A funny thing happened to me during Lent this year. I learned that freedom comes from limits.

Giving things up for Lent was supposed to be about depriving myself. I was doing it not to impress God, but to remember that Christ fasted for forty days in the desert. He overcame temptation. He suffered, because he loves you and me. So I gave up two things that I knew I would miss. Deserts and non-work related use of the internet. Why? Not because these things are evil, but because I have a sweet tooth and I’m a hopeless information junkie. I knew I would feel it and I did.

It was rough for the first couple of days. I didn’t know how to sit still after dinner. My computer called out to ease my boredom, but was too competitive to give in. ┬áBesides, my daughter was taunting me, “you’re not going to let Jesus down are you?” ┬áThe rest of my family insisted on going on a baking spree, for all forty days of Lent. Smells of cakes and chocolate chip cookies wafted through the house. It nearly drove me crazy.

So I counted down the days until Easter, which had become for me more than a celebration of the resurrection, it was about getting out of jail. But when the day came something funny happen. The internet and deserts just didn’t do it for me anymore. A changed occurred during those forty days that I hadn’t noticed until it was over. I was calmer. I had more time. I wasn’t stressed at the state of American politics. I was enjoying my kids more. I was enjoying a spurt of creativity. I still liked chocolate, but it didn’t own me like before. Out of my self-imposed limits had come a surprising freedom.

We used to think freedom was a life without limits. But I’m beginning to believe that freedom is impossible without limits. Remember the blizzard of ’78 (for those of you who are old enough)? Who of us doesn’t look fondly to the days we were without power? We got outside. We met our neighbors. We built snow forts with our families. We don’t lament the loss of the TV. Those were days of freedom made possible by the limits of going without power.

Then I think about my children. The prevailing wisdom for parents lately is driven primarily by fear. It goes something like this: “The world is a cutthroat place, if you don’t give your child every opportunity and experience, they will get left behind.” Or how about its cousin, “if you don’t fill their lives with activity, they’ll get into trouble.” This drives us all and what happens? We become slaves to our schedules. We eat fast-food meals in our cars as we race to after-school activities, sporting events and dance classes. Are these things evil? Absolutely not, but without limits, it stops feeling like freedom. It begins to feel like slavery.

What about technology? ┬áTelevision, internet, game systems and social media are evil in themselves, but without limits, we become slaves to our machines and our creativity becomes dulled. Growing up I spent prodigious amounts of time playing outside. Sports leagues were limited to one baseball season with games on Saturday (some of us could have used the direction), but we became creative within the economic limits that we lived with. It gave us the freedom to invent games like stickball (until neighbors’ windows got broken), wall ball, skullsies (a game with bottle-caps played on blacktop), kill the carrier (it was as violent as it sounds) and running bases. Limits didn’t deprive us, they became a door to creative freedom.

It is harder today, because so much more is available: technology, sports and education. It is so hard to say no, so we tend to say yes to everything. But I’ve been learning as a father that when you say ‘yes’ to the good things, it becomes impossible to say ‘yes’ to the most important things. Without limits, the freedom to simply be a family and enjoy each other begins to erode. Eternal things like the gospel and the hope of heaven are crowded out. Suddenly, your children are ready to leave home and you wonder where the time went.

What limits are you willing to try in order to cultivate creative freedom in your children and to create the space for the most important eternal things? What have you tried? Share them with us and post a comment to this blog. I need ideas and I’d love to hear from you.