern Christian parenting and marriage books say you are extremely important, so you’d better not screw this up. We feel the pressure, and it’s too much. We cannot cope.
Woman, do you want to be free? Really free?
Rest in this: It. Is. Finished.
There is nothing you can do to add to Jesus’ work on the cross, so stop trying so hard. Stop trying to earn your spiritual stripes through well-behaved children and a “peaceful” home and magazine-worthy photos of your so-called life. Eden is behind us – we don’t live there anymore, so stop pretending like you do. Heaven is before us – we haven’t been called home yet. In the meantime, pursue holiness, righteousness, and peace, but don’t demand those things, because they have not been promised to you in their entirety in this place that’s merely a shadow of what’s to come.
Because Jesus has changed you, you are free to love Him with reckless abandon, and you are safe as you fail along the way. Give permission for your environment and others around you to fail too.
The success of your kid’s school project? Not up to you. A spotless house 24/7? Not up to you. Stunning career? Not up to you. A perfect marriage? Not up to you. Commendable behavior from your children? Not up to you.
Do you preach grace but live with your stomach in knots? It’s time to be honest with yourself. You are not walking in what you know. We must remind ourselves and each other of what is true.
Woman, in this life, you WILL have troubles. STOP BEING SURPRISED. But take heart; He has overcome the world.
Stop trying so hard to attain what’s unattainable through human efforts, in this life. What counts in eternity has already been done for you. You know what that means?
You Are Free.