Today we celebrate the day of American Independence, the 4th of July. Independence Day is the day we celebrate our freedom – specifically, freedom from monarchist rule. The Declaration of Independence articulates our forefather’s vision of freedom and the Constitution of the United States spells out in detail how our government is called to live that out. As we celebrate this day of freedom, I invite us to reflect on what freedom really means for each of us as individuals and as individuals living in a larger world.
In the United States, we think of freedom in the context of the liberties that we enjoy as free citizens. Freedom of speech, separation of church and state, the freedom to vote, the right to bear arms, etc. The Constitution outlines what these freedoms are and our courts are responsible for upholding these liberties. We enjoy more freedoms and civil liberties than perhaps any other country in the world, but even with all of these external freedoms, are we truly free? I would argue that for many, the answer is “no.”
Freedom Outside vs. Freedom Within
In our nation, we have been brought up to believe that freedom is defined by what is outside of us – by the laws and constitutional rights that allow us to “be free.” After all, we are “The Home of the Free,” and we wave our flags and banners proudly in celebration of this freedom. From a spiritual and psychological perspective, however, freedom is not defined or experienced by what is outside of us, but by what is happening within. While we may enjoy certain civil liberties and appreciate the value of our freedoms, if we are inwardly struggling with anxiety, worry, fear, guilt or shame, we are not truly free. If we carry within us the unhealed wounds and hurts of our childhood, we are not free. If we harbor resentment or envy toward another or laud our accomplishments, power or fame over another, we are not truly free. If we hold back our gifts or our truth or are hindered in our ability to be the person God created us to be, we are not free. If we seek revenge on those who hurt us or build walls of separation between those we don’t understand, we are not free. If we judge another person by their race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation, we are not free. If we suffer from depression, we know we are not free. When we fear that our needs will not be met in a way that causes us take more than we need and hoard or waste our excess, we are not free. When our inner insecurities or fears cause us to disrespect others or the earth which provides for our survival, we are not free. We may have all of the civil liberties granted to us by our Constitution, but until we address the lack of freedom within ourselves, we will never truly be free.
Authentic Freedom is not measured by what is happening outside of us, but by what is happening within. Authentic Freedom is known by a persistent and enduring experience of inner peace, love and joy. In knowing this inner experience of freedom, we are then free to be the person God created us to be – uniquely gifted in a way that when acted upon gives us a sense of inner fulfillment and when shared in the world, works for the betterment of all. Authentic Freedom is at once an inner experience and a way of living. Through Authentic Freedom we have the tools we need to move through the struggles of the human condition and to do so from a place of compassion and love. When we as individuals cultivate Authentic Freedom within us, we cannot help but draw others toward cultivating that freedom within themselves, the end result of which would be the creation of what Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as “the beloved community.” As a free nation, this should ultimately be our wish, our desire, our hope and our goal. For as a nation, we will never truly be free until we are first free within ourselves, and then work toward facilitating inner freedom in others. And as a nation, we will never truly be free until this freedom spills out over our borders into the nations that live beside us and all around us, spreading a blanket of compassion, love and peace that covers the whole world. As we celebrate our freedom today, let this be our prayer: “Authentic Freedom and justice for all.”