Freedom: The Dignity of our Own Choice

July 24, 2017

There was a time in my life when I felt defined by how others treated me. I carried around what had happened to me, which continued to hurt me and also limit my progress. But it wasn’t who I really was. The thing that made a difference in how I felt about myself was realizing my own power to choose.  The scriptures call this freedom the “agency” of man, or the ability to “act” and not merely “to be acted upon.”  The Declaration of Independence describes it as part of an unalienable endowment from our Creator.  But how can this be true?  We all experience times when other people’s choices “act upon” us, when our freedom is restricted or altogether taken away.

I have come to learn that God’s plan helps us to be free from the inside out, making us powerful agents in our own story.  In other words, our very souls have sovereignty.  His is not a plan of “freedom from” something else, but of “freedom to act in the dignity of our own choice.”  I would like to share several experiences that helped me to declare my independence.  The first was to forgive and the second was to actively accept responsibility for my own actions.

My growing-up years were blessed by loving, devoted parents, but they were also pockmarked by the sadness and division of divorce, the confusion and anguish of sexual abuse, and the defensive posture resulting from conflict I could not control.  Even after I left home, I felt trapped by the effects of my experiences, long after the direct harm was past.  I went away to college, attended counseling, and began to get some perspective on my situation.  With perspective came a great deal of anger.  I could sense that my Heavenly Father was leading and teaching me, but I didn’t know where to put all the hurt and blame.

During a church mission to The Netherlands, I met and served many people, both the Dutch and the refugees they hosted, who were recovering from the effects of war.  The broader the world became to me, the more I saw that my struggles were not unique; they were but a drop in the vast ocean of human suffering.  It all felt so overwhelming at times.  Where was God in all of this?  Didn’t He care how His children were hurting each other?

It came to a head one day when I was looking out the window from a city bus. I saw a frustrated and tired mom yell fiercely at her son for doing something.  When she turned her back to keep walking, the boy turned to his younger brother and hit him in the face.  Such a small moment.  Such an insignificant, mundane occurrence, but I sat there and cried.  The smallest boy was so confused and hurt.  I just wanted to jump off the bus and hug him.

The things is, these were not bad people.  They seemed representative to me of how we are all hurting, plagued by insecurities, failing energies, and unmet needs.  But our response to these deficits can trickle down and have terrible consequences in the lives of others.  How can we ever be truly free if all we do is react to the triggers of conflict, selfishness and competition all around us?

This experience helped me to see that things are more complex than the “good guy” and the “bad guy.” I began to think about the mom and the older brother.  Surely the mom wasn’t a bad mom.  Just an ordinary one at the end of a long day.  And the older brother seemed to be trying to find power in his life, perhaps the only way he knew how.   Maybe those who had hurt me when I was young had been hurt somehow, too.  I know that there is no excuse for the abuse of another person.  (And please don’t read anything I write today to lead you to believe that you should stay in or enable an abusive relationship!)  But with the gradations of human experience playing out before my eyes, I began to feel an ounce of compassion for the “bad guys” in my story.

When I got home from my mission, I had the opportunity to share my feelings with my mom on a quiet day before Christmas.  Hugging me, she told me how sorry she was.  I realized that I had craved an apology.  I had wanted someone to recognize my pain and make amends.  But it also wasn’t what I really needed.  An apology could never change what had happened or restore what I had lost.  It would never be enough.

As I had that thought, the story of Jacob and Esau came to my mind.  I had just been reading in my scriptures of how  Esau runs to meet Jacob, and embraces him, and falls on his neck, and kisses him after years apart.  And whereas both had been struggling with the heart-breaking deficits and wounds in their relationship, they both take the opportunity to say, “I have enough.”

I suddenly felt how very true those words were.  Things would never be the same as they were before I was hurt, but I had enough to move forward.  As with Jacob and Esau, the grace of Christ had played out over a number of years, mending wounds and opening up a space for compassion and forgiveness. I thought of my heartache in context of all I had seen and learned on my mission and felt a kind of crossroads open up in my heart.  I could either continue to harbor anger and bitterness from my past or I could try to find a way to let it completely go.

All in the space of that hug, I chose to believe in Christ’s ability to heal, restore, and execute fair judgment in this whole mess of a mortal life.  I gave up the fight for restitution and my demand for an explanation.  I took a breath and I leaned into my mom’s neck, as I had wanted to so many times as a little girl, and I let the tears go.  I made my choice.  I wanted peace more than payment.

When I returned to college a few weeks later, I began dating a really cute guy (whom I would eventually marry).  I really liked him, so I was devastated when we started to have conflict over a silly wedding date.  It seemed so trivial, but it eventually took us to the brink of how much we trusted each other.  My fiancé broke up with me and said something like: “Don’t worry.  I don’t blame you.  I know you come from a rough past.”  And then left.  The state.  I was so mad!  Who was this self-righteous guy that thought he could condescend from his perch of a perfect past to tell me that he didn’t blame me?!

After I took some time to cool down and cry a little (okay, a lot), I realized that the reason it bugged me so badly was because I didn’t want to be held hostage by my past.  I wasn’t actually mad at him – just angry that my past had followed me this far and had the power to steal more joy.  I had taken some pretty major steps to move forward, but I was still considered broken.  And then it occurred to me that I had been carrying my past around like a badge.  It had been my identity.  But I did not actually want to be defined by what had happened in my life or by what others thought of me.  I would rather be defined by my own choices.

When my boyfriend came back to town, we had a lot to work through.  Paramount on my list was having a conversation about my accountability.  I told him that he should expect me to be responsible for the mistakes I had made, so we could work through and learn from them the way we would work through his mistakes.  In order to step out of the shadow of my past, I needed to be accountable for my actions.  Said George Bernard Shaw: “Liberty means responsibility.”  And in gospel terms, responsibility means repentance.  I knew that I was not responsible for the abuse and conflict I had suffered when I was young.  But I also knew that it would require humility and sensitivity to the Spirit to avoid repeating some of the destructive patterns I had seen modeled in my childhood home.

I sit at my desk now, having just gotten off the phone, laughing with my mom, and having kissed my husband as he went back to his office for a late night of work.  I am truly amazed at how free I feel from all of the trauma I carried around for so long.  I have released my claim on payment and have instead laid claim to my own future.  In some ways, carrying the resentment and blame for my past was like wearing an old, worn-out coat.  It never really kept me warm, but it was familiar.  Casting it off left me feeling vulnerable and uncertain.  But I also felt free.  Free to leave behind the confusion, fear, and anger and move toward a life that is now full of a great deal of joy.    I’m sure I still have a lot to learn, but I think God might look at me and think, “She’s finally beginning to see.”

Earlier I asked the question: Where was God in all of this?  Now I can see Him in all of it.  As painful as it often was, He didn’t pluck me out of the world and hold me in His arms, like I so badly wanted.  He didn’t strike down the “bad guys” or force an apology.  He didn’t deliver mercy or justice when I demanded them.  But He did – He does – deliver.  Through the years, He gave me the ability to administer mercy and justice in my own life, although it was the reverse of what I thought I wanted.  He enlivened my soul with compassion (forgiveness) and a sense of my own strength (accountability).  This ability – this power – was the freedom I was looking for.  He didn’t change the way the world works, but He did change me.

I feel grateful for the difficulties I have gone through, because they have helped me to realize my own power to choose.   True freedom is power within myself, an active “independence of mind.”  It is the freedom of self-determination, the freedom inherent in my soul, no matter my circumstances.  It is the ability to “stand fast,” to recognize the gradations in light and dark and to choose the light, regardless of the choices of others.

I realize that not all of you may be able to identify with my experiences when I was growing up.  But we all reach similar crossroads as I have.  In our interactions with others, as bumpy as they sometimes may be, it is given unto us to choose.  No one can compel us to forgive.  No one can force a change of heart.  But in these acts, we are truly free.  Forgiveness and repentance seem now to be two sides of the same coin – to release what we cannot control with grace and to claim what we must control with humility.  Both are acts of freedom.  And both are possible because of Christ, the One who has made us free.

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  • Reply Leigh July 24, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Becca, you are amazing and such a wonderful writer. Thank you for taking the time to share. You’ve given me much to ponder. I so appreciate your generosity, wisdom, kindness and friendship.

    • Reply Becca July 24, 2017 at 2:23 pm

      Thanks, Leigh. This one was a scary one to post. Thanks so much for saying something. I have always loved your support and strength. Hugs!

  • Reply Joamna July 24, 2017 at 10:16 am

    This was really, really good. Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply Becca July 24, 2017 at 2:24 pm

      I really appreciate that, Joamna. Thank you for being here!

  • Reply Whitney Fredin July 24, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    I really really loved this and could totally identify with how powerful the realization of our own freedom to choose functions…thank you for taking the time to write about such an important principle. It feels so good to “get it”, even just a little bit!! Thank you!!

    • Reply Becca July 24, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks, Whitney! Isn’t it crazy how I was free before I even realized it fully . . . and when I did realize it, that ah-ha moment was SO powerful. My boyfriend was like, “duh.” For me it was huge. I finally was more than a teenager saying “It’s MY life.” I finally realized: it IS my life. So what am I going to do about it? 🙂 Thank you thank you for commenting!!

  • Reply S Hurst July 24, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    So powerfully written. Thanks for sharing..absolutely love your statement “Where was God in all of this? Now I can see Him in all of it.” I will be using it in an upcoming lesson.

    • Reply Becca July 24, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      Hi S Hurst – thank you and God bless! 🙂

  • Reply Kayal July 24, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    This was so well written, I felt like I was seeing that mother and brother duo and could see you and your mom hugging. I think so many can relate on some scale with your delima and the old coat. Some people may need more understanding and vindication before they’re ready to move on, the good news is Christ gives us that vindication.

    • Reply Becca July 24, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      I know, Kayal. I know. . . . The more I wrote and rewrote this, the more I realized that it wasn’t just a quick and easy “forgive and forget.” Really it was an accumulation of many things I learned along the way. I think forgiveness is about leaving the door open, rather than slamming it shut and throwing away the key. If someone had asked me if I could forgive when I graduated high school and was leaving home, I wouldn’t have even known what to say. Or what that meant. Or where to begin. It was definitely a learning process. And the more experience I have with Christ, the more I realize that His grace is both in the small moments and in the long, intervening years. He so often gives us what we need over time.

  • Reply Whitney July 24, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    I so appreciate this post. I relate to your experiences and you expressed many thoughts I’ve had but haven’t quite been able to put into words. I’ve definitely felt stuck in feelings of anger and confusion and being overwhelmed by the vastness of human experience…how can so many people be feeling this? Where is God in it all?? I catch glimpses of meaning and purpose. But thank you so much for writing your experience. It really opened my eyes to maybe where some experiences can lead. And how to surface! I love so much the focus on accountability and letting go and that forgiveness is a process. Your experiences give me hope!

    • Reply Becca July 25, 2017 at 11:27 am

      Right? It’s so tough sometimes to trust that all that is broken can be made whole. Or can somehow find an end. And being stuck in something is like being buried – I love how you said we can find a way “to surface”! I really do trust that if we do our best to learn from the situations we are in, we will eventually see what it all means. We will have moments that give such peace and clarity that we can let the rest of it go. Thank you for your sincere comments, Whitney. Hugs!

  • Reply Nicole July 25, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Wonderful article. Just what I needed right now. The Spirit sure guides this blog and your topics. Your words and truth are appareciated.

    • Reply Becca July 25, 2017 at 11:28 am

      Thanks, Nicole! I feel the same way every month they tell me a topic. I love how inspired everyone is here at The Small Seed. Thanks for being part of this community 🙂

  • Reply Angela July 25, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I needed this so much. Thank you for the time, faith and care in this post!

    • Reply Becca July 25, 2017 at 11:28 am

      Thanks, Angela! I really appreciate your comment!

  • Reply Shelly July 25, 2017 at 10:07 am

    What a writer you are. Thank you for such an uplifting piece.

    • Reply Becca July 25, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Thank you Shelly! I sincerely appreciate your kindness.

  • Reply Lauren July 25, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    I’ve been reading from this website almost religiously since Easter and have felt so inspired and uplifted by all of the posts. I felt, however, this was one I was waiting for. Thank you for posting it. I experienced sexual abuse as a child and it took too long to get to the point of feeling like I could forgive. I wish I could forget, but forgiveness teaches me more than erasing it would. Thank you for being brave enough to talk about it and sharing these insights I’ve been craving

    • Reply Becca July 27, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Lauren, I’m sorry for all you have suffered. I understand exactly what you mean about not forgetting. Sometimes I wish I could, but most of the time I think it helps me to be a better person. I’m really grateful you’ve been here, and I hope you will stay. I haven’t been with The Small Seed for very long, but I have learned to love and trust this great community of women.

  • Reply Natalie July 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    I’m new to your blog and I’m just loving it! Thank you for sharing your testimony and insights! Such a breath of fresh air!

    • Reply Becca July 27, 2017 at 8:46 am

      Welcome, Natalie! So glad you’ve found us! I hope you take a chance to browse around a bit and read some of the other amazing testimonies and insights here. It’s such a great group 🙂

  • Reply Vicky T July 27, 2017 at 9:13 am

    This article was wonderful, thanks for sharing. It really hit home when you mention that you “have released my claim on payment”. It is so true, just letting go helps so much and setting ourselves free to choose today to be happy! Thanks again, I feel much gratitude for our Heavenly Father and in Him being so so patient with us as we slowly learn all these great lessons in life.

    • Reply Becca July 27, 2017 at 9:27 am

      It’s funny that the things that free us are often the things that we let go! Thanks, Vicky! I know what you mean about being so grateful towards Heavenly Father. It’s only when we don’t see things from His perspective that we get frustrated or impatient. In the end, I think we will realize He was being patient with us. I am so humbly grateful for Him, too. Hugs!

  • Reply Audra July 28, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    This was so eloquent and powerful. “He didn’t change the way the world works, but He did change me.” This is why His plan is perfect . . . despite agency and a fallen world. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.

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