A free man in Paris

I was a free man in Paris;
I felt unfettered and alive.
There was nobody calling me up
for favors and no one’s future to decide.
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
but for the work I’ve taken on,
stoking the star-maker machinery
behind the popular song. — Free Man in Paris, Joni Mitchell, 1973

Eiffel-TowerI caught the sailing bug at a summer camp when I was 16, and was quickly addicted to the powerful serenity that can be found when harnessing a cool breeze on the open water with a few yards of sailcloth.

I began devouring books and magazine articles on the basics of seamanship and navigation, and by the time I was 18, I was instructing young sailors at that same camp and spending my off hours evaluating the classic sailboat plans in L Francis Herreshoff’s Sensible Cruising Designs.

Herreshoff paints an infectiously romantic portrait of sailing life, and it began to occur to me that if I could acquire a suitable sailboat, I could escape the parochial life I was living and spend a few years seeing the world from the deck of a small yacht. I could go where I wanted, live as I wished, ignore the clock and the cramped conventions of life. I would make no commitments to anyone. I could be my own master; I would answer to no one but myself.

Certain crucial details remained admittedly vague, such as how I would manage to eat and keep my boat in decent repair without a steady income, but the romantic lure of the sea and the chance to escape from the perceived troubles and demands of life held a powerful grip on my imagination.

Joni Mitchell’s song is reportedly about the recording mogul David Geffen, and conversations the two had together on a trip to Paris, where Geffen apparently held similar thoughts about escaping the crazy demands of his career for a more carefree way of life. Truman Burbank, the central character of the movie The Truman Show, speaks wistfully of escaping to Fiji, because, as he demonstrates with a globe to his friend Marlon, “you can’t get any farther away before you start coming back.”

I don’t know how common it is to dream of escaping the commitments that hold us, but the data show decreasing numbers of men and women committing to marriage, growing numbers of couples remaining deliberately childless, a steady increase in absent fathers and the constant restlessness of young people who change jobs and cities at the drop of a hat. These trends indicate that western society is embracing a more carefree, laissez-faire approach to life.

If we don’t quite go so far as leaving everything for an aimless tour of Parisian cafés, more and more of us are choosing to live with as few strings attached as possible. And what knots we tie, we tie loosely, ready to free ourselves the moment things no longer feel right.

After all, a commitment that seems sweet today may turn sour tomorrow. Relationships, jobs, neighborhoods, circumstances, moods and desires… everything changes. Many today wonder how reasonable it is to risk being tied down when we have no idea what tomorrow may bring.

In stark contrast to my own fecklessness and the uncertainties of the world around me, God is unchanging. He is sure and dependable. He loves us with an unwavering, unshakeable, unbreakable covenant that he has written on the cross of Jesus.

God still believes in commitment.

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink — even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk — it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to Me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to Me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David. — Isaiah 55:1-3, NLT

We walk down streets built on broken promises and abandoned commitments. We have raised a generation of children who are losing faith in vows and old fashioned notions like duty and self-sacrifice. But God remains faithful. God remains trustworthy. God has not reneged on his promises.

God still believes in commitment.

When I was young, I thought happiness would lie in avoiding commitments and keeping my options open. Now I see that the commitments I have made to God, to my family, to my church, to my friends, have become the foundation stones for all that makes life truly sweet. I still sometimes entertain romantic notions of escaping to the barren emptiness of the sea, but I have come to believe that God’s way is better.

And God still believes in commitment.

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. — Lamentations 3:22-23, NLT

As Christ remained obedient and faithful to his Father’s plan, so the path of Christ requires us to honor the promises and commitments we have made to God and to one another. Paradoxically, it is not on the streets of Paris where we will find joy, but when we have bound ourselves to the God who reached out first and made an everlasting covenant with us.

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