I love fireworks. But I’ve always thought it a little odd that we light things on fire in honor of our nation’s founding. A couple of years ago, I learned a remarkable reason why we do this. I had the pleasure of watching Independence Day fireworks from the balcony of my cousin’s home, situated on the side of a steep mountainside overlooking Utah valley. In recent years, the valley has filled with new housing developments. From every street I could see the glow of fireworks and swaths of rising smoke. From nearby homes I heard applause and occasional shrieks of glee from young children. Several large firework displays punctuated the valley as far north and as far south as I could see, and the entire valley echoed with the sounds of explosions.
My mind reverted to the many history lessons my father gave me during my childhood and youth, and I thought of the American War for Independence as I watched the “bombs” bursting peacefully in the air. In my mind’s eye I imagined the same valley filled with smoke from artillery shells, light from real bombs, and shrieks of pain. I saw, almost literally before my eyes, the nightmarish reality our forebears endured to give liberty a new birth in the Americas. I felt intensely grateful for their arduous, ugly, messy struggle; for the lost lives and ruined property; for their wounded bodies and anguish of soul; for the vision they believed in as they fought.
And what did they fight for? What was their gift to us? So easily the thoughtless answer is simply uttered, “freedom.” What is freedom? Freedom includes both the right and the power to govern oneself. Please note the separate meanings of the words “right” and “power.” A right is something that exists within a person innately, from birth. Power is necessary to carry out any right, duty, or act of any kind. The founders of the United States assumed that every person innately carried an unalienable right to their freedom—in other words, it is not possible to take from a person his or her right to be free. However, the power to claim that right was a different matter entirely. Claiming freedom requires two things: a struggle and a structure.
For the Founders, the struggle came in the form of a war. After struggling for and with their lives, calling upon Divine Providence for aid, and continuing in distress for years, they won the Revolutionary War; they had power to be free. On the other hand, the need for structure was summed up prettily by Thomas Jefferson: “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Formal rules, laws and boundaries were required to direct, channel and regulate the new nation’s power to prevent that power from destroying the very freedom the nation had just won by power.
Our lives are exactly the same, in microcosm. We may struggle mightily to obtain freedom from an addiction or character defect or trauma from childhood. We may fight and plead for Divine help. We may continue the fight for a year or a decade or a lifetime. And we can overcome. However, we must not expect that because we have overcome, we are capable of “handling/doing anything.” Just like government (and for the same reasons), every person needs structure around their his or her and behaviors, or they will become corrupted by power. Our newfound power will lead us into all sorts of mischief unless we bind it or bridle it by creating a personal constitution—boundaries and rules regarding what we will and will not do. Then, we must follow it.
As with the United States, strict discipline and adherence to correct principles, as well as willingness to create and hold boundaries, rules and laws within ourselves changes us and generates ever-greater freedom, opportunity and love. Diversion from our boundaries, rules and correct principles will always rob us of the power to claim our freedom; instead, it will bring fear, uncertainty, weakness, instability, powerlessness and ultimately spiritual and physical bondage or slavery.
So this Independence Day, think about your personal constitution. Be wise, be disciplined, and be free and prosperous in your own self/soul.