I’ve written before about choosing a “Word of the Year.” This year, I chose a phrase to serve as my spiritual mantra—three life-changing words that came as a gift of grace when I felt torn between two possibilities and needed to make a difficult decision.
For me, the process of discernment, especially when I have strong feelings or attachments, often begins with compulsive mental role-playing. I replay conversations—what was said, what was meant, what could have been said, and now what? Once I am able to slow down my thoughts, create some space, and breathe, I can face a decision more calmly and with a spiritual perspective. I write out my thoughts and feelings, ask questions of myself and God, and listen to what might be beneath the words. I write as prayer, knowing that, so often, an answer is revealed.
The decision I needed to make felt particularly heartbreaking. Feeling desperate, I reached out to a spiritual companion and asked for prayers.
Asking for prayers was admitting I needed help.
Asking for prayers was an act of vulnerability, humility, and surrender for me.
Asking for prayers helped me to be even more prayerful about my situation. I surrendered to God for the answer that my obsessive thinking would not bring.
Asking for prayers opened me for the words that came.
YOU ARE FREE. My friend responded with a few words of comfort and guidance. But, it was these simple words that pierced through me—YOU ARE FREE. I read them, said them, felt them as a light shining after days of darkness. I was flooded with a miraculous sense of relief, a heavy burden lifted. A new path had been lit—I received instant clarity and a new perspective for looking at my situation.
YOU ARE FREE.
I am free to make THIS decision or I am free to make THAT decision. I am free to choose. It was the decision-making process that was binding me, making me a prisoner of my own thoughts. The freedom came from not being attached to one possibility or the other, one reaction, one outcome, one person, or one feeling. Accompanied by a stream of what ifs, fear had become the primary consideration in discerning what if I did THIS or what if I did THAT.
YOU ARE FREE.
Freedom means not to be constrained. In other words, not being attached—attached to receiving approval or feeling loved, attached to being in control and keeping things the way they always have been or the way I hope they would be. Becoming attached to an outcome, to my own opinion, to relationships, to feelings, thoughts, or emotions, to disappointments, to my own expectations—is not freedom.
If I become imprisoned by my attachment, then it can begin to define me, to become a god, to become the Almighty, the only way that I can exist, the deciding factor on whether to choose THIS or choose THAT.
St. Francis instructs, “Hold the world as a loose garment.” In other words, to be truly free, one needs to be in the world without relying on it for a sense of self. Freedom is a way of being that allows everything to come and go, not clinging to circumstances, or difficulties or people, recognizing that everything is temporary and that everything changes. Nothing remains, but one’s spirit in God, so there is no sense in clinging.
YOU ARE FREE. I need not be swept up into a problem, instead, I can stand next to it, untouched by the actions or feelings of another. Navigating a difficult relationship, becoming attached to my emotions or how another may feel about me can be precarious work—it can lead to becoming entangled, and that is not freedom.
Freedom, I am learning, comes from not wishing for other circumstances, but accepting what is. Freedom is not attaching to an emotion forever. Of course, feelings come, but there is a time to let go of the impact of those feelings.
“It is the detached, the humble, that live wholly at rest. Strange, how easily a man can be attracted and overcome by some slight, some trumpery affection if he is not yet utterly dead to self! ….Make up your mind to detach your thoughts from the love of things seen, and let them find their centre in things invisible. Those who follow the call of sense only soil their consciences, and lose the help of God’s grace.” The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis
I had put so much thought into WHAT my decision should be as if there were a right or wrong. But the real issue was that of surrender, of letting go of my desire to control the outcome or to orchestrate a reconciliation in a difficult relationship.
I cannot make someone like me, forgive me, understand me, love me, accept me or want to heal. I am not fully knowable by any other human, just as I cannot fully know another. It is Christ only that fully knows us. John O’Donohue, in Anam Cara writes, “You should never belong to something that is outside yourself…(it is) important to find a balance in your belonging.” There is a danger to become too attached to relationships, but we must not forget the Source of all friendships, our friendship in Christ.
This is freedom. I have felt a shift in feeling, thinking and being ever since I realized I AM FREE. And it frees me up to love in the way I can love. It is a grace to remember who you are and to listen to God to be your authentic self. It is a practice.
YOU ARE FREE. Yes, you are free, too. These words can be a prayer, an intention for yourself. Try it as an experiment. Ask yourself—What if I choose love instead of fear? What if I let go of what I am holding onto? What if I detach from what I want and, instead, accept that I am free, that God is with me whether I choose this or choose that?
Act as if you are free, and you will be. I continue to say these three words in new and challenging situations, to learn that freedom is what God intends for us. It comes easier in some situations than others, but it is a practice.
I shared my last three years of words that have served me far beyond the year they were chosen for—mercy, gentle and cushion. The intention of these simple words has seeped into my spirit in a way that makes me new, improved and FREE in the deepest sense.