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It’s come. The day has come.
Depending on who you ask, it’s the day I embark on a life-changing 10-month spiritual adventure, or it’s the day I consign myself to something between prison and bootcamp for the best part of a year, or it’s the day I make myself fair game for piss-taking for the foreseeable future.
And depending on when you’ve asked me about how I’m feeling, I could have described it in any of those terms.
I’m about to become part of the Community of St Anselm. I’m anxious. I’m scared. I’m excited. Sometimes I’ve been desperate for it to start. Sometimes I’ve joked about clinging to my last few days of freedom. The more friends and family I’ve tried to explain it to, the more we’ve collectively struggled to find the right words for what this commitment is going to be like – is it like a sort of short-term marriage? To Jesus? To a bunch of people I haven’t met yet? Will it feel more like a part-time job, signing a contract to commit like I would to an employer? Will it be like getting on a plane to go traveling, knowing I won’t be quite the same person when I come home?
If I’m honest, the thing I’ve often felt most nervous about as I’ve waited for this time to come around, is giving up my freedom. See, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into learning how to look after myself in this big, scary city.
I’m writing this, as I do most Sunday nights, from my favourite post-church pub with my favourite glass of wine, and I look forward to this couple of hours each week because I know it calms me and helps me to process the week’s thoughts.
If minor crisis hits (anything from a family drama to Sainsbury’s selling out of the particular brand of houmous I want), there are people I text, TV shows I watch, treats I give myself – I know how to make everything ok.
If a week’s evenings aren’t filling me with excitement and I need to make sure I’ve got enough to look forward to, I’m free to spend my money and time on cocktails, or jumping on a train to catch up with someone I haven’t seen in a while. If I want it, I can do it.
And I’m not saying I have this sorted. I’ve still got a lot of learning to do on the looking-after-myself-and-making-good-decisions front: learning to go to bed on time, to drink enough water, to rest constructively, to say no to the right things, to say yes to the right things. But at least those decisions feel within my control. If I want to change something, right now I almost certainly could.
That’s what I’m giving up. Control. I’m submitting myself to the rules of a community, together learning to lay down our right to choose.
But I won’t be giving up freedom. Because we have a freedom that no-one can take from us. It’s not the freedom to drink or sleep around or even to go on spontaneous road trips – those freedoms come and go with stages of life, with financial changes, with relationship changes. They’re transient, and often unhelpful freedoms.
No, there’s got to be a better sort, a more permanent freedom. The sort Paul meant when he said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
There are some things that no-one can legislate against. Whether I’m in prison, on a diet, totally broke or indeed living by a Rule of Life, there are some things that are never off limits. There are some gifts I’ve been given – grace, mercy, unconditional love, adoption as God’s own child – that can never be taken away. The Holy Spirit in me and with me and for me is one of them. And so the fruit of the Spirit, the overflow of that gift in to my life, is also a freedom that no-one can take from me.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
There is no law against such things.
(And if there was ever an argument for Christians supporting same-sex marriage, hello. There is no law against love. Paul says it himself!)
However much I might think I’m surrendering freedom, it will always be true that against love, there is no law. Against joy, there is no law. Against peace, there is no law. Against patience, there is no law. Against kindness, there is no law. Against generosity, there is no law. Against faithfulness, there is no law. Against gentleness, there is no law. Against self-control, there is no law.
So my life for the next 10 months might not be full of the same kind of wild nights and fuzzy mornings that the last year has been full of. But if it’s full of this kind of freedom, full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, I’ll be very happy.
Looks like the time has come. Get me to a nunnery.