Not Bound Up…But Held

When I was a kid, freedom seemed in short supply and was limited to some standard tokens: I could roam the neighborhood until dinnertime, I could have dessert if I ate my vegetables, I could get my allowance if I did my chores, I could continue to live if I didn’t kill my sister. With each liberty containing its own caveat, my freedom didn’t feel so free. I couldn’t wait until I grew up and could do whatever I wanted.

Now I’m a mother. And I’ve never felt less free.

Courtesy Sebastien Hamel

Courtesy unsplash.com and Sebastien Hamel

The freedom I experienced as a child, negligible as it was, carried with it risk, and often wounds. There was the time I rode my bike down a too-high hill, a decision I made autonomously and away from the watchful eye of any parents. The end result was a banged-up bike and a bruised head. Now that I’m a parent, I carry more wounds: the C-section scar that was the entry point for both of my boys into this world, for starters (literally). Various scratches and bruises, many of them shin- and kid-level, that I don’t even recall getting. And don’t even get me started on the invisible internal wounds, both fresh and scarred over, yet-to-come and always present: the emotional toll of it all. The freedom of choosing to have children has dramatically curtailed my individual liberty to, say, lie on the couch and indulge in a Sex and the City marathon. I’m no longer free to watch the news and not be afraid for my kids. I used to love flying; now I white-knuckle the armrests with any hint of turbulence, imagining all that’s at stake.

Love has made everything matter more. And this proves to be consistently uncomfortable. It also never fails to feel like something less than freedom.

When my older son was a baby and I thought I’d just parent from books, I read one about French child-rearing. Bringing Up Bebe gave me hope in the form of a plan: I would raise polite, healthy-eating children among the masses of American hellions. I won’t get into how that’s worked out so far, but I do still aspire to one philosophy behind French parenting, that of the cadre: a set of boundaries within which the child has some autonomy. The idea being that the child has not total freedom, but enough freedom.

There’s something here.

“The love of Christ compels us,” reads the NIV version of 2 Corinthians 5:14, while the ESV replaces compels with controls; perhaps my favorite version, though, is the KJV, which says “constraineth.” The freedom we have as children of God is anything but limitless; at times it seems beset on all sides by boundaries that I would swear tend to creep further in when I look at them. It can seem constraining, tight, limited. My natural inclination is to buck against it, to fight this insulting trend God has displayed of not following my plans for the universe (or my corner of it, at least). I have done so in varying ways and to differing results: dating the wrong people, leaving Alabama for New York, sneaking out of the house and driving around the block when I can’t handle a newborn’s cries any more (and know that my husband isn’t a flight risk at that moment). No matter my rebellion, I am always led home: away from the wrong relationships and into the right one, away from a performance-based faith and into grace, away from thinking my parenting (or anything else I do) is the ultimate answer.

I’m finally beginning to understand that I am not handcuffed; I am held. And held in such a way that nothing can remove me from the hand in which I struggle, fight, surrender, and rest.

God’s love is not best typified by my walking along a beach; he is carrying me the whole time. It is not resembled by my rowing a boat correctly to shore, but by the boat itself, constantly keeping me above the waves. I am his child, and now, with children of my own, I can see how loved this makes me. How frustrating, how petulant, how ungrateful–and, every time he stays (so…every time), how loved.

Paul tells us that it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free,” and I used to wonder why the phrase was written so redundantly. It strikes me now, though, that the words aren’t a repetition, but a redefinition. We are being shown, being loved into, a new kind of freedom: not the kind that leaves us to our own devices, but one that holds us within its boundaries so that we never fail to end up at home. On my hardest days, this brand of freedom feels limited, small, unfair. But on those days when I am resting in the unseen hand, it feels endless.

Written by Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips is a former Southern belle and recovering fundamentalist who was exiled to New York City for five years to think about what she’d done. After a widening of life experience and becoming reacquainted with grace, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and two young boys, where she practices pediatric dentistry just often enough that it helps pay her Netflix bill and allows time to write her blog (plansinpencil.com) and contribute to her favorite websites (thewheelhousereview.com, mbird.com, bodypoliticblog.org).

About Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips is a former Southern belle and recovering fundamentalist who was exiled to New York City for five years to think about what she’d done. After a widening of life experience and becoming reacquainted with grace, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and two young boys, where she practices pediatric dentistry just often enough that it helps pay her Netflix bill and allows time to write her blog (plansinpencil.com) and contribute to her favorite websites (thewheelhousereview.com, mbird.com, bodypoliticblog.org).

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