The sooner the better, even the baby seemed to be saying in those last weeks, as he settled his feet into his favorite spot directly under the ribs on my right side for another session of poking, kicking and energetic prodding.
Let me out – he seemed to be saying through his restless little jabs. Give me more room!
Welcome to life, little one.
When you take a look at human beings, we all seem to be engaged in that life-long quest that begins in the womb, the search for more room, a bigger space in which to stretch our bodies and souls, in a word, more freedom.
Much of the time, as we move through the passages of life, it’s that hope for more freedom that motivates us more than anything. We want to drive, we want to move away from home, we want to start our own businesses so we can reach a point at which we’re not quite so beholden to the demands of others.
But, as you well remember, those hopes are struck down just as frequently as they’re raised.
My son just completed his freshman year in college. For a year now, he’s been free at last of his mother’s eagle eye and supersonic ears (most famous for, on one occasion, being able to deduce, simply from listening to his monosyllabic side of a telephone conversation, that he was semi-planning to skip school the next morning. He still can’t get over that one). He can come and go as he pleases, and best of all, after only six months in college, has figured out the path he wants to take, and is already surprisingly successful at it.
But you know what? It all promises freedom of one sort or another, but, as my son is learning, this freedom for which we yearn is never what it seems. For, as we’ve all found out, we may leave dependence behind, but just ahead lies something else – something called responsibility, and that can be hard to manage.
And so we ramble on, too, as a society, looking for more freedom, kicking obstacles out of the way as we search: traditional authority, absolute truth, morality, and even common-sense self-restraint.
Funny how it works, too. Look around. We’ve been kicking for a long time now, and still we chafe. Only now, it’s not institutions that hold us under their thumbs. It’s advertisers, it’s marketeers, it’s a entire commercial culture binding us in ropes tightened by beautiful, trim men and women with perfect teeth and no credit limits, taunting us and demanding to know why we’re not more like them.
This is freedom?
It’s an interesting thing. If you want to find convincing words on what it’s like to be really free, you don’t look to the filthy rich or the very successful or the morally indifferent. You look at words spoken by those with a rich, authentic faith in God.
Consider St. Paul, Augustine, Theresa of Avila, Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day. Invariably, what you’ll find, are people who discovered unbounded freedom, not in things and not even in ideas, but in God. More specifically, they found it in God’s merciful love, out of which, they all discover with shock and gratitude, they were created, sustained, forgiven and accepted, just as they were.
We have the most amazing ultrasound image of our child. Taken at about five and a half months’ gestation, the face is clearer than I’ve ever seen in an ultrasound, eyes tightly closed, mouth slightly open.
But there’s more: When you turn the picture sideways, you are immediately struck by how the shadows of the womb fold and weave around the baby to make it look exactly – I mean exactly – like he’s being held in the palm of a hand.
So he kicks against tight spaces and he struggles for just a bit more room, and all the time, the hand holds him safe.
Just like He holds all of us, our whole lives long, giving us, in that paradoxical way He has, the greatest freedom we could imagine, nestled safely in the palm of His hand.
(Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributer to the Living Faith quarterly devotional.)