freedom stories – (insert your name here)

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1, 4-5

What a terrifying day it must have been when Jesus seemed to have disappeared! Even more terrifying was when he started visiting people!! It should be a little terrifying, even today. Rising from the dead. Miracles that we cannot explain. Death and darkness defeated. It is something we dream about for this world. Suffering gone. Hurt gone. Hope restored. And yet Jesus’ brand of freedom can seem like a tough pill to swallow. He calls us to a radical life of giving up our personal brand of freedom and exchanging it for his – one that is powered by his Spirit living in us. When looking at the life of Jesus, who wouldn’t want to have his spirit of compassion, wisdom, truth, justice, love …? Somehow we have subtly shifted the definition of freedom in everyday language to more closely resemble the definition of anarchy: my personal freedom with no interference from authority (anyone else telling me how I should live my life or what is right and what is wrong for me).

My church will be in full celebration mode shortly!! A risen Jesus – a promise that death has no power and that we can share in life because the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us!! Hopelessness has no power. Even when all the world around us seems to shatter to pieces we will not collapse along with it because our hope is built on something that fortifies us with strength! The pressure is off. We don’t have to build our own little governments and come up with all the best ways to live. We have a God whose name is love and rules in justice. All barriers are gone and we are welcome to speak with him face to face with courage. We are forgiven and when we accept that then shame will only ever pass over us like water making its way to the ground. We can live lives of love because we are loved. Yes, this is terrifying!!! It means that we have to give up our ideas of ourselves and what is right. We have to give up our anarchy and submit to an authority that we cannot see with our eyes. Freedom is not what we offer. No human being can fully sum it up or lead you to it. Only God can and his doors are wide open for us to go directly to him for your answers. So here I give you an offering of what I have tested and tried in pursuit of truth and have found strong. I introduce to you Jesus. This conversation is now between you and him (and by the way, he can take your anger, your questions, your disbelief and your hurt! If you need to yell and shout at him, do).

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

Galatians 5:13-18

He is risen! (He is risen indeed!)

If you have a freedom story that you would like to share from the past couple of months, I encourage you to comment below and share it. Thank you for taking this journey with me during Lent 2015.

freedom stories – Kieran

kieranIn my opinion, one must experience enslavement or imprisonment to understand the real meaning of freedom or being “set free”.

My imprisonment was living with a horrendous gambling addiction. The addiction or compulsion to gamble started at around 8 years of age and it came to dominate my life when awake and when asleep through dreams. I managed to pass through life (or so I thought) looking as though there was nothing wrong with me. However, those people who became close to me or my immediate family saw the other side of me, and it wasn’t pretty.

Looking back on my life I feel the primary damage caused by my devotion and enslavement was the time which I gave to it. It was all consuming. I put year after year into pursuing the unattainable. As a man once said to me at a gamblers anonymous meeting and I quote… “If this room which we are sitting in was so full of money that you couldn’t breath, it still wouldn’t be enough”.

Another fall out from this sick way of living is the damage caused to those people who love the addict. To this day and probably for the remainder of my life I will have flashbacks to that hurt and to the trail of devastation which I left. These memories are part of me but I know and believe there is no condemnation.

I hit so called “rock bottom” many times, and many times I thought that I would never gamble again but always returned to the prison, picked up my chains and put them firmly back on.

In spite of numerous best efforts of gamblers anonymous members and meetings, private counselling, time in rehabilitation centres, hypnosis, acupuncture and other forms of treatment I kept my chains firmly in place.

In fact I thought my prison became escape proof and in truth I didn’t want to think of it as a prison because at times I got so much comfort in that state.

However things were to change and in a big way. I was at another one of those low points when I was walking past a south city Dublin church and felt a desire to go in and seek God. I believed in God, a creator of all, the I AM, the Giver of Life. At that time, although I believed and was a Christian, I lived off His grace and took His love for granted. Following this visit to the church, to seek His counsel, a chain of events took place and I experienced a freedom like I have never experienced before. I put my trust and faith in Him more than ever and through him He set me free from my prison.

That happened over a year ago and now I try to serve Him not out of fear but out of love. I have learned that today’s surrender is tomorrow’s freedom. I am set free and give praise to Him for being there for me. I am also very aware that my flesh is very weak and always will be and therefore I must be strong in the Lord and His mighty power.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” NIV Ephesians 6 v12

Kieran

freedom stories – Linda

525846_10152121124230324_1578127370_nFreedom. What does it mean to me to be free? Freedom from pain I suppose. When I say freedom from pain, I mean that it is ok to live again. And to know that it’s ok to live again is exciting! I am a woman coming from huge pain and suffering. I never thought I would be free of that pain. I can take that pain today and I’ve learned how to deal with that in a different way. This is my journey to where I am today of trusting God, how he gave me the freedom to live and this excitement.

Hopeless. A lot of darkness. This is what life was like when I was in pain. Every day I wanted to die. Every single day. I had suicidal thoughts and wondered if it was ever going to end. I couldn’t breathe properly. I didn’t sleep well. I worried every day. I was in fear all the time – that it was going to happen again, that I would lose another son. Another fear was: Am I ever going to live again? How long am I going to carry this awful pain? And part of me was not wanting it to end. I should never be coming out of that pain! Pain hit me because he (my son) was gone and nothing was going to bring him back. Because it was my child I didn’t feel like I deserved to come out of that. It wouldn’t be right to smile again. It wouldn’t be right to be free of that again. I thought I was going to have to carry this for the rest of my life. Every morning I woke up I asked God, “why am I alive again today?” Why do I have to go through this awful pain and loss and darkness and fear? I did this without hating God, because I loved him. I was in that grief for 7 years. There was joy in that time because of what God was doing. I saw that and that is what kept me alive but I still was very much in a very deep, deep sadness.

I suppose I can’t tell you how freedom came. It was a journey that came itself over time. If you asked me four years ago if I would I see myself sitting here today telling you I feel free, I would have said “no.” I never thought I would ever be free of that harrowing pain – that loss of a child. That loss of someone you love so dearly and carried in your belly. And to lose him, I didn’t think I should ever feel free from that again. I would have felt that I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t want anyone to see me smiling because if they saw me they might think that I was all right (but I wasn’t all right). But today I smile and I’m all right because there is so much hope in me. That is what freedom has given me: hope. That it is ok to let go of that pain. And I’m not a bad mother if I do. I used to think I was if I did.

I don’t want to say my freedom is joyful because it’s not. Could I say peaceful? Could I say hopeful? There is joy in my heart because I’m hopeful but not full of joy to be rid of my pain. The joy is that I never thought I could belly laugh again. I never thought I could want to maybe meet someone again. Back then I didn’t think I would live to these years. I thought that pain was going to kill me anyway. I do have a life and God does have a plan and I embrace that now. It feels good. It feels good!

I sit here today clear minded. Not sedated or anything. I can’t believe that! That is a miracle in itself. There is freedom in seeing the peace in my children. There is freedom in watching their careers take shape. They weren’t supposed to be alive with what they went through after Edward’s death and yet they are free men themselves today.

And it is only that God was in that darkness with me, minding me, guiding me, protecting me, spoiling me, lifting me. He was giving me more of him than what other people got of him. In that pain he was giving me more and more and more. I wasn’t going to make it without that “more.” I needed that encounter with God and I had it. His presence overwhelmed me. I knew he had Edward. I know he showed my son grace and mercy. And the hope that kept me moving onto the freedom I have today is that I will see him again. I will know his smile again and that gives me joy.

That gives me joy.

Linda McCabe

freedom stories – Susan

susan

Being honest I had to look the word ‘freedom’ up in the dictionary 🙂 I thought I knew, but there’s no point in going on if I have an unclear idea of what I’m really meant to be talking about!

So here is what the dictionary says:

  • ‘the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action’,
  • ‘the liberation from slavery or restraint, or from power of another’,
  • ‘the quality or state of being exempt or released, usually from something onerous’,
  • ‘the quality of being frank, open or outspoken.’

Well …, that’s not ideal then! It’s looking like I am certainly not living in complete freedom yet and that’s for sure! … and I’m guessing, even if you claim to be a follower of Christ (despite everything you may know, in theory, from the Bible) if you’re really honest, neither are you.

But thanks be to God I am slowly getting there!

I am trying to remember times in my life when I have really felt free. They are mainly in my childhood, and I think that is pretty telling. There was little fear in life or reasons for worry. Back when I was really, really small I didn’t over-think things or concern myself with trying to survive or attain a certain standard to be accepted. I just got on with playing and eating and jumping on frozen puddles and climbing trees and laughing and running down the fields in the fresh air. It was brilliant.

But I am convinced that none of this child-like freedom could have happened if certain crucial things were not in place. There are certain stabilisers in our earthly lives that make space for freedom to happen and for fear to lessen – they provide a solid foundation within us that gives us stability so that we are not concerned with fending for ourselves, physically, emotionally or spiritually.  I can even see it in my adult life – when I have had the greatest sense of freedom it when I feel provided for, safe and unconditionally loved and accepted..

And as I write this it is being confirmed to me that if I truly become more ‘stabilised’ in my inner being by all that Jesus has on offer to me then I will be well on my journey to ultimate freedom in adult life. If I can grasp, by his Spirit,  just one little bit more every day of how much I am accepted, and loved without condition and will be looked after by my Father in heaven, then all the insecurities or fears that hold me back or press me down will decrease in direct proportion.

Here are a few things I have learned so far:

  1. There is no need any more to try to live up to what others expect of me or what I think God expects of me. I know now what God thinks about me. He loves me. He knows my heart and he loves my heart. Freedom! 🙂
  2. His spirit whispers peace into mine when I come and say sorry … again and again, often for the same thing. He knows I am not perfect and I am starting to accept that I don’t have to try to be. And this stability, this never-failing love and acceptance frees me just to be me. Freedom!
  3. And it allows me to fail :). And very importantly it allows me to let others fail.  And it picks me up and dusts me off when I nose-dive into the depths of sin. Because he knew all along I was going to fail. And it’s all ok – thank you Jesus! Freedom! 🙂
  4. Jesus said ‘Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.’ Please understand me when I say I am not promoting sinfulness, but it is a delight to know how much you have been forgiven … and that has come to me when I have played it less ‘safe’, didn’t live to please others (be it Christian or otherwise), and lived less like a robot programmed by rules and more like a child of God. Running the risks of navigating the full spectrum of life with God’s Spirit there to help, rather than staying in a safe risk-free bubble where the air is stifled and everything slowly becomes restricted and lifeless, including me. Freedom! 🙂
  5. You won’t please all of the people all of the time – the fear of man is a snare … I need more work here I think!

So all thanks to the Lord for teaching me and nudging me and not leaving me the way I was. Not the prettiest  journey to freedom or the shortest route but I’m getting there!  My freedom wings have just unfurled and are making little flaps off the ground … I can’t wait to fly higher … and become like a trusting little child again!

‘…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’  2 Cor 3:17

Susan

freedom stories – Eoghan

eoghan

Mark 4:35-41 Jesus and the shape of freedom.

I love this passage from Mark chapter four. There’s just something about this ‘Sunday school classic’ that has always caught my attention, because I think there’s a lot more going on here than at first meets the eye. Beneath all of the moving parts on the surface of the story, the wind, the waves, the journey to the other side, the disciple’s loss of perspective, something else is going on.

At its very core this text shows us two things. Firstly it shows us something about Jesus and in doing that it shows us something about how we are invited to imagine life. Whatever we understand about this text, it’s clear that Mark wants us to see Jesus. But not in an abstract sense, Jesus the idea, Mark wants us to see Jesus in the flesh, because that’s the beating heart of the Christian message, that: God came in the flesh. Jesus is more than an idea. Jesus is our model for what human life looks like. A truly human life will always be Jesus shaped. This is hugely significant for us as disciples in terms of what we understand it means to be free, or to live freely.

Jesus and the Disciples were in the same place at the same time, suffering in the same kind of way, faced with the same kind of danger, but something is different. What is it? What do we see if we look past the surface of the story? I think Mark wants us to sit up and to take notice of the difference between the way in which Jesus was present in the boat and how the disciples were in that moment. See how the text finishes in verse 41 with the question ‘Who is this?’ Mark has us exactly where he wants us, with Jesus at the centre. If we stick to a surface reading of the text we might find ourselves left with a picture of Jesus where he needs to be pulled reluctantly from a nap, indifferent to the situation around him. But I think there’s far more going on here.

This isn’t just a gale like the kind of weather we’ve had in Dublin throughout winter this year. Take another look at the text, verse 37 tells us that the waves and breakers were beginning to fill the boat. The boat was starting to break apart. This is not a picture of the kind of setting most conducive to sleep. So what else might Mark be trying to show us? What if Jesus’ actions here are a picture for us of the shape of life we’re invited to adopt in our own lives as disciples. Where we’re present in the boat of life, storms and all, but free. Free enough to be at peace. Jesus’ actions here call us into a lifestyle rooted in relationship with the Father, lived out of rest not fear.

Jesus’ life is the true shape of freedom.

Eoghan Heaslip

freedom stories – Ned

freedom stories – Donal

Some thoughts on Freedom

‘In my anguish I cried to the Lord and he set me free.’ Psalm 118:5.

“Freedom”, few words resonate as vividly as that word. Everyone loves freedom. Here in Ireland a popular Irish-language girls’ name, Saoirse, literally means freedom. In 2016 we will celebrate – and argue passionately about – the centenary of the revolutionary event in 1916 that ultimately led to Irish “freedom”. People right across the political spectrum support freedom, they promise it and they claim ownership over it. Freedom from foreign domination, freedom from the state, and then freedom from others, freedom to do what you want, freedom to stop others doing what they want; ultimately freedom to make the word itself mean whatever you want.

‘Jesus – it is only in your will that I am free’ sings Belfast singer-songwriter Robin Mark in ‘Jesus, All For Jesus’. This is, for me, one of the tantalizing paradoxes at the centre of Christian faith, one that that makes no sense and yet makes perfect sense. When I became a Christian on Easter Sunday almost two years ago – relatively late in life – one of my strongest intuitions was an aching desire to just relax into the will of God, finally. To know that delicate dance of free will and God’s will that can only be lived and is never perfect, but you keep on trying, in freedom.

‘I will walk in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.’ Psalm 119:45.

What is this endlessly fresh sort of freedom, this freedom in Christ? It is freedom from dull, arbitrary convention – freedom from the gnawing selfishness that says there is a higher power and you’re it – freedom from the mainstream myth of individual limitlessness when a mature sense of boundary is so often what shapes and strengthens a person’s character – freedom from a cultural mindset that so often loudly fetishes the word freedom and yet rejoices in dreary determinism: economic, biological, psychological: it’s not my fault, your honour, the genes made me do it.

Messy, awkward, beautiful, true and eternal – freedom.

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5: 13-14

Donal Casey