I remember as a grade schooler spending a lot of time at my Grandma’s house. Her youngest daughter, Cathy, was only a few years older than me and still lived at home. Hanging on the wall in Cathy’s room was a poster of a woman releasing a dove. The caption at the bottom read:
“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”
Quite possibly the most sappy 70s poster of all time!
I would ponder that quote as a 10 year old. But then, I would get distracted by the Barbara Streisand poster on the other wall from “A Star is Born” or the next episode of “Happy Days”. Hey, this was 1977!
Back to the quote…there does seem to be a compelling connection between love and freedom. All of our hearts long to be loved freely – by someone who chooses to love us because they want to, not because they have to.
Conversely, all of us want the opportunity to give our love freely – not under compulsion. What do we call forced love? Rape…
When we are talking about God’s redemptive plan to transform fractured families into healthy, loving spiritual families we bump into 2 big ideas:
- This is an intentional process. A spiritual family is forged. The one who did and does the heavy lifting is Jesus. As we submit ourselves to God he reshapes our character and relationships through the use of heat and pressure to purify and recast us into his image (the topic of my last blog post). And in this family, the children should look and act like their father.
- The family that God forges is characterized by freedom. Why freedom? Because without freedom there is no love. And God is Love.
So then, in what ways are Sandi and I experiencing greater levels of freedom as we grow in our understanding and participation with the family Jesus forged?
Freedom to grasp my true identity
Before I am a leader, before I am a father, before I am a husband, I am first and foremost a beloved child of God. This is expressed beautifully for us in Matthew 3 during Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John. A voice from heaven said:
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
In those 13 words we receive the gift of our family identity. We learn that we have a father who will claim us as his own. We learn that we are loved by our father. And, remarkably, we learn that we are already pleasing to our father! (After all, this all happens before Jesus begins preaching, healing, or setting people free from the power of Satan.)
When I join Jesus’ family I am given a grace-identity, an identity that he earned, but that I receive as a gift through my covenant relationship with Christ. Only then am I free to define myself as a loved, pleasing child of God, with nothing to prove and no one to impress. And because I am free to receive love, I am now free to express love to God and the people he places in my life.
Free to let go of shame and bitterness
Depending on the particular type of brokenness you experienced in your family of origin, it is very possible you carry around shame or bitterness (or both). Why are so many of us still walking with an emotional limp decades after leaving our parent’s home?
As children we looked to our parents to meet all of our needs. Our trust in them was unconditional during our early years. What they did or didn’t do left an indelible impression in the wet cement of our souls. The problem? Our parents, like their parents before them, were products of a fractured family.
For me that meant spending years dealing with the resentment I felt toward my father for his drinking, and guilt that I felt toward my mom for failing to rescue her from a bad situation. How do I find freedom from these destructive emotions? By linking arms with members of my spiritual family who love God and live in daily submission to his will. As my adoption into God’s family takes on flesh and blood and becomes a tangible reality I begin letting go of my anger, and the voice in my head begins telling a new story.
It is a fresh start. A new birth! This isn’t renovation, this is death and resurrection. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if we are in Christ we are a new “creation” – the old has past and everything is made new.
Free to take my place around the table
Not only are we free to receive our new identity, and set free from the hurt and angst we carry with us from the broken dreams of our childhood, but we are also free to take our seat at the family table.
We have 3 children. At dinnertime Emily sits to my left, Megan sits across from me, then Grant, and to my right is Sandi. Each person in our family has their own seat – they belong at this table. And not only do they belong at the table, they are fed by what is placed on the table. We sit at the table to take nourishment for our bodies and souls.
But there is more. Each person also has a part to play in the family meal. Some shop for the food, some prepare the food, some clean the room and sweep the floor before we eat, some clear the table, and some do the dishes. The very first “job” we gave to the kids when they were little was to walk their dirty dishes to the sink and place them on the counter (oh the look on their faces when they were given such a heavy load!)
Don’t miss this: God doesn’t just call you to the table to eat and be served, he calls you to the table to make a contribution. You and I have a job to do. And this job gives us dignity, allows us to express our gratitude and love for the Father, and makes the household run more smoothly.
Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 2:10 when he says we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Remember, when you join Jesus’ family you also join the family business. There is ample grace and love for relationship, but there is also authority and power to do God’s will on earth – just as it is done in heaven.
Some of us pastor, some teach, some lead, some give mercy – but we all serve. And in that service, in the very act of letting go of our rights, our pride, and our isolation – we find the life that God has called us to in the first place.