Do You Think You Are Free? Think Again! (Article 1 in the "Freedom Series")
An Introduction to Freedom: Thoughts of a Modern-Day Abolitionist
FREEDOM. It's a word we've all heard, but I suspect only a few have learned the secrets of how to experience its fullness in their everyday lives. What would it look like to be truly free? Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law defines freedom as:
-the quality or state of being free: as a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another c : the quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous; a political or civil right.
Does this definition help to expand your understanding of the concept of freedom? I find it helpful, yet still lacking. I want to go another round in looking at what the word "freedom" really means. Let's go way back into the ancient Greek and Hebrew. Here are just some of the words that are associated with freedom in these rich languages:
-liberty from slavery; spontaneity of outflow and clear as in pure; prosperity; to receive help from trouble; noble also bountiful, crying, rich; remnant; pardon; deliverance, forgiveness, remission; legitimate; chiefly moral; privilege; delegated influence, authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, and strength; citizenship. (E-Sword Strong's Bible Concordance)
Now THAT is the kind of freedom I'm after! I'm passionate about living the abundant life of freedom and helping others to do the same. You might say that I am sort of a modern-day abolitionist. Most people hear that word and they think of people like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, and Fredrick Douglass, who gave their lives towards the abolition of slavery in the U.S. These people, and more, are to be commended and honored for what they accomplished in their lives. But I propose that slavery has not yet been completely abolished. There are still many in the world who are physically forced into slavery. There are the children in India who are sold and end up working fourteen hour days in rock quarries. There are young women and men in Thailand who have been coerced into sex slavery. These injustices are appalling, yet they seem so foreign to the average Westerner. These topics are dear to my heart, as I long to see the oppressed set free, but that will be another article for another time. I propose that there is another kind of slavery that has been running rampant for thousands of years; the oppressors of this kind, undetected by many. In fact, I would go so far as to say that our modern-day society embraces this sort of slavery as "normal" and "just the way life is." I happen to disagree.
This is the first article in a series of several that I hope to write in an attempt to illuminate others with the truths that have been instrumental in my own freedom process. I actually set out to write one, little Hub on the topic of freedom and quickly realized that this subject is much too deep and broad to adequately cover in one article. I wrote a Hub about my friend, Amy, and in it, mentioned a process I walked her through to find freedom from unknown illnesses that kept sending her to the ER. She found a cure, and it wasn't from the doctors. As people talked to me about the article, I saw that many were curious about this "freedom process" we went through that miraculously healed her from mysterious sickness. I also noticed that beyond the curious, there are many who are suffering and are in desperate need of help. This is my motivation for publishing these articles—to share with many what I've learned to be, in my experience and in those of many others—the wisdom and revelation that completely transformed our lives and set us free from illness, fear, and emotional suffering. The Truth that freed us to become who we were always meant to be and to experience indescribable peace and joy, even in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. The Way that showed us how to live the kind of life we are excited about living.
As I sat down and began to write, I came to realize that the principles by which I now live are built upon a foundation of different pillars which without, the principles would not be useful, if even attainable. The challenge for me is to articulate what I've learned as concisely and clearly as I can, while at the same time not staying on the surface, for in order for one to understand a foundation, he or she must be willing to explore the depths of the issue. This actually might end up turning into a book, but for now I shall try my best to cast vision for the importance of this subject matter and to do justice to its merit by explaining as simply as I can, its foundational pillars.
PILLAR ONE—THE GATEWAY AND FORTRESS OF THE MIND
Beliefs are Not Your Fault But They Are Your Responsibility
What if I believed that all people with red hair were liars? How would I treat my red-headed employee as opposed to my blonde-haired worker? No matter how much the red head tried, would I see his attempts at goodness or would I focus on his weaknesses and magnify them? How would I treat my brother if I believed that all brothers are bullies? Would I be kind to him or would I be more likely to lash out? Would I give him the benefit of the doubt or would I be inclined to jump to conclusions about his actions? And how would I interact with my father if I believed that fathers are distant, uninterested, and ready to dish out punishment every chance they get? I would probably glance over any attempts towards kindness and recognize each instance in which my father acted in a way that aligned with my beliefs. What if your experiences in life are directly related to your beliefs about life? Could it be that people don't notice you because you expect them not to? Is it possible to concur that your friends keep betraying you because you are somehow empowering such actions in those around you?
The purpose of this article is not to cast blame, cause anger, guilt, fear, or shame. My goal is not to convince the reader that victims are to be blamed for their unfortunate circumstances. In fact, a reason that one has come to hold certain beliefs is likely based upon the person's life experiences. Beliefs are often a direct result of our experiences, especially in childhood. As children, we did not choose the circumstances and the families into which we were born. What happened or did not happen to us—what we were taught or were not taught—was not our choice. When we were children, the beliefs we established gave us an illusion of safety. We drew conclusions about that which caused us harm and then used those conclusions to determine what we must believe and do in order to ensure our safety. But as adults, those things which were not our fault are still our responsibility.
The Past Affects Our Present But Does Not Need To Determine Our Future
One angle to look at how our past affects our present is to use a simple metaphor. Imagine that you grew up in the frigid wilderness of Alaska. You would need to wear some serious, heavy-duty outer garments to protect yourself from the extreme cold. In this environment, long underwear, wool socks, hats, earmuffs, gloves, scarves, sweaters, coats, and warming devices would be critical. They protect you. Now, let's say that you move to the Sahara desert. All you've known your entire life is to dress for extreme cold. How healthy would you be—and how long would you survive—if you tried to live according to the same standards, habits, and practices in the Sahara by which you lived in Alaska? In the same way, some of the beliefs by which you lived as a child are likely to harm you in your adult life. What protected you then may be the very thing that harms you now. You may still be living by beliefs that needlessly deprive you of experiencing the possibility of healthy relationships in this new land of warmth. You cannot control life nor can you control others, but you have complete control over your own beliefs, choices, attitudes, and actions. The false beliefs you adhered to as a child were learned in the context of relationship, and therefore need to be unlearned in the context of relationship.
The Relationships You Don't Have Matter Too
Life is defined by relationship—whether by the presence or the absence of—no person can escape the affects of relationship. You have relationship with yourself, with others, and with a Creator. Some people know themselves well, while others have avoided themselves for years. Some people stay in touch with family members while others do not. Some have deep relationships with friends, while others may entertain several acquaintances. Some talk to their creator on a daily basis, while others deny His existence. If you are reading this and are thinking, "Well I don't believe in God so therefore this third aspect of relationship does not apply to me," then I would say that regardless of your belief, you are still quite affected. If you are not defined by a relationship with a Creator, then you are defined by the lack thereof. An illustration: I think my father does not exist; whether it's true or not, I'm still affected by this belief and will act accordingly.
So what does relationship have to do with beliefs and what do beliefs have to do with our everyday life experiences? I propose that our beliefs and our experiences are very strongly linked. And because beliefs are learned through the context of relationship, they are most often unlearned or relearned through the context of relationship, as well. There is much more to say about relationships, but for now I want to focus on the relational aspect of self knowing self. One of the best ways to find out about yourself is to examine your thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
The Mighty Mind
To understand beliefs, one has to understand the power of our thoughts. Although thoughts are not tangible objects that can be seen by the naked human eye, they are a very real force. In fact, thoughts can be observed at the cellular level, but that comes later. I want to take a moment to center in on the idea that there is power in agreement. Every day, you make hundreds, if not thousands, of agreements about what you will or will not believe. I once heard it said that people's perception is their reality. Yes and no. Perception, or the way people think about life, may not be reality in terms of absolute truth, but it may be their experience of reality and therefore they experience it as true for them. For example, a young girl who believes that all boys are mean, may experience boys as being mean as a pattern. Why is this? First, she probably has true experiences in which boys have been mean to her. If she believes this is true about all boys, she is likely to act in a certain way towards all boys—perhaps she is mean to them or becomes distant or withdrawn. This touches on what many call the "self-fulfilling prophecy." But there is also the very real possibility of the girl having a skewed perception. She may minimize when others that are NOT boys are mean to her, and maximize, or exaggerate, when it is a boy that is being mean, because she is already focused on this experience. For example, if a boy is not sharing a toy with her, perhaps it is because he is unaware that she wants to play with it. He's not trying to "be mean" to her. But if her mind is already made up that "boys are mean" then she is likely to interpret his actions as intentionally withholding the toy from her because "he's mean."
You Are What You Think
I believe that there is yet another reason why people are likely to experience what they expect. This reason is the one that is most difficult to explain, and probably not easy, if even possible, to prove. Some circles call it "The Law of Attraction," which in its most basic form, states that whatever you focus on, produces an energy flow that actually causes such thoughts to manifest into reality. It is especially powerful in relation to fear. You do not want the things you fear to come into your life with such passion, that you are constantly thinking about how to avoid them, therefore giving energy to and attracting the very things you do not want. As you worry, you visualize the negative events that you fear over and over again. This creates a closed circle, or a pattern. You think about the negative objects and then experiences negative emotions. Your actions align with these negative thoughts and emotions and you co-create your own negative experiences. Although I don't fully agree with all of the beliefs and philosophies of many who preach this message, I do believe that the message, itself is true. Because I believe that the Bible is a source of Truth, I will refer to some nuggets of wisdom that it carries regarding the power of one's thought life, because it actually speaks to this very concept on several occasions. There are so many verse that I could include, but here are just a few that talk about the importance and power of thoughts.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
What is it that we need divine power for? To destroy strongholds. What are strongholds associated with? The verse goes on to talk about the importance of destroying arguments and lofty opinions (pride) that oppose the knowledge of God. What is the knowledge of God? Truth—reality. The call to action is to take every thought captive. This shows that we have a responsibility and the authority to manage our thought life. If there are thoughts that need to be taken captive, that tells me that there are some "bad" thoughts trying to break through and run amuck through my mind. I wouldn't need to take a good thing captive!
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Again, this verse demonstrates that we have a choice regarding on what we will focus. I don't think that God is suggesting that we become "positive thinkers" just because it sounds like a good idea. I believe God knows the POWER of thoughts and is instructing us on what to focus because He knows that our lives depend on it!
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
This verse explicitly suggests that it is through the renewing of the mind that one is transformed. Think about what the word transformation means. A caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly. The two look nothing alike and are quite different creatures—yet it starts off as one thing and is transformed into another. This verse implies that we can be transformed by the changing the way that we think.
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)
This verse is simple and should not need too much interpretation—but I think people pass over it. It may be simple, but it is quite profound. I mean, think about what this is really saying—think about the implications. The word “thinks” is telling you that God is targeting your thought process – what you think about on a daily basis.
Perhaps you are reading this and don't really believe in God—or maybe you do believe in God but are drawn to the "science" of things. Allow me to present some data from a more scientific point of view.
The Anatomy of a Thought
I am not a scientist so please don't read this with the same expectation with which you would read an article in a professional science journal. I will just be skimming the surface of the information that is available on this topic. My goal is to present a few intriguing elements of data for you to consider.
Thoughts are not just an abstract process that float around invisibly somewhere inside your head. There is actually physical evidence in the body that shows the chemistry of a thought. A claim that I find to be extremely compelling is made by a geneticist at Columbia University by the name of Professor David Suzuki, which states that scientists believe they have found a genetic code for free will. Suzuki says that the really important genes in the body are not the ones that tell you what to do, but the ones that give you the ability to change behavior in response to the environment. Choice is built into your DNA. If you think about this long enough and hard enough, the implications are quite profound. Keep this bit of information in mind and consider this next piece of data.
There is a good deal of research out there that shows that around 87% of illness can be attributed to one's thought life. Only 13% of illness is attributed to diet, genetics, and the environment. Dr. Caroline Leaf, in her book Who Switched Off My Brain, says that studies conclusively link chronic diseases to a prevalent rise of toxic emotions in our society. She goes on to characterize all emotions as belonging to one of two groups: positive faith-based emotions or negative fear-based emotions. According to Leaf, each group has its own set of molecules attached to it. Emotions are not only physically represented in the body, but they result in attitudes, which is a state of mind. One's state of mind produces a physical reaction in the body and thus a resultant behavior. Are you connecting the dots yet?
Let's go a little bit further. Take a moment and think about the top ten negative and positive emotions one might experience. Leaf says that every single one of those negative emotions evolve from fear and that all the positive emotions evolve from faith. Her list for fear-based emotions includes hate, worry, anxiety, anger, hostility, rage, resentment, frustration, impatience, irritation, and the list goes on. Faith-based emotions include love, peace, kindness, joy, self-control, gentleness, and patience. All of these emotions—positive or negative—result in attitudes. And remember, these attitudes are causing chemical reactions to occur in the body from which resultant behaviors are derived.
Are you ready for the next level? Think about stress for a moment. What causes stress? Leaf suggests that fear (or fear-based emotions) is at the root of all stress. Why does she say this? Research shows that fear automatically puts the body into stress mode. Let's look at anxiety, for example. This is one of the most toxic emotions that fear produces because it can hang around long after the threat has come and gone. Hate, which is closely linked with bitterness, resentment, and anger, is another very powerful fear-based emotion. In fact, not only do emotions such as hate invade the thought life, but they actually demand quite a bit of space, physically, in the brain. Leaf suggests that you think of the physical representation of thoughts as being like tiny trees in the brain. Anger would be like thorns that grow on these trees and would be comparable to weeds that grow with such speed and in such abundance, that they actually crowd out all the good things. If hate is allowed to remain in the space, it will eventually take over all of the "thought trees" of the mind and in essence, literally poison all of one's thoughts and emotions, which of course, directly impacts the body.
Detoxing Your Brain
Is there a cure to this poison? One of the most helpful things one can do to detoxify the brain involves NOT responding immediately to strong emotions. Instead, Leaf suggests that it is better to acknowledge what you feel and determine if it is toxic or not. If it is, you can then begin the process of learning to let it go. Letting something go does NOT mean burying your emotions—burying something alive will wreak havoc later. In fact, the mind perceives suppressed emotions as fear and therefore is one of the most destructive things you can do for your health. Do not deny, block, or suppress emotions—whether good or bad!
To boil it all down into practical application, I would say that the first step people can take towards wholistic health, happiness, and freedom, would be to do an honest evaluation of their own condition—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It may be easiest to start with observing your own body. Pay attention to your physical symptoms, but remember that treating symptoms, alone, does not address the real problem. Look for the causes—the roots. What kinds of attitudes do you have? What sorts of thoughts do you think? If you were to record every thought in a 24-hour period, how many would be negative—how many would be positive? Are you letting thoughts rage throughout your mind, untamed, or are you taking captive the negative, fear-based thoughts? Thoughts are powerful—they are highly correlated to our experiences. Research shows that we have the capacity to choose which thoughts we allow into our minds. Do you want to be free? Start by examining your thought-life and be prepared to capture and expel every thought that does not align with Truth.
Why Truth Matters To Your Brain
Do you know what Truth is? If not, it will be hard to know which thoughts can stay and which thoughts need to go! I know what I believe about Truth. The Truth I know is a person and His name is Jesus Christ, but each person must find the Truth for themselves. I am confident that if you seek after Truth with openness to letting go of any preconceived notions of what it is "supposed to be," you will find it. We always find what we are looking for if we don't give up. If you sincerely seek after Truth, you will find Truth. If you are looking for excuses to keep living the way that you want, you will find those—there are plenty out there! Don't be afraid of what's out there—don't be afraid of what's within. This is your chance! Nobody gets to decide this for you—YOU get to choose that which you will seek. YOU get to choose that which you will believe. And if all I've written about is indeed true, then it is YOU who gets to decide what your experience of life will be like! The years, hours, or minutes you have left to live upon this planet are yours to do with whatever you desire. Isn't it freeing to know that nobody else gets to decide your experience of life but you?
Spiritual Forces with Chemical Representation
I'd like to conclude this article with one more quote from Dr. Caroline Leaf. She says that ultimately, fear and faith are not just emotions, but "spiritual forces with chemical and electrical representation in the body." This article has barely touched upon, if even at all, the reality of the spirit realm. But that's what the next article is for! As soon as I finish it, I'll come back and create a link. Until then, be careful what you think!
My ideas for this article have been formed by multiple experiences over a period of time. Some of what I believe comes as a result of my study of the Word of God. Therefore, I would like to credit the Bible and Holy Spirit for revealing its truths to me. Other ideas that I've formed have been inspired by the research, writing, and teaching of others. I'd like to give credit to the following sources for shaping my thoughts and beliefs on the subject matter:
• Cloud, Henry. Changes That Heal.
• Coltman, Ron and Val. Freedom Foundations: Training for Reigning.
• Leaf, Dr. Caroline. Who Switched Off My Brain?
• Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
• Shepherds House. The Essentials of Christian Living from The Life Model.
• Wright, Henry. A More Excellent Way.