I’ve been thinking about freedom for a long time.
External freedom is one thing. It’s essential. Anyone who has been a captive will tell you that to be externally free is of utmost importance. But captivity and oppression are not just external things. They can be internal things, too—things deep inside of us. Things we learned to survive, to help us through. Things that served us for a while, but now keep us enslaved.
So, how does freedom work? Not just the obvious freedom of a captive who finds their door unlocked. Recently, I watched the film Hector and the Search for Happiness, about a psychiatrist who searches the globe to find the secret of happiness. In one scene, Hector is held prisoner by African drug lords and is then released. He walks away slowly, like he’s afraid someone is going to shoot him at any moment. When he realizes he’s free, he begins to run and laugh and shout and dance. It’s exhilarating. He writes in his happiness journal that true happiness is freedom. And he’s right.
As a child, my friend Hanna was trapped in a pedophile ring, forced to do unspeakable things. That’s slavery. That’s a real prison. The thing is, she’s been free from that captivity for years, but she still struggles with freedom. We need to be free on the outside and the inside. How do we do that?
The truth is that slavery exists in each of us.
The Israelites walked around a desert for 40 years after they were “free” from the oppression of the Egyptians, but none of them seemed to think it was much of a “freedom dance” they were doing. Commentaries suggest that the 40 years was about moving their freedom from the outside to the inside. Does it take that long?
Hanna would agree, I think, with the people of God, and with Nelson Mandela, that the road to freedom is a long walk. Those of us who want simple, shallow answers to complex truths (that’s most of us) often think Mandela was free on the day he was released from prison. But that’s not the case. As he says, freedom started much sooner, and took much longer than that. What does that mean?
It means that freedom is complicated. Yes, it’s about our external lives. And yes, it’s about our internal lives. But it’s even more than that. It’s about those parts of us being united together and contributing to the world around us. It’s about living a different way—from the inside out.
I want to live that way, but the truth is that it’s a hard way to live. The truth is that slavery exists in each of us. That freedom is elusive, difficult and complicated. That the road to freedom is hard and long. That to be truly free means to face truth, accept it, and be authentic and vulnerable and open—and that is simply terrifying.
To be free is to abandon yourself to a greater being who knows you better than you know yourself. If that’s how freedom works, then why not start today?
Major Danielle Strickland is the territorial social justice secretary in the U.S.A. Western Territory.