It started with intentionally taking time each afternoon to walk my dog this past Spring. It’s easy to take on lots of responsibilities and mentally prioritize some things over other things. Then one day you realize that, completely unintentionally, you haven’t taken your dog for a real walk in weeks. He’s not happy about it. You aren’t happy about it. Something has to change.
I started to take time each afternoon, rain or shine, to stretch our six legs together. I found new places and paths in our little borough to explore. One afternoon, feeling light and energized, I jogged a few tentative steps for no particular reason. I used to run a lot more, but again, we prioritize things in life (often unconsciously) at the expense of other things. I hadn’t actually run in two years. It felt pretty good. I ran a little more the next day, and a little more the next.
I talked to a few people who let me know they were running the Main Street Half Marathon from Clinton to Flemington this October. For some reason, I felt this question rising up in me – could I run that? I’d never run more than 3 or 4 miles at a time before. Why would I? One of the joys of being an apex predator is that there aren’t creatures out trying to get us. We only run by choice, and why would we choose to do something hard when we don’t have to? Yet here I was, just barely stretching my legs in the afternoons but feeling, strangely, like just maybe I could run a half marathon. Maybe I even should run a half marathon. “You know what?” I found myself thinking, “I’m going to run a half marathon.”
I am able to make this choice freely. You are able to make other choices freely. This Independence Day, I give thanks for this freedom and the other freedoms I enjoy based on this country into which I was born. We acknowledge that this freedom and our shared greatness come as a result of the sacrifice of others and also that this work is never finished. We are always working toward “a more perfect union,” words with equal resonance in 1787, 2008, and today.
I give greater thanks for the freedom God gives each of us to choose just how we are going to live each day. Freedom and choice present us with challenges when often we would rather just be told what to do. After all, I’ve never been in better shape than when I was in the Air Force and was forced to exercise. However, I never chose to run a half marathon, 10K, or even 5K back then. It’s harder to love things we are required to do. I choose to do so now because I could also choose not to.
Paul grapples with what it is to be set free by Christ throughout his letters. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 he acknowledges cultural customs in quoting those who say ‘“I have the right to do anything,’” but Paul reminds his hearers that “not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.” We make thousands of choices each day, most on autopilot, which direct the course of our life in different directions; toward family and community or away from family and community; toward wellness or away from wellness; toward God or away from God. It is both liberating and frightening to realize just how much we are in control of (especially when we expend so much worry and effort on things over which we have no control).
My prayer for you, for me, for all of us this Summer, is to reflect on just how we are exercising the freedom God gives us. Are we receiving our freedom as a gift and living lives that are generous with our time, our money, our prayers, our hearts… or are we holding on to things in fear, waiting to be told what to do? Remember: “Christ has set us free for freedom.” Celebrate that freedom and independence in deepening your discipleship, deepening your relationships with others, and, just maybe, finding your own new challenge to take on simply because, praise God, you can.
Grace and Peace,