Monday, June 11, 2007

Fear of Freedom

In telling the story of his conversion, Augustine wrote in his Confessions (VIII.5) about how he struggled, preconversion, with the implications of being a Christian and receiving God's grace. He understood that this would make a change of life - and self - not only possible, but also necessary. The prospect of being free of the sins that controlled him was attractive, but it was also frightening:
"Instead of fearing, as I ought, to be held back by all that encumbered me, I was frightened to be free of it."

Story of my life. I bet it's the story of yours, too.

I read a similar thought in a more contemporary book a few years ago, and the insight was helpful. As much as we hate our sins, shortcomings, addictions, and quirks, those are the things that we use to define ourselves to ourselves. "This is who I am, this is what I am like." If the alcoholic stopped being an alcoholic, who would he be? If the brainy guy stopped being so intellectual about everything, who would he be? If the emotionally inhibited man stopped repressing everything, who would he be? If the hypercritical woman stopped being so negative about everyone and everything, who would she be? If YOU stopped ______________, who would you be?

Even in our new lives as Christians, we become comfortable with our inadequacies, and even though we don't like them, holding on to them is preferable to giving them up and losing our identity.

Eventually, push comes to shove. It may happen at a crisis point, but it will more likely be a long series of little decisions. We either grow in Christlikeness by accepting the significance, security, and transformative power that Jesus offers us, or we continue to hold back the ugly but comfortable parts of our personality and identity.

In VIII.7, Augustine says to God, "You brought me face to face with myself..., forcing me upon my own sight so that I should see my wickedness and loathe it. I had known it all along, but I had always pretended that it was something different." Why call it wickedness if we can call it preferences, or weaknesses, or personality, or "Just the way I am"?

Ultimately, Augustine came around. Ultimately, he says to God (VIII.12), "You converted me to yourself." No other conversion, no other vision, will be strong enough to convince us to deny ourselves and follow Him.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily
entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith."
(Hebrews 12.2,3)


  1. I think that we hold on to the comfortable sins that define us because sometimes that is what other people expect from us. They don't feel comfortable when we begin to transform. It might redefine the relationship or the roles that we are expected to play. Nobody, for awhile, knows what to do. For example, if I wasn't the complaining bitch others expected me to be and are used to, then where does that leave them? Who are they? What do they do?

    We are not in a vacuum, there is a ripple in the water effect.

    I liked the question "who would you be?"

  2. True.

    If I ever started dancing, for example, it would freak people out.

  3. Oh, do it have to live a little...and make a video of it and post it on your blog. I don't want to miss a thing!

  4. When you made the reference in Confessions to VIII.12, for example, does this mean Book 8, Chapter 12?
    What edition do you use?


  5. Yes, that's what it means.

    I used the 1961 translation by R.S. Pine-Coffin. (A most unfortunate name!)