I don’t know…can you?

Remember Uncle Ben?  From Spiderman?  “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” There’s big wisdom in those words.  I would also suggest — with great freedom comes great responsibility.

Uncle Ben from Spiderman movie, 2002

(Photo: Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben and Tobey Maguire as Peter Park in Spider-Man (2002) found at http://markdroberts.com/?p=463)

One of the qualities that I cherish about the Christian life is the quality of freedom.  God has created us in His image, yet He has created us all uniquely — and along with that, He has created us each with our own minds and thoughts — freedom.  When God sent His son to die for our sins, He gave us — freedom.  When we choose to accept Christ as our Lord and savior, we have the freedom to turn our backs on the sins of our past and live a totally abundant life — overflowing with goodness we never imagined.  Sadly, we also have the freedom to turn our backs on God and live life as we please — but that’s a whole other post.  I’m a huge fan of having my own mind.  I’m a huge fan of freedom — of all kinds.  That being said, I realize that with freedom comes a balance of using my freedom responsibly, as well as respecting the freedom of others.  I also realize that too much freedom isn’t always a good thing.

I am a being that requires boundaries.  I need structure.  Parents set boundaries for and discipline their children out of love, but also as a necessity — much as we don’t like to admit it — we crave limits.  I know this logically in my brain, yet sometimes living out a life with boundaries, a life that balances responsibility with freedom is one of those “easier said than done”.

William Bridges in Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes recommends that in times of life upheaval we do our best to build temporary structures.  Read: when your life has seemingly been turned upside down, create some anchors that can help you hang on.  He writes…

When we had our house remodeled a few years ago, we tolerated for several weeks a living room wall made of plastic and canvas.  That temporary construction was ugly, but it provided us with the protection we needed to go on living in a space that was being transformed.  So it is with transitional situations in love and work:  you will need to work out ways of going on while the inner work is being done.  This may involve getting a temporary job while you look for a real job; it may involve agreements at home or at work to carry on in some modified fashion until something more permanent can be devised; or it may simply involve an inner resolve to accept a given situation as temporary and to transfer some energy to the job of finding a replacement for it.

So what do these temporary structures look like in our lives?  For me, it has meant routine.  As my husband will sometimes say in amusement, “you go through phases” — and he’s right.  My routine and schedule has gone through many iterations throughout these past 12 months — I have had periods of focusing more on physical activity, of regular reflective writing, of cooking one recipe after another, of learning all things WordPress, of feasting on my “to read” stacks, of chatting it up with friends over breakfast or tea or flavored steamers…much like Elizabeth Gilbert — in many of my own private “Italy-s”.

Shifts in the routine have mostly been a product of my own whims, but then there have been those grand “mean-life” changes that have required new and different times of rebuilding.  Since late spring I have found that more than a change in structure or routine, I have been without structure or routine.  In many ways, life turned me upside down, all around, and then some that I found myself in more of a free-for-all.  The result: I have felt unfulfilled, purpose-less, and yearning to again do the things I love.  Part of this routine-less time was a necessary element in grieving and healing, but as I have slowly come out of it, I realize that I am again in need of creating structure.

Time to remodel.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) I don’t have cool before and after photos to document the changes in my “inner life”, but I do experience growth in character, greater strength, and the affirmed confidence that I’ve “been there; done that” and can therefore reach into my remodeling toolbox to start building all over again.

As I was thinking about structure, freedom, responsibility I was reminded of a time working with high school students in Central Washington during the summers.  I had the hybrid joy and challenge of working with students who had little access to social capital (i.e. those mentors and positive role models in life helping them get a “hook up” with education), few resources to support a healthy and well-rounded education, and many were carrying way too many burdens for their young teenage years.  Five days a week I lived with and mentored these amazing individuals in the dorms of a community college campus.  By day the students had the opportunity to catch up on missed high school credits, or gain extra credits to get ahead, and by night they participated in cultural events to preserve their heritage (many were Latino, Native American, and African American), and participated in learning discussions.  In these dorms we kept a strict schedule, especially when it came to light’s out.  I remember standing in the hallways (I on the ladies’ side) minutes before the call for lights out, watching these young women scramble to get final notes from friends, brush their teeth, or make the last trip to the restroom.  One young woman came to me with wide eyes, “How many minutes until light’s out?”  “Three.” “Do I have time to use the bathroom?”  ” I don’t know…do you?” Although it may sound as though I was being facetious, that was not my intent.  Instead, I was working to help her understand that it was not I who had the power or control to say whether or not she could use the restroom in three minutes — it was up to her — to learn her boundaries and responsibilities — knowing she had three minutes left, knowing herself and her needs — could she make it in three minutes (I should note that we dialogued about this, but the next day — I didn’t want to take away any of her three minutes)?  A small lesson, but one of many in which I hoped to let these teenagers know that they had great freedom, but also great responsibility.

So, now, as I think about rebuilding temporary structure in my life, I reflect on all the things I want to do (time in prayer, time in God’s word, physical exercise, creating interesting and healthy yummies to eat, stretching my cardmaking and jewelry-making skills, spending quality time with loved ones, finding fulfilling and fruitful work).  Each new day is exciting — lots of time, potential to do almost anything, but I often get overwhelmed and then find myself at the end of the day feeling like I did none of it.  So, first I start with the easy stuff — collect the trash on Mondays, put the bins down Wednesday, bring them up Thursday; check the mail; doctor appointments, etc.  I write lists for myself of the things I want to do, focusing on items that are time-sensitive.  Then I have to ask myself, “Can I do it all?” and then hear my mind’s voice reply, “I don’t know…can you?”  There’s not time in the day to do it all, every day.  However, with the right kind of balance, I can have tastes (and sometimes indulgences) of all those things I love, as well as more of what I am responsible and committed to do — it’s all a matter of building structure and striking a balance.  And if there are a few phases here and there, I won’t complain.

How do you build structure for yourself?  What are your anchors when life turns you topsy turvy?  How do you balance absolute freedom with responsibility?

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