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Reflection: Free Yourself

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Today is a good day to be free.

We put a heavy premium on freedom. We are grown. We can do what we want.

And then somehow we find ourselves in relationships that feel like bondage, and wonder how we got there.

In Melody Beattie’s “The Language of Letting Go,” she offers this mediation on freedom.

“Many of us were oppressed and victimized as children. As adults, we may continue to keep ourselves oppressed.

Some of us don't recognize that caretaking and not setting boundaries will leave us feeling victimized.

Some of us don't understand that thinking of ourselves as victims will leave us feeling oppressed.

Some of us don't know that we hold the key to our own freedom. That key is honoring ourselves, and taking care of ourselves.

We can say what we mean, and mean what we say.

We can stop waiting for others to give us what we need and take responsibility for ourselves. When we do, the gates to freedom will swing wide.

Walk through.”

One of the challenges of life in community is that it involves building and navigating relationships. If we have unhealthy relationship patterns, we will bring them to whatever community we enter.

Sometimes harmful relationships feel comfortable because they feel familiar. If we were victimized as kids, we may flock to the same kind of dynamics as adults. We may get into relationships that seem benign and fail to adapt when they reveal themselves to be poison. We may lack the tools to make the necessary changes.

An additional challenge is that while we may expect to get healthier by being in community, communities are not necessarily built to heal people from their relationship wounds: Churches may offer spiritual freedom, but not yet understand emotional health. Social clubs may protect us from isolation and expose us to persecution. They may offer predators a gathering space that puts all their potential victims in one place.

In fact, far from being a place where you expose and learn to address relationship patterns, you may find your community filled with people bound by these same things. So the more bound you are, the more normal you seem.

Another problem? Communities can grow while perpetuating dysfunction: they seem eminently successful, and in many ways they are. They are also succeeding, however, in reproducing people with the very character defects they would do well to address.

In fact, these communities often come to rely on the work of people who have gifts but lack boundaries: under the banner of sacrificing for the sacred, we break ourselves. So we are doing it for Jesus. We are doing it because we love our country. We are doing it because we love this football team.

There is a fine line to walk here.

The way we walk it, however, is by not looking to other people to honor boundaries we haven’t set.

We will grow frustrated if we are expecting others to do the right thing, when we make it convenient, and even beneficial, for them to do the wrong thing. We can make it organizationally constructive to treat us in personally destructive ways.

We will feel mistreated, and hurt, if we volunteer to be powerless in places where we could exercise our power.

We will feel trapped if we think we are obligated to continue doing something harmful, just because we actively or passively agreed to it a long time ago.

So what is the solution?

Beattie argues that the key to our own freedom is honoring and taking care of ourselves. It sounds basic, but for many of us, it is beyond radical.

What would it look like if you treated yourself as a person worthy of honor, a person worth caring for? What if you protected your own peace, and dignity, with the same ferocity with which you protect someone else’s?

How would your life be different if you told the truth, instead of saying the things you think people want to hear? What if you backed up your words with action, so that the people you interact with could see that your boundaries are not negotiable?

How would you feel if you stopped looking to other people to honor who you know you are, and simply said, this is what I need, and this is what I will no longer accept?

We often feel trapped by our own decisions, especially if we have been making the same types of decisions all our lives.

The good news, however, is that in most cases, there are no shackles on your feet.

There are no ropes around your hands.

So you can retrain, reposition, or retire any of the people or associations you hold.

It may be time to start walking.

(Photo Credit: Goumbik)

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