November 4, 2013 by Erin
When Freedom is Chains
A few weeks ago, I was at a Women’s Conference in Michigan. The theme was “Celebrate Your Freedom,” and that’s exactly what we were doing. All around me women were being freed from sin, from fear, from lies. Jesus really did come and set captives free.
Not only that, but there was definitely what many would call freedom in worship — it was lively, expressive, and somewhat spontaneous. During the music, women raised their hands, kneeled, or even shouted. The sets were long, and the services flowed freely from singing to prayer to more singing and prayer to the message. Women came forward to the altar, there were tears, there were hugs, there were “Amen!”s. From what I could tell, the 2000 women around me took the call to celebrate their freedom seriously.
But there I was, feeling the very opposite of free. In fact, all I could feel for sure was the subtle weight of an old, familiar chain.
I grew up in a church where “freedom” like what I’ve just described (along with much more dramatic expressions) was the norm. Charismatic, Pentecostal, Third Wave, whatever you want to call it … it was, you know … free. I’m not sure this is the place to debate the merits of Pentecostalism, and that’s not the point of this post (though you’ve probably gathered from my tone that I would have some criticism). But I will tell you that my experience of it was largely one of pressure.
Pressure to have an experience, pressure to express myself in certain ways, pressure to always have some kind of earth-shattering word from God, pressure to understand and defend ideas or actions that made no sense to most of the Church, pressure, frankly, to speak in tongues. Now, whether all this pressure really came from the people around me or was internal is hard to say. Probably it was both. Still, that was largely my experience with church until I was 18.*
It’s a long story, but it was only a few months into my college experience before it all became too much. My spiritual life was like the proverbial house of cards, and it didn’t take much to topple the whole thing. But you know, Jesus himself stood right in the middle of the wreckage. And he offered me the sweetest gift: freedom.
I discovered I am free to sit quietly in church, to not pray out loud, to ponder what I’ve heard and not respond immediately. Finally, it was about knowing and worshipping Jesus himself, and not performing for him or living up to expectations of what spirituality looks like. It was like breathing for the first time.
God wants to set us free to be exactly who he created us to be, and Satan wants nothing more than to keep us bound. I’m learning he’ll use absolutely anything as a chain: even what appears to be freedom.
And what’s more, the enemy doesn’t let up. There I was at that conference, nearly 7 years later, feeling that same weight and anxiety, letting the pressure to experience God in a certain way keep me from seeing him clearly.
But then, as he does again and again, Jesus came. Someone said his name, and I remembered. I remembered who he was and how he speaks. He reminded me he wants my heart, and not my performance.
I think I need him to remind me every day. Because my freedom is opposed, and I can’t keep it by myself. It’s only Jesus who can free us and keep us free. But the excellent news is that he does, and he will.
*A few very important clarifications: My early experiences in the church were not all bad. On the contrary, I grew up knowing and loving Jesus, and really knowing that he loved me. My parents did an excellent job discipling me, and I had some other great people around me during my childhood and teenage years (some of whom are probably reading this) who showed me more of Jesus. God was faithful, and I’m grateful for my upbringing.