In those days, what was your understanding of freedom? Has it changed ever since?
What IS freedom?
Perhaps when we were younger, we would have thought of freedom as the given leeway to do as we please, contrasting to having to follow someone's instructions and commands, and face the consequences if we do not. And in some cases, we do not quite grow out of this understanding of freedom.
When I recalled my moments of wanting freedom as a teenager, and examined my true intentions, I noticed that actually, this cry for freedom stemmed from the desire to want to live life in my own stubborn ways. Right or wrong, that no one comes to fuss or nag at me. I choose. I am in control.
At times, people comment that marriage is a loss of freedom, that having children is a loss of freedom. People choose not to get married because they do not wish to be tied down, to accommodate other people in their lives, people of whom they have no control over. To some (not all) of these people, remaining freed of the restrictions of marital vows might be that leeway that allows for multiple partners, a change in partner when the previous no longer appeals. An unwillingness to commit and to give of oneself totally, once and for all.
In the story of Les Misérables, we find many characters trapped in their own ways, robbed of their freedom. The prisoners were trapped in living hell, awaiting their day of parole and the expiration of their term. Jean Valjean was trapped in his hatred and scorn towards his oppressor, inspector Javert, who himself was trapped within his prejudices and mercilessness towards the prisoners. The Thénardiers were caged in by their greed and their assumed superiority over Cosette, who as a young child was abused and left to her own defences. Freedom to these characters would mean a life that is freed from their oppressors in whatever forms they may be disguised in.
Sin enslaves us in the clutches of evil. Freedom is not to be without restrictions so that we can do as we please in an irresponsible and unethical manner. Freedom is not an inward gaze into myself, which forgets the other.
Can a prisoner feel free? Is our inner freedom dependent on our circumstances, our life situations?
Freedom is the ability to choose good when bad seems safer, more convenient and more promising. Freedom is to be able to live without the restrictions of fear and anxiety. That when others threaten, we are able to stand our grounds and not be shaken. That when confronted, we are able to remain cool and not be provoked. That when mistreated, we are able to forgive and let go, and not be consumed by anger. Jean Valjean's life was turned around only when he opened his heart and allowed the healing grace of God to make whole the wounds of hatred and scorn; a conversion experience that freed him so much that he was willing to lay down his life for another.
Freedom is that when we do something, we do it because we are sincere and willing, and not because of a role to be fulfilled, an expectation to be met, a consequence to be avoided, a higher power and authority we are afraid to offend. That when misjudged, we are able to walk away with a clean conscience and not fight our way through to present our case. That when astray, we are able to humbly acknowledge our faults and return. That when alone, we are able to feel comfortable and not be suspicious of how others may be thinking of us.
Freedom is the confidence we have in ourselves of who we are, and yet at the same time, being unafraid of admitting to our strengths and imperfections, and being patient with ourselves as we work on these imperfections. That our emotions are not dependent on other people and external factors and our actions are not reactions towards others. That our hope and love are not affected by our unpredictable humanity and life circumstances. Freedom is to be detached from worldly, inordinate desires so as to be attached to God, in whom we are free to love and give of ourselves without a need to withhold, to live in the abundance He has given us and not to hog on to our possessions as if to lose them is to lose our lives. Freedom is to live securely as children of our heavenly Father every moment of every day in His unfailing and loving embrace.
The question now is... How free are you, really?
Who/What are you most affected by? How have these people/experiences caused you to feel?
How may God be urging you to let Him open the gates of your prison cells?