A few weeks ago at about five in the morning, Steven Curtis Chapman was helping me cope with pre-dawn reality. The album, “Signs of Life,” was a favorite in high school and though the style may sound outdated, the lyrics have never lost their meaningfulness. A song I had never fully listened to, or much liked, titled “Land of Opportunity” caught my attention with the words
I could live like a prisoner of all I could be, living in the land of opportunity, but a heart pure and simple is a heart that stays free, living in the land of opportunity.
As it turned out, I had misunderstood the words; he says “prisoner of all that could be” but it does not change the significance for me. The idea behind these lyrics resonated with my own recent life choices.
A veritable prisoner to potential. Such was my state as I struggled to choose between pursuing a professional degree that could raise my station and challenge my intellect or finding another path for my life and energy. I felt confined by the gifts for which people always praised me, the expectation that I had to make “something” of myself. Worst of all, I had shackled myself to the wall of my cell with the irons of self-judgment and astronomically high expectations.
The world said, “You can be somebody with special respect, more money, and superiority.” My response was figurative self-flagellation for failing to avail myself of the opportunity.
Once, in the throes of agony over my choice between “all that could be” and a free heart, I cursed to a loved one, “Fuck potential!” But Mr. Chapman’s metaphor opened my mind to a gentler, clearer way of looking at the issue. We must not be constrained by the anxiety of the ambitious “what ifs” of this life. The only way to peace and freedom is a heart free of avarice, excess ambition, and selfishness. Such a heart has straightforward goals: to love mercy, act justly and walk humbly with God (to steal more lines from Mr. Chapman).
In the end- also a beginning- I chose to try for something humbler and yet, as I hope, more glorious. What could be purer or simpler than to strive to love? Such an accomplishment could never be regretted. There are days when I must remake my decision, the decision to be free to serve not myself and my insatiable pride, but others. It can be hard; adjusting to freedom after imprisonment is awkward and uncomfortable. We do so love our chains once they are off. But with discipline and God’s help, we can learn to walk in freedom, leaving the cell far behind.