Today is the Fourth of July. Independence Day. As hot as the Sahara, but much more humid. I’m planning to run through my traditional routine, which means that in a few hours I’ll be hovering around a grill — as if we’re not hot enough already! — and eating really-bad-for-me foods that I will dip in even-worse-for-me sauces, which I will then do again and again. I’ll stand around swatting at mosquitoes or my own tickling sweat that I have mistaken for mosquitoes. And I’ll stay just long enough to seal the riveting experience by watching fireworks and the neighborhood kids lighting tanks and bottle rockets. Cracks and whistles and windowrattling booms will follow me into the night.

This year, however, I’m trying to change my perspective a bit. I mean, I’m still planning to swat my way through the whole heathamburger-sparkler shebang, but I want to make this event more personal — more meaningful to me.

I went running this morning and pondered how I might do this. As I jogged past patriotic paraphernalia and moms and dads out watering their gardens on what is normally a workday, I thought about the price of freedom. The many lives that have been given in exchange for me to have the opportunity to even go to barbeques. It’s something we take for granted here in America. We just do. I’m not sure there’s anyway we can’t. We’re as used to freedom as we are to the weather or running water or breathing. But it comes at a price nonetheless. An incredibly steep price that most of us don’t begin to comprehend. So I decided I would spend the day not forgetting these things.

But as I considered the freedom I have as an American citizen, I couldn’t stop there. I began to follow that train of thought to my own heart. How free am I here? I mused. I thought of those areas in which I feel bound, those heavy cords that I can’t seem to unloose. I began wondering if, over the years, I had become any freer, mainly because it seems that I’m always battling the same demons: fear, selfishness, jealousy, insecurity, etc. I concluded that, yes, I have been freed of much, but I also recognize that some things will never stop constricting me at some level. I am a human being, after all.

Running … thinking … walking … running, running, running again to get away from the bite-size poodle that snaps at my heels every time I pass by the house she guards. When she finally turned back, I returned to my thoughts … I wish that on this Fourth of July I could have a private celebration of my own soul-freedom. I committed to viewing the day as a personal holiday for me as a struggling, but liberated person. I haven’t wiggled out of every cage or broken free from every fetter, but I am grateful for the progress that has been made and in awe of the price that has been paid.

Fighting for Freedom

Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). This enlightens me in a way I wouldn’t have expected: We have to stand firm in our freedom. Liberty isn’t something that just happens or is sustained without our continual attention. I think of our own country and the liberty we have achieved. Since we established our independence, we have never for one moment had the luxury of sitting back and just allowing things to take their course. We have protected ourselves, because freedom is not something that “just is.” It is not a one-time achievement on which we can casually rely. We have to tend to it and fight for it because bondage and slavery will never cease to be a threat. Our freedom must be worked for.

I imagine that Independence Day means more to my grandfather than to most people. A retired Navy admiral, he risked his life for days like today. He lost friends and left loved ones for months at a time to secure our nation’s liberty. When he watches the annual fireworks, I’m sure he sees more than flashing colors that decorate the night sky. I’m sure he stands at attention, remembering long nights at sea, close calls as a pilot, and faces of those who are no more. He knows firsthand that the cost of liberty is the laying down of lives. In order for us to live, some must die.