I’ve been thinking lately of people who have endured tangible and devastating limitations, unlike anything my privileged life has known, such as undeserved imprisonment, conditions of war, slavery, and poverty. My mind wonders how a person suffering such a reality could ever find some measure of peace, despite their circumstances. Not only that, I marvel at the stories of individuals who not only survive such abuse and mistreatment but go on to change the world for the better. My youngest daughter learned about one such individual this month, Harriet Tubman, whose story is astounding, laden with courage, purpose, and determination.
Stories like Tubman’s makes me think of the human capacity to hold on to an inner freedom when the outer circumstances may be in chains, actually or metaphorically. And while many of us may be nowhere near physical captivity, some of us, I suspect, have areas in life that feel restricting or diminishing. There are systems that oppress callings, or conditions that clip the wings of passion. There are relationships to which we are responsible that weigh us down, or the ghosts in our own minds that try to disqualify our giftedness. As I recently heard gospel singer Wintley Phipps say in an interview, all of us are enslaved by something.
It seems to me there are at least two things that can help to free us. One is to truly internalize our worthiness, to really know in the depths of our being that we are indeed beloved. It is not required for the world around us to acknowledge that fact in order for it to be true. It simply is. And this truth can help set us free, at least on the inside, which can keep us from crumbling into despair. Add to that, when we practice knowing our own preciousness, we are better able to look upon another with love, for they too entered the world innocent and worthy. As I see it, the capacity to love ourselves, and others, can do nothing but strengthen us.
Another way we can help free ourselves is by forgiveness. When we forgive others we add to our freedom because we are not allowing the toxicity of the harm done unto us to have power over us. This quotation from Nelson Mandela articulates that point well: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” Furthermore, it seems the more we practice forgiving others, the better we become at granting ourselves that same grace when we need it.
Love and forgiveness, two powerful forces that transcend and liberate. I aim to employ them more in my own life. And ironically, as I conclude this post, my oldest daughter is in a nearby room singing “Amazing Grace.”
May you be inspired!