How Freedom Works. some thoughts on slavery.


I’ve been thinking about freedom for a long time.

External freedom is one thing. It’s important. For anyone who has ever been a captive will understand that to be externally free is of utmost importance. The thing is though, that captivity and oppression are not just about external things. There are internal things that happen: things that shift places deep inside of us. Things we learn to survive and to help us through that served us for a while but now keep us enslaved.

So, how does freedom work exactly? Not just the obvious freedom of a captive whose door gets unlocked and they can simply leave. Recently I watched Hector’s pursuit of happiness where he is help a prisoner by African drug lords and then gets released. The scene is him slowly walking away, like he’s afraid any moment someone is going to shoot him dead, to him realizing he’s been released and he begins to run and laugh and shout and dance and run and it’s all just so flipping exhilarating. He writes in his happiness journal that true happiness is freedom. And he’s right.

My friend Hanna told me about being trapped in a pedophile ring for her childhood. Being forced to do unmentionable things – all. The. Time. That’s called slavery. That’s a real prison. The thing is she’s been free from that captivity for years and years and years but she still struggles with freedom. Being free on the outside has to be matched with being free on the inside. And how do we do that exactly?


The Israelites walked around a desert for forty years after they were ‘free’ from the oppression of the Egyptians but none of them seemed to think it was much of a ‘freedom dance’ they were doing. Commentaries suggest that the forty years was about getting freedom from the outside to the inside of them. Does it take that long?

Hanna would agree, I think, with Nelson Mandela, and the people of God that the road to freedom is a long walk. Those of us who want simple, shallow answers to complex truths (like almost everyone born) seem to think that the day Mandela was released from jail is what made him free. But you’d be wrong about that. By his own admission freedom started much sooner than that and also took much longer. What does that mean?

It means that freedom is much more complicated. It’s about our external lives, for sure. It’s about our internal lives for sure. But it’s even more than that. It’s about these parts of us being united together and contributing to the world around us. It’s about living a different way – from the inside out.


I want to live that way. But the truth is that it’s a hard way to live. The truth is that slavery exists in each of us. That freedom is elusive and difficult, and complicated. That the road to freedom is hard and long. That to be truly free means to face truth and accept it and to be authentic and vulnerable and open – and that is just simply terrifying.

To be free is to abandon yourself to a greater being who knows you better than you know yourself. If that’s how freedom works then why not start today?