Galatians 5 reads:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
As I reflected on freedom for the better part of this week, Galatians 5 wouldn’t leave my mind. I kept thinking “There’s a lot of ways that passage could read. It could say “For Love, for justice, for good works or for mercy Christ has set us free.” To say for freedom Christ has set us free almost seems too obvious confusing, like saying “It is what is.” But I don’t think this is a typo.
If it is for freedom that we have been set free, the most important question to answer is “what is freedom?” My first thoughts on freedom had to do with a childish view of this concept: I thought to myself “ being free means having no rules, doing what we want, being completely uninhibited.” However, nothing about my Christian walk, or even just my life’s observations, tell me that it is for a life without rules or inhibitions that Christ has set us free; that this is a good kind of life or a life we should aspire to.
My own experience says that boundaries, rules, commitments, and mutual obligations made in love are what gives life meaning, and indeed are at the heart of the life together found in the early church and any church. Lord knows, they are an important part of life here at Lydia’s’ House.
So if Christ set us free for Freedom, what does it mean to be truly free? If we read on in Galatians we see that Paul defines freedom as not submitting again to a life of slavery. Here is this community we have seen slavery in many forms: addiction to drugs and alcohol, abusive and controlling relationships, bondage to exploitative work for the sake of survival, self harm, self defeating thoughts. If Christ has set us free for freedom, we at Lydia’s House believe strongly in being a community where people of all walks of life can be set free from addictions and from a past of bondage.
Paul goes on to tell the Galatians not to use their freedom as opportunity for the flesh but to serve one another. Freedom isn’t a chance to do anything we want, but rather to serve. When I think of my own journey of the past years, if I use an immature definition of freedom, I have made myself anything but free. Six years ago I made a lifelong commitment to Ben, 2 and 5 years ago we made a life long commitment to Annie and Sam, I joined the Catholic Church , together our family bought a house in this neighborhood, making a large financial and time commitment to being in Norwood, and of course, we sacrificed a lot to help open this house. We gave up free time, available money, and continue to be on the chore and house duty rotation, doing things here instead of, perhaps, things that seem more gratifying in the short run.
But what I’ve found is that I was set free, and with that freedom I’ve chosen to enter into mutual and life giving commitments, commitments that I hope will lead to the liberation of others. Perhaps the greatest sign of our freedom well used is this: that through it freedom spreads. My freedom is not freedom to spend my money or time on things that only benefit me but put others in bondage; my freedom is an opportunity through love to serve others and to give them a chance too at the fullness of life. And the good news is, through this giving I too become even more free. It doesn’t make sense on the surface, but I can attest that these commitments have given me the very freedom that Paul speaks of.
Paul concludes this speech on freedom with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We see at Lydia’s House every day those who live in this house and make up this community truly loving one another. This community is a community where we’ve all chosen to live in the freedom of Christ—not a self serving freedom, but an others centered freedom. We’re embracing new rules and commitments that make community work, and fighting hard to throw off the yoke of our past bondage or disordered thinking. I think it’s fair to say that everyone living in this house and some outside it are more free because of the way we’ve chosen to love and care for one another.
This Advent season, take time to ask yourself “To what am I in bondage? “ And then ask “As I wait expectantly for the coming Christ what is the freedom for which he comes to set me free?”
Reflection written by Lydia’s House co-director Mary Ellen