The word freedom has been coming up for me lately. It seems like it’s everywhere and that’s when I know God is trying to tell me something. One definition of freedom is the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. For me, the freedom I am pondering lately is the freedom from a performative environment. Growing up there was a lot of pressure to make good grades, graduate high school and complete a bachelor’s degree, at least. And if you were really dedicated, a master’s or doctorate was the gold standard. My mom placed a high value on education, and for good reason. She herself was only one class away from a doctorate. She was a woman who valued education and made a career for herself in the 50s when it wasn’t the norm for women. She blazed her own trail and was her own person apart from the typical path of most women to get married and have a family after high school. She was a force to be reckoned with and she was my hero in many ways, but I also felt the pressure to live up to that ideal. It was about how well I performed and what I made of myself. Some of that pressure was definitely self-inflicted, but was there nonetheless.
I look back at my church experience as a teen and young adult and I see the purity culture and the damage that did to so many young people. It was about maintaining your purity, particularly if you were female, and if you didn’t, there was an immense shame. I lived a double life in high school trying to look like the perfect Christian girl but feeling like a failure. There was an unfair expectation of girls to try to maintain purity in the face of men being told they were slaves to their lust and they couldn’t help themselves in every man’s battle. The way we dressed as girls we were told was a stumbling block for the boys and we should do something about that. Years later I look back on that poor teenage girl who was wrestling with her shame and trying to be “good” and, I feel such anger for her. No one should have shamed her. They should have sat down and asked her how she was and how they could help her out of an abusive situation. But no one was concerned with how she really was, only what she did. That followed me until this year. I have felt damaged and such shame. I didn’t believe I deserved better. I didn’t believe I had any value other than what I could do for someone. It was all about ministering from your pain but that doesn’t actually heal the pain, it just makes you stuff it down and move forward. You must dig up that pain and actually deal with it, feel it and let go of it. And then, and only then, can you give to someone else from that pain in your life. You cannot give what you don’t have.
So now in my life, I’m declaring freedom. Freedom from shame. Freedom from performing. Freedom from others’ opinions. Freedom to be who I am. Freedom to be the same person inside that I am on the outside. Freedom from my addiction to codependence and people-pleasing. Freedom to be the person I was made to be. Freedom from patriarchy, the freedom to know I am just as valuable as the men in my life. Freedom to make decisions without second-guessing and judging myself. Freedom to do what is best for me. Freedom to have a relationship with God and to understand He loves me even if I never did another thing for Him. Freedom.