It’s officially July, and all across the nation Americans will soon be popping fireworks and grilling with their families to celebrate American freedom (if they aren’t already). In the South especially, any patriotic holiday is celebrated enthusiastically, and rightly so. We have so much to be thankful for. Independence Day is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the bravery of our founding fathers, the bravery of soldiers who have defended our freedom for the past 241 years and will continue to do so, and the progress that we have made, no matter how slowly, throughout that time. Coming from a family of veterans, I fully understand and appreciate the sacrifice of anyone who has served in the military and am grateful for this sacrifice. Freedom isn’t free, even if we (meaning I) didn’t pay for it.
That being said, lately, I have been thinking a lot about what this freedom is, how I view it, and what it means for my hopes and dreams of the future. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the “American Dream” and how it intersects with my faith. Well, let me clarify. How really, it has no place in my faith. I know many of my close family and friends are going to raise an eyebrow at that statement. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate freedom, veterans or any of those things. I’m proud to live in the U.S., and I hope that everyone celebrates freedom and those who protect it. What I’m saying is we need to stop getting so caught up in materialism, success, and comparing ourselves to the societal ideals that seem to have slowly mutated what it means to be an American.
My whole life I have grown up with an idea of what my life should look like. I always knew I would go to college, and that I was expected to succeed. I knew I would eventually get married, and I know that one day I will have children. I knew that to be considered “successful” I needed to get a high-salary job, own a beautiful house and car, and all the other material things that go with it. I felt like in order to be “successful,” I needed to make as much money as possible, and make my life look as easy as possible. If I had to describe what I wanted my life to look like, it would probably sound like a combination of Coca-Cola commercials. In particular, I pictured my life to be a combination of the really cute Coke Life ad from Argentina where an adorable married couple has a baby and the “Eyes Closed” commercial (both after this paragraph for reference) where my life is full of moments so awesome I close my eyes because what comes next has to be mind blowing to beat where I’m already at.
Links to Coca-Cola Commercials:
There is nothing wrong with wanting to seize life and be happy. There is something wrong with being so caught up in what you don’t have that you forget to be thankful for what you do have.
It would be easy for every to say my family forced that silly idea on me. That would be untrue. My family has always taught me to be thankful for what you have, and give to the person less fortunate than you. They’ve taught me that it doesn’t matter how much money you make so long as you have Jesus and you can provide for your family.
So where do we get stuck, even when our parents aren’t materialistic and don’t teach us to be that way either? Sin. We hear whispers telling us our worth depends on our success. We are bombarded with lies that tell us we need money and a huge, perfectly decorated home to be happy. We compare our lives to those of our friends and family when we scroll through Facebook or Instagram and allow ourselves to feel like we are failing when we aren’t wearing designer makeup or clothes, buying a new house, or getting married or having babies, and forget that they are comparing themselves too. In my opinion, comparison is one of Satan’s most useful tools because it causes us to take our eyes off of Jesus and forget our worth. It also prevents us from loving one another and rejoicing with each other during the ups and downs of our lives. We worry and perseverate over all of this material “stuff” and forget that we have everything we need in Christ.
I have been thinking a lot about this. Jesus was not concerned about being a home owner, having a perfect life and being comfortable. He came to save our souls. Luke 9:57-58 says, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'” Jesus did not even have somewhere to sleep and he is the son of God. And as we learn later, the man doesn’t follow Jesus. And in truth, when we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the “American Dream,” comparing ourselves to others and striving to be the world’s idea of “successful,” we are not following Jesus either. Why aren’t we living below our means and using the rest to help others? Why do we only give Jesus a measly ten percent while we hoard things that don’t even matter? Why do we give our filthy leftovers to a holy, all-powerful, loving God? Why?
I’m as guilty as the next person, and it is something I struggle with and pray about daily. Knowing this, especially when my bank account is down to double digits and I’m sad that I can’t afford to drive home or go on vacation, I feel even more guilt because at least I’m safe, I’m not hungry or thirsty, and I don’t have to worry too much if I get sick or injured. I feel ashamed because while I know that Jesus is in my heart and that I am praying daily to be filled with His Holy Spirit, I haven’t really had to give up much for my faith. I am grateful for the freedom to worship God and Jesus freely that we celebrate here in America. However, living in such a comfortable environment makes me feel as though I am not doing enough for Jesus or sacrificing in the ways that He meant for us to do. In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In the book, Not A Fan., Kyle Idleman states, “And here’s the question that keeps me up at night: Am I really carrying a cross if there is no suffering and sacrifice?” I recently bought the book “I Am N” by the Voice of the Martyrs. I haven’t even read this book yet and my heart is already broken for our brothers and sisters in these nations. I can’t help but feel like my faith is so cheap when I compare it to all the things that they give up to be followers of Jesus. If our lives were swapped, would I be willing and dedicated like they are? Would I be willing to give up my family, my home, my health, even my life if I were living in such a hostile environment? If I’m being honest, I’m a little afraid to read this book because I know that I will be confronted with the reality that I don’t know what it means to give up everything for Jesus.
I’m not writing this to make anyone feel guilty; I’m writing this from a place of my own guilt. While I will be eating watermelon, grilling burgers and watching fireworks to celebrate all the many freedoms I have been provided, across the globe people are serving Jesus in the face of discrimination, torture, and death. I just couldn’t help but think about these things, and how much I truly take for granted.
In conclusion, I hope that all of you have a safe and happy Independence Day. I hope you enjoy all the fun things we associate with the 4th of July, but don’t forget how fortunate we are in America. Don’t forget those who served, fought, and died for the freedoms we have, and don’t forget about those across the world that don’t have the freedom and security to serve Jesus that we do.
Happy Independence Day! Stay safe!