Consenting to What We Did Not Choose

One of the books I’m currently reading is Interior Freedom, by Rev. Jacques Philippe, a member of the Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France. The book had been recommended to me some time ago by the pastor of a parish to which I used to belong, but had been sitting in my frighteningly high “to be read” pile.

The title of the book pretty much gives away the books basic theme. Philippe seeks to help us understand the true meaning of freedom and how to grow in that freedom. Apart from the fact that there is a lot of repetition in the part of the book I’ve read thus far (about half of the book), I am finding it a very worthwhile read.

Early on, Philippe talks about what freedom is and what it is not. Many people tend to have a limited understanding of freedom, seeing it as simply the ability to choose among options. While not denigrating the importance of that type of freedom, Philippe insists on our need to understand that “there is another way of exercising freedom: less immediately exciting, poor, humbler, but much more common, and one immensely fruitful, both humanly and spiritually. It is consenting to what we did not originally choose.

Obviously going along with pleasant things that occur without our choosing them is easy. An unexpected boon, you might say. But it is much far less natural and easy to go along with things that are unpleasant. Yet, says Philippe,

it is precisely then that, in order to become truly free, we are often called to choose to accept what we did not want, and even what we would not have wanted at any price. There is a paradoxical law of human life here: one cannot become truly free unless one accepts not always being free!

To achieve true interior freedom we must train ourselves to accept, peacefully and willingly, plenty of things that seem to contradict our freedom. This means consenting to our personal limitations, our weaknesses, our powerlessness, this or that situation life imposes on us, and so on.

Consent is not the same as resignation. Resignation is a “declaration of powerlessness that goes not further.” Consent may look like resignation from the outside, but carries hope with it. “We say yes to a reality we initially saw as negative, because we realize that something positive may arise from it.” The attitude of heart of consent is very different from that of resignation.

Philippe is clear that consent is not a prescription for laziness or passivity. It does not mean we don’t to improve ourselves and the world. But it means we begin with an attitude of acceptance of reality.