Reflections: The gift of freedom

One of great things about living in Canada is the freedom we enjoy: freedom to worship, vote, run a business, get together with other people, travel, raise our children, work, protest, etc. etc. 

As with many of the things that we enjoy and greatly enrich our lives – eg. love, lungs and air to breathe, a heart pumping blood, food, heat in winter – we tend to take freedom for granted. A quick glance at China or North Korea or Iran or many other places in the world where politics or injustice or war or lawlessness results in people being deprived of significant freedoms can help us recognize how fortunate we indeed are.

In November freedom is often talked about publicly, as that which the brave folks who went to war for Canada were willing to give their lives to preserve. Seems to me there is no other time, even international hockey games, when Canadians are as united as when we celebrate Remembrance Days in November. There may be a few (some politicians?) who seem less than sincere about it, but most ordinary folks take very seriously their remembering of and giving thanks for the sacrifice of the people who served, who were wounded, who died.

Certainly the price of freedom is not cheap. For we who remember the sacrifices of the past it is important to ask ourselves if we would be willing to do likewise. Would we be willing to give up our ‘freedoms’ to live the good life in order to sacrificially serve, whether in the military or in other humanitarian ways, for the wellbeing of the greater good?

In truth each and all of us are the beneficiaries of sacrifices people who came before us made to make the world a better place. Each of us is here because a woman was willing to carry us in her womb for 40 weeks at significant discomfort and risk to her own wellbeing. Then she experienced very significant pain in giving birth, and then, if she was able, she spent countless hours over many years in taking care of us until we could care for ourselves. 

And often our fathers likewise sacrificed their own interests and needs for the sake of helping their children grow up well. And often there were other family members, even neighbours, who also helped. We could not have survived to enjoy our adult freedoms without these folks sacrificing for us.

And we have been enriched by the sacrifices of so many others who gave themselves to make life better for us; teachers, coaches, bosses, community leaders, some politicians, police and firefighters, nurses and doctors, etc. etc. 

Without the service and sacrifices of these countless people we would have much less freedom, for their work of building up our families, churches, schools, communities, and country has provided us with an abundance of opportunities and freedom that is the envy of the world.

Some might say that people who sacrifice like this are giving up at least some of their freedom and opportunities for the sake of others. That would be true if we understand “freedom” to mean “freedom from”. Some of us relish the freedom of not having to do anything we don’t want to do, of doing whatever we want to, of not having obligations and responsibilities. As the old song says Don’t fence me in.

A little maturity and a bit of thoughtful consideration, however, quickly makes it clear that this kind of “freedom from” is not only very selfish, but is also extremely blind to the freedom limiting sacrifices all of us are beneficiaries of.

“Freedom from” is very “shallow” freedom.

There is a much more profound and fulfilling and joy-bringing kind of freedom – the kind known by the folks who sacrificed on our behalf – freedom for.” Most moms and dads will readily admit that they sacrificed a lot for their kids, but few wish they had rather taken the route of “freedom from”. Parents discover that in the commitment and sacrifice of parenting they find a profound “freedom for” living and growing to become better people.

Likewise, it is in the commitments and obligations of close relationships that limit our “freedom from” that we find the “freedom for” and safety to honestly be our true selves, and the “freedom for” growing and maturing as loving, caring persons.

It is often said that during the world wars many of the young men who eagerly enlisted did so with visions of adventure and glory. When they found misery and despair instead, most of them persisted in their commitment to serve, and gradually learned the wisdom and fulfillment of “freedom for.” Most of those who made it home again came back with a mature sense of “freedom for” and found fulfillment and joy in life by working relentlessly to build their families, communities and country.

May we ever treasure the sacrifices that have made us “free” and live likewise in sacrificial service for the “freedoms” of generations to come.

Dave Tiessen