Every night, after my four-year-old son has fallen asleep in his bed, I enter his room to pray for him and lay his blanket over him. When I see him there, I notice how soundly he sleeps. I remember being young and also sleeping so deeply. Nowadays, as a father, I am easily awakened by any noise in the house.
Why is it that my son sleeps well and I don’t? The answer is in the freedom of dependence. My son rests in the freedom of his dependence on me, who cares for him. If he hears a noise in the night, it does not occur to him that it might be a threat, or that he ought to respond to that threat. He knows, even subconsciously, that his safety is in the hands of his father.
If dependence can lead to freedom, why do we always seek independence?
This week, we as a nation proclaimed, for the 236th time, our independence. We reminded ourselves of our War of Independence and our Declaration of Independence. These victories indelibly disallowed England—or any other nation—the ability to tax, seize, or otherwise control the United States of America. Our nation’s character is grounded in this birth story; we are a thoroughly independent people.
If our nation’s character is defined by independence, so also are the characters of its citizens. In our culture, most of us find it necessary to declare our independence from our parents, our social constructs, our fears and even our faiths. Our expectation is that through independence we will be free. We make the mistake of thinking that if it’s true for our nation, it’s also true for us as individuals. We think that if freedom is our goal, independence is how we get there.
Paul Simon’s famous lyrics give voice to the individual’s desire for independence:
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Whether or not Simon was being sarcastic, his words display the error in our assumption that independence necessarily leads to freedom. Is an island really free? Perhaps its freedom is also its entrapment. As the song shows us, independence can come at the expense of friendship and joy. Does anyone really want to live as an island? In our hearts, don’t we all long instead for intimacy?
For individuals, independence leads to neither freedom nor intimacy. Consider instead the freedom that can come from dependence.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to a king named David. Around 3,000 years ago, the King of Israel wrote these words:
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge. (Psalm 62:7, emphasis mine)
In order to grasp the profundity of this statement, we must remember that it was written by a king. There he sat: enthroned in power and pageantry. But David knew ultimately that his identity was entirely dependent on another being. He knew his Creator, and found both intimacy and freedom in that relationship. Whereas Paul Simon declared, “I am a rock”, King David declared, “God is my rock.”
David, like my four-year-old son, found refuge in his freedom of dependence.
Such freedom is available to anyone. Earlier this year I met a man in a Guatemalan prison. Before being imprisoned, he had been a general in the Guatemalan army. In the fallout after a 25-year civil war, he was falsely accused of murdering his wife and sent to prison indefinitely. When I met him inside the gates, I saw that he had freedom in his eyes. He was a genuinely joyful, content man with many friends and blessings. How did he experience such freedom? It certainly wasn’t because he was independent. He was free because he depended on the same God that King David wrote about so many generations earlier.
Whether we are a child or a king, a free American or a prisoner of any kind, we can rest in the freedom of knowing that God is God, and we are not.