There are many ways that we exercise what we think is freedom in this world. We choose what we want to do no matter what the consequences to ourselves and others and we call that freedom. And then when we are tired or hurt from exploring and crossing moral boundaries in the name of freedom, we begin to talk about the importance of inner freedom.
The idea is so often written and talked about (and taught in yoga classes) that it has become cliche. But what does it really mean to gain "inner freedom"?
My journey on this road of thought began a couple months ago when a friend wrote a note on Facebook putting forth the possibility that maybe it is better for a person to sin and learn from it than for a person to follow rules mindlessly without really understanding why something is forbidden. This hypothesis did not sit well with me but I let it simmer in the recesses of my mind for several weeks and eventually I found it helpful in understanding inner freedom.
When I first got to the convent several months ago I unconsciously began to try to be perfect. I could tell I was not being real with myself or others but I think I was somehow under the false impression that I could continue the charade indefinitely and convince my fellow postulants and myself that I had come to the convent free of problems and flaws.
Naturally, it did not take long for my flaws to begin to shine through. In one case, I voiced my opinion about not wanting to do something late at night in a rude, petulant way. I was the victor in that situation and everyone went to bed. As I headed to bed, I began to beat myself up, not really for being rude but for letting the cracks in my perfect facade show so obviously. But after lecturing myself I just felt relieved that I was going to bed after a long day.
A few days afterward, I joined the postulants on a trip to a retreat center in the black of morning before the sun had risen. We were instructed to walk around the grounds and pray as the dark of night changed to light.
I made my way to the labyrinth on the grounds and sat under a tree in the middle of it. I immediately thought, "Bingo, this is the best place to be on the entire grounds. It is peaceful and other people have been here before - that is comforting. I am going to stay here until the sun rises."
I set about eating my breakfast, feeling very satisfied with myself. Several minutes later, however, I looked out into the darkness, into the unknown and I suddenly felt an urge to leave ground already tread. I felt a deep need to make my own path literally and figuratively and I suddenly knew that this is a deep and critical part of who I am. I left my safe spot beneath the tree and as I set out into the darkness I felt God say to me,
"Theresa, stop trying to be someone you are not. I made you to be honest, sometimes painfully so. I made you to voice your opinion with strength and without fear. I made you to be a trail-blazer, someone who should not be afraid of anything. I need you to BE YOURSELF. Try to do it nicely, but if you make more mistakes along the way it is better than if you keep trying to fit this mold of perfection that does not exist. I prefer that real Theresa to this faker I have on my hands right now. Make your own path."
As I came away from that experience, I felt a wide freedom inside of me like a child lifting her arms to heaven.
I have left behind the freedom of the world for the freedom of God - a freedom that does not lead me to crossing moral boundaries and hurting myself and others, a freedom that does not call me to be a perfect robot, but only perfectly WHO I AM. We are all called to embody and live out charity in our own unique way. We can only do this by being ourselves.
And we can only be truly ourselves by following God's will in our lives because He is the only one who knows who we truly are.
- You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb ... My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. - Psalm 139