First step to true freedom is letting of go of selfishness

danielgriswold@gmail.comJune 4, 2012 

As a youth minister, I often hear young people talking about how annoyed they are with their parents' rules. These rules are seen as oppressive to some, while others just dislike the constraints and are waiting until they are older to come out from under them.

For instance, take the "respect others" rule. There are teachers, peers and neighbors that young people just don't "respect" because they feel they have been wronged by them for some reason.

Say a teacher reprimands a young girl for talking too much in class. The young girl feels that she was not the only one talking -- that others also should have been reprimanded -- and she is, ultimately, embarrassed to have been called out. The young girl also seems unable to comprehend that one teacher, in a class of 20 to 30 students, cannot reprimand each person in a group and be effective. A teacher looks for a leader among the talking tribe, or someone who is closest physically, or someone they know will listen, and calls out that person, hoping that one reprimand will bring the talking girls back to focus in order to continue teaching.

But the girl, from this point forward, says she "hates" that teacher, that the teacher is "horrible," "mean" or "nasty."

The girl's father eventually hears the tirade against the teacher and quickly realizes that the daughter is not "respecting" the teacher. Certainly there must be another side to this and so a conversation happens. The girl, not understanding why her father is "taking the teacher's side" in the issue, lashes out and disrespects him, furthering her "sin." She is pressed for remorse and repentance, and a genuine change is required by the father.

Punishments, such as taking away iPods or video games, become a way of enforcing family values, and if the young person is stubborn, eventually the he or she starts decrying their loss of freedom.

"Isn't this America?" "Aren't we free to do what we want?" "My parents are dictators!" "Everyone is out to get me."

To the adult, this is selfish thinking, but it's not uncommon among young people, who are yearning to grow out of the boundaries of their childhood, but still are not capable of having their fences completely removed.

Trust is difficult for parents who want to protect their children and are not sure of how far their children should be able to go while making mistakes. Each situation is different and, in my opinion, the parent has more or less leeway in proportion to how much danger the youth is actually in. Parents have to maintain fences so that the impulsiveness of youth does not destroy the child, yet there can be a lengthening of the boundaries, and the conversation needs to change from directives to a two-way discussion where the teen has some input but not authority.

"Because I said so" will no longer work.

The reasons must be discussed and weighed, and values need to be communicated and lived out so that they permeate the experience of the child. And those things, which a parent does not budge on, become the framework with which the child builds his or her adult life.

But they want to be free? What does being free actually mean?

Recently, I have discovered John Wesley's early sermons and diary entries prior to his visit to Savannah.

In the sense that we are all sinful creatures, all burdened by our passions and desires of the self, and unable to stand up on our own to "lift our eyes toward Heaven," we need a path to throw off that burden, to be free from that guilt, which comes from harming ourself and others for our own desires, and essentially to be truly free.

According to Wesley, the only true path to freedom is to rid ourselves of the desires of the self. Our rebellions all come from our nature, fallen since the time of Adam, to put ourselves before everything else. A baby knows how to cry for its wants; a child knows how to make a scene in a toy store; a teen knows how to argue to pursue unhealthy relationships; and adults know how to burn out friends, jobs and marriages.

It comes naturally, and it takes a certain discipline to keep one's "self" from taking over one's whole universe. We forget that the people of the universe outnumber our "one" vote, and that the needs of those people might be worth considering, even before our own. The young person who never has been overseas and who has never seen poverty, might consider his or her parents' "punishments" as abuse. It is a matter of perspective, and our perspective is skewed toward self-satisfying and sinful behavior.

The greatest commandment is this: "Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" and, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (The Gospel of Luke).

So the first step to freedom is to find a new orientation not centered on the self. The next step is to understand and live out the principle of love. I think we all need more practice on the first part, and I'll talk more on freedom and love in two weeks.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at Read his blog at

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