The Journey series
Right to Liberty
This week’s Mustard Seed looks at the right to liberty. Liberty is the exercise of freedom bound by the constraints of community.
I worked for a time rebuilding a summer camp for children. There was a creek running through the property which provided fresh water. A small tributary ran off to a low area where the water sat, became fetid, had a decidedly foul odour, and gradually flowed over a fallen log down to the beach where it disappeared into the sand.
As part of my project we carved out a bench on a hillside to accommodate a new infirmary. I used the excavated material to fill the low area, leaving a rock-lined channel to direct the water down to the beach. The area was transformed from a fenced-off bog that bred mosquitoes to a favourite place for small groups to gather and talk. Instead of driving people away, the water now draws them near.
That project came to mind years later when I heard a talk likening the banks of a river to moral limits. The speaker pointed out how powerful water is as it flows down a river is toward the sea and how water ceases to flow and stagnates if it breaches the banks. He explained that limits don’t tie us down; they direct us toward our goal. Sin leads us astray. Not to anywhere, but away from our proper end.
I thought further of my time as a computer programmer/analyst. Setting limits was critical. The project scope was documented and approved very early in the process. Setting the scope too narrow rendered a project ineffective; too wide threw budget and schedule out the window. Scope, budget, and schedule were closely tracked and reviewed. Significant variance in any one parameter required revision of the others. I pictured a three-panned scale. The complexity that extra pan added was immediately apparent. I quickly realized that three pans were not enough for life; there are many variables. Some are flexible; some are not. One can apply oneself and become proficient in many areas but study in a subject for which one has no interest or ability is of little avail. There are also physical limits. As my son’s basketball coach said, “You can’t teach tall.”
It was about then my head started to spin; time to step back and review my thoughts. If we’re stuck in a bad place, not going anywhere, it’s time to introduce a few more limits. When our limits restrain us bounce back into the stream. When our limits confuse us turn to our interests and abilities. We will get farther by staying within our limits than by banging our heads against them. We are not free to do as we will; we are only free to do as we can. Even with things we can do, time will constrain us. We must choose. We also do not live alone; at times we must defer to others.
We limit some personal freedoms to live in community but living in community frees us from many personal limits. We need much more than we can accomplish. We offer our excess in exchange for our wants. Our interests and abilities complement those of others. On the flip side, our dislikes and inabilities complement those of others. We must recognize and respect both sides of that coin.
Next time you hit a limit don't despair. That limit isn't an obstacle barring you from your goal, it's a sign post pointing to a greater opportunity.
Next week: Right to Pursue Happiness
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Peter T Elliott