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Defining Freedom, part 2: Self-Discipline

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. — 1 Corinthians 6:12

We are becoming…a nation of adolescents — preoccupied with ourselves, sexualized, moody and impulsive, seeking freedom without responsibility. — Mary Pipher, The Shelter Of Each Other

My mother used to say that her goal in disciplining her children was not to daunt us or ensure that we would always choose what she would have chosen for us, but to teach us how to discipline ourselves. I learned in very concrete ways that freedom and privileges came along with responsibility. I could join the discussion group at the public library and the interview series on homeschooling, if  I stayed courteous when people disagreed with me. I could get my wish and have us start growing our garden organically, if I did my share of the research and the extra work involved.  I understood the reason for these requirements. If I got what I wanted without doing the necessary work, I was piling up extra work or aggravation for somebody else, making it harder for them to be free.

This understanding helped me when I entered adolescence and ran into the wider culture’s messages telling me that freedom was freedom from responsibility, freedom to do what I wanted and let someone else deal with the consequences. There was something appealing in that message, but I knew it was false. I knew that my choices had real effects on people I cared about. I also knew that they shaped me. They made me into a person I could respect, or a person I didn’t want to live with. They affected my health and skill and courage, my freedom to do what I wanted and felt called to do.

The global economy makes it easy for us to miss the consequences of our actions. We don’t see the places where our trash gets dumped or where the grid electricity that powers our computers and heats our homes is produced. We don’t see the people who work to produce the stuff we use. This ‘frees’ us to amuse ourselves without thought. But this pseudo-freedom harms our neighbors and the earth, and it makes us weaker, shallower, less free to make meaningful choices about how the world is used or to do the work that builds God’s Kingdom. Living off-grid can help to move us toward a freedom that is more rigorous and more real.