Nikos Kazantzakis was a Greek writer and philosopher who penned the fabled book, “Zorba the Greek.” He was an incredibly astute, wise man with much to offer, even in death. You’ll find his grave on the island of Crete. It’s a simple, plain site, a capstone with ten Greek words. Translated into English it reads, “I want nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
This is timeless wisdom, for the things we desire, want, and chase imprison us. The pursuit, the game of acquisition—and we’re usually chasing after emotional rather than material things—actually steals our happiness and freedom.
Now, if a Greek philosopher’s epitaph is too highbrow for your tastes, then maybe you will be better served by the words of Kris Kristofferson (as sung by Janice Joplin, of course): “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” And usually the last thing we lose is our wretched insecurity that has us forever chasing after fool’s gold, playing for the fickle crowd’s applause, or trying to climb some unsurmountable mountain to showcase our strength.
No, there’s nothing wrong with ambition, for it has its proper place. The problem is when we go scrambling for accolades and approval, when we become something of stage actors trying to obtain that elusive appreciation, recognition, and validation. The problem is when we feel we have to prove to others that we are capable or lovable. Then, we have imprisoned ourselves. Only when the striving ends will we be free.
The good news is, we can quit doing and saying things we don’t mean, clutching to approval we don’t need, wasting time and energy we don’t have. We can be free from the merciless crowd, free from our own pride and insecurities, free to become people who no longer need the flattery of others; others who are as fractured as we are, others who give their approval which lasts for about five minutes, and then the exhausting, self-caging exercise must begin again.
Stay on this kind of treadmill and you will be an ego-driven, self-centered maniac; or you will be as fragile as glass, a needy little imp that never experiences a single moment of rest. Either way, you will never be free. It’s only when you have let everything go, when you have nothing left to prove, that you will have something truly to live for.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.