We have a very mixed up idea of what freedom is. We think that freedom is choice, and more specifically in our consumerist society, we think true freedom is having a multitude of choices. We expect the t-shirt we want to be available in every color under the sun. We expect hundreds of flavors of coffee to be waiting for us at the grocery store. But on a deeper level, we think moral freedom is many options we can chose between.
But this isn’t the Christian understanding of freedom. St. Augustine defines true freedom as the freedom to choose the good, not just to choose one of many options. And Lent is an opportunity to journey to a place of freedom where we are made free to choose virtue.
Perhaps it’s a silly example, but I gave up a very typical lenten sacrifice: sweets. I’m a jam and toast with breakfast, cookies after lunch, and ice cream before bedtime kind of girl. I love sweets, but the truth is, “I will eat what I want when I want it,” isn’t freedom. In fact, it’s very easy for me to become enslaved to sugar. I am not free to make a good choice (in this case, honoring my body by giving it nourishment) because sugar owns me. After my three kids go down for nap, my body screams, “WHERE ARE THE CHOCOLATE CHIPS?” and I gobble down a big handful. After they’re tucked in bed, I get out the ice cream that I’ve been craving since dinnertime. I’m constantly thinking about my next sugar fix. I’m not free, I’m a slave to my desires.
Lent gives us the opportunity to let God strip away the disordered desires that “own” us so that we can be free to choose Him. After a couple of weeks of saying “no” to my sugar cravings, I’m going about my day as if ice cream doesn’t exist (terrible thought, but let’s shudder and move on). Sugar is no longer telling me what to do. I have the freedom to choose the good because I have mortified that particular disordered desire.
Now don’t get me wrong, ice cream is a gift from God (don’t I know it!), but our desires can become disordered and twisted. We allow ourselves to become enslaved. Our freedom is gone. And it can take great discipline to become master of our desires and regain the ability to choose what is truly good.
There’s just a few days left in Lent. What can you ask for God’s grace to be freed from so that you can pursue the Good?