When our county issued a mandate requiring residents to do something with which I did not agree, I was triggered. A rebellious voice inside retorted, "Don't tell me what to do!"

Right away, I could see that the voice was coming from a place inside that felt unheard and unacknowledged. What about me? it asked. Don't I get a say in this?

As I sat longer with the feelings, it became clear that I was playing victim. "Don't tell me what to do," sounds like something I would say to my sister when we were kids, to assert my independence and free will. It is something I would say when I believed someone was trying to control me, overriding my right to freedom.

I used to think that freedom meant being able to do whatever one wanted to do, within limits, of course. Meaning, "freedom" did not entitle a person to drive 85 miles an hour on a busy two-way street, and it didn't mean cutting to the front of the line at the grocery store. Such restrictions on one's personal freedom were obvious. I say "obvious" because I agreed with such rules, be they explicit (speed limits) or unspoken (wait your turn).

The rub comes when we don't agree with the rules. How does one experience their God-given freedom when living among implicit and explicit rules with which they may not agree?

On the surface, it may look like our freedom is being impinged upon. How do we exercise free will in a home, a community, a society that is full of rules and conditions over which we have no control?

We start by understanding the heart of freedom and free will. Free will is not about controlling conditions — it is about exercising our choice of response to conditions.

The only freedom we truly have is in choosing our perspective.

Life will plop us into various conditions. How we respond to them is what shapes our experience.

For example, let's say you are on your way to a meeting and it begins to rain. You don't have an umbrella. You could adopt the attitude that this is a bad situation: your blouse will be ruined, your hair will fall flat, and you'll be self-conscious about your looks for the duration of the meeting. Or, you could appreciate the rain for nurturing your yard, laugh about your funny-looking hair, and be grateful that you even have hair. Can you imagine how the meeting might unfold in each of the two scenarios, considering your state of mind?

People respond to how we show up with them. Life responds to how we show up in it.

The only thing we truly have control over is upon which thoughts to focus. Therein lies our freedom and power.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning


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