For several summers in middle school, I went to Nature Camp in the mountains of Virginia. (Nerd alert!!) We took classes every day in things like Wildlife Management, Botany, or Limnology (the study of water). I shocked fish in a creek and learned how to resuscitate them, became familiar with jewel weed and ant lions.
One of those summers I learned this phrase: There is no such thing as a free lunch.
The counselor teaching that particular session explained that there is ALWAYS a cost. If you got something free, it cost someone else. When an animal eats, it is at the cost of plant or animal life. YOU might not always pay the cost, but SOMEONE (or something) does.
That phrase really stuck with me and I have been mulling it over recently. The past few weeks, FREE is everywhere. The freedom we celebrate in our country on July 4th. The freedom to marry. The freedom to have different opinions. Free speech. Buy one get one free sales for the holiday.
But there is a problem with the idea of freedom. The problem is this: there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Why Freedom Isn’t Really Free
One of the things that is at the core of celebrating Independence Day is the remembrance that our freedom cost a lot of things. We shoot off fireworks and eat grilled food and swim in pools and wave flags and sometimes sing patriotic songs. We also remember those who have fought for our freedom to celebrate in this way. We remember those who gave their lives for it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free country. Not really. We consider it, but don’t fully grasp the many sacrifices made then and now for the freedom of our country.
When Our Conflicting Freedoms Overlap
As our freedom cost the lives of those who fought for it, there was also a high cost for people who were NOT on the receiving end of the benefits. Native Americans suffered when the colonists came, both before and after the war for freedom from Britain. Our independence also cost the British, who lost lives and probably had long-reaching economical effects.
Sometimes my freedom overlaps and overshadows your freedom. Laws may address this. I have the freedom to do what I want, but that does not mean I can kill someone else. That would overlap (ahem, understatement) that person’s freedom. Our law prohibits that.
But what about more murky places? Lately there are a lot of those. The freedom some claim to display the Confederate flag is, to others, a violation. Freedoms often tangle when your freedom and my freedom run head-on into one another. Freedom is messy.
How to Give Freedom Away
The greatest freedom I enjoy is not the freedom of this country (though I am grateful for it). The greatest freedom I enjoy is a soul freedom. Also costly. Also messy. It also teaches me the very best use of freedom.
You see, Jesus gave up his freedoms to give me a freedom I didn’t deserve and I could never have earned. That’s the gospel story.
He asks us to do the same. But I (and many Christians like me) do not often give up freedoms for the sake of others. We can give up our rights to fly certain flags or speak a certain way, even if our country’s laws allow. But mostly, we don’t. Mostly we seem to clutch at right and privilege, rather than voluntarily giving up our freedoms for someone else.
I am often so busy enjoying my freedom and privilege that I forget how much I have. The more I have, the more I am able to give away.
As I think about freedom and free lunches, I am thinking of this story I read about ISIS awarding women and girls as prizes for memorizing passages in the Quran. I think about the efforts of local organizations like Rescue Houston and Elijah Rising to free women from sexual trafficking and slavery.
In our free country and in what is often known as the free world, there are countless (estimated at 20-30 million) human slaves. This haunts me. Daily. The number of people lacking the most basic freedom seems insurmountable, doesn’t it?
But we can make a difference. I believe this. I have left voicemails and talked to women sold online, offering a hotline number for escape. Did any of them use it? I’LL NEVER KNOW. I took a van tour to see where slavery is happening in my own city, right this very moment. It’s a Friday night as I write this, so it’s a busy night for those women. (You should sign up for a van tour if you’re in Houston. It’s so hard, but we really NEED to see how hard.) These are such small things, but together they are large. Prayers also might seem small, but God hears them. GOD HEARS THEM. Which makes them large things we can offer, even if we can offer nothing else.
I say these things not to cast a shadow on the celebrations tomorrow. I will be walking with the girls in a neighborhood parade, ending with a pool party where we will eat hot dogs and drink soda and swim. We will celebrate. But I will also thinking about what freedoms I might give away for those who have NONE.
I will ask you what I am asking myself: are there any freedoms you can give up for the sake of someone else?
Can I give up my freedom (and monetarily ability) to stop at a drive-thru for a snack to give that money toward an organization that is on the ground in the middle east?
Can I give up time and pray?
What might I freely give up to make an impact, however small?
Can I ask that you consider this question as well, even as you might be celebrating this Independence Day? Christian Aid has people on the ground, helping to aid refugees fleeing Isis. (Though they only have 2 stars on this charity watchdog site, it is because of some info not given; 97.7% of money goes to programs, not admin or fundraising.) Preemptive Love works to aid in a way that encourages sustainability within the community and is working now with refugees in the middle east. (See this video interview with Preemptive Love, Jennie Allen, and Ann Voskamp.)
Many of us have so much freedom, so much privilege. I am all for celebrating the cost of that freedom and the enjoyment of it. But oh, how I long for the freedom for so many women, given away as prizes. Freedom always has a cost. Let some of the cost of their freedom come from me.