We all value freedom and nothing arouses our anger and resentment faster than someone trying to take away our rights. We commonly think of freedom as the power to act without restraint, especially when limitations come in the form of imprisonment or threat.
But exercising the “freedom” to act as we please, can lead to the unintended loss of other liberties. Acting freely on one’s impulses can simultaneously deprive another’s right to life or property. The unrestricted use of alcohol or mind-altering drugs can result in addiction or organ damage. Exercising our freedom to sin leads to moral and spiritual enslavement.
Falling into a Trap
But another kind of subjugation comes in the form of “hang-ups”: preoccupations or psychological blocks that keep us from acting freely.
Hang-ups are usually emotional. A pastor treats us poorly, or fellow believers ignore us or spread gossip. Our emotional pain causes us to act in self-defense. We often end up obsessing over our injury. We retaliate by withdrawing from committees, ending our financial support, or becoming socially distant. Not infrequently, people change parishes or even leave the Church.
Now, I’m not talking about situations where we remove ourselves to prevent further harm, either done to us by the hands of others, or by our own hand as an act of revenge. Here, our motivation would be love and not selfishness or pride.
Sometimes people intellectualize the hang-up and vocalize it as a matter of belief. Some Catholics state their opposition to the Church because of its stand on birth control, divorce, abortion, gay unions, co-habitation, euthanasia, or liturgical practices.
All hang-ups share three things in common: (1) they are an act of will, (2) they deny a truth and create a wall to justify a response, and (3) they result in losing one’s freedom.
What can we do about them? Well, first we have to recognize and acknowledge they exist, and that isn’t easy. The wounds we feel are real. We have reasons to justify our position. Others tell us we deserve better and we don’t need to put up with this stuff. Sometimes we’re reinforced by the warped sense of satisfaction that comes because “we showed them.”
Honestly, without Jesus Christ, it’s hard to imagine a different response to some situations. But Jesus came to set us free from sin—not only positionally by meeting the demands of God’s law, but also to free us from the effects of sin that wound and enslave us. He is ready to heal us in our brokenness, but it takes our cooperation to receive it.
I am arguing for us to alternatively take up a heroic response by choosing to act against our human inclination to nurse our hurts, withdraw, and strike back. Instead, we make a decision to act with humility and love. Though treated unjustly, we choose to forgive and show mercy. While our pride prods us to dismiss the Gospel and Church teachings, we opt to submit to the truth while we seek to understand it. Although rejected and betrayed by those we trusted, we choose to receive our injury just as Christ took his wounds for us. Instead of giving in to evil, we pursue unity and healing. We make a decision not to become Satan’s pawn and used as an instrument for division, deceit, and despair, but to be a light in the darkness.