Hounded by Freedom

In 4LTR WORD: FREE by Mandy Smith

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Melancholia is my warm bath.

It draws me into its depths with, “No one understands,” and, “No one helps.” I sink into it, sighing, so true, so comforting. And I’m drawn deeper in as it invites me to comparisons: My life now compared to my life then. My home compared to their home. My body compared to her body. Yes, it feels good even as despair sets it. No one understands, no one helps, all alone to rest in the darkness undisturbed. Yes, peace to abandon myself to this. So good.

When I was a child my mother would ask me if I was feeling sorry for myself. Melancholia has an easy comeback: “If you think I’m feeling sorry for myself then you are just one more person who doesn’t understand how it is to be me.” Now, as a mother, I ask my children if they’re telling themselves sad stories. It’s easy to see when someone else is doing it. When you’re weaving the sad stories, always making yourself the main character, the stories are transparent and they want to stay that way. I’m a master teller of sad stories. But I’m even better at listening to them: “Oh, I love this one, tell it again, and don’t miss one sad part.”

“Christmas was lonely again. When will it not be lonely? And when will the sun come out? Why does it have to be so dark? And so, so cold? I’ve given up so much for you, Lord, when will you make this life easier to live? Remove some of the nagging questions? Heal some of the nagging hurts? Others get to live in comfort, in quiet, in peace. Others get to live in warm places, with extended family, with support systems, in their native cultures, aren’t always wrestling, aren’t always feeling in over their heads. Why do I have this burden upon me? Have you given up on me? Are you listening? I guess your goodness is for others and I’m just a conduit. It’s not for me. No, never for me.”

And so I wallow in the warm bath, comforted by my own sad stories. These stories are easy to write—just choose the path of least resistance. Choose every negative plot turn and you’ll never set a foot wrong. It takes very little imagination, very little courage. There’s no tricky conflict to be resolved in these stories, just sweet, uninterrupted, familiar self-pity.

But there is always something prickling at me which won’t let me rest, a voice which wants to add some tension to this story, calling:

“But love!”
“But sun!”
“But music!”
“But hope!”

Once those mar the perfection of the sweet sadness, I cannot get comfortable again. What to do with those possibilities? It would take work to explore them. It would mean stepping out of this warm bath and into a world that may not be predictable or simple.

I am plagued by Freedom. It gives me no peace to resign myself to warm despair. It calls me out of the comfort of melancholia and back into a world where I’m bound to this wrestling match, of finding a way to live as if Freedom is true. To ask myself every day, “If I were free, how would I live?” And to shake myself off, break out of the cozy, sad stories, to live like a free person would live.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Mysi

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Mandy Smith
Originally from Australia, Mandy studied Biblical Studies at Cincinnati Christian University and is Lead Pastor of University Christian Church, a campus and neighborhood church and fair-trade cafe in Cincinnati. She is the author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry (upcoming, 2015), regular contributor to Christianity Today’s PARSE site and creator of "The Collect," a city-wide trash-to-art project. She is married to Dr. Jamie Smith, New Testament Professor at Cincinnati Christian University, and they live with their two children in a little house by campus where the teapot is always warm.
Mandy Smith

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