How Do You Live Your Best Life? And Why Saying ‘No’ Is More Freeing Than You Think
How do we live our best life?
Our musicians sing the answer. Our movies tell stories about it. Our politicians make speeches and pass laws to promote it. And each of us, well, we post our answers on Instagram, Be Real, TikTok, Twitter, and more.
And what’s our answer to how to live our best life? In a word, the majority of Americans believe living your best life means freedom.
Freedom to make your own choices. Freedom to live your own truth. (Thanks, Oprah!) Freedom to “see what we can do, to test the limits and break through: no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.” (Thanks, Elsa!)
Yet, as confident as we feel in our answer, we cannot ignore a question niggling in the back of our minds. If we have all this freedom, why don’t we feel like we’re living our best lives? Why are almost half (41%) of Gen Z and Millennials depressed and anxious—even as they live in a cultural moment so characterized by freedom that they are actively encouraged to define their own identity and reality? Why is having brunch every weekend, treating my goldendoodle like royalty, or even choosing my pronouns not as fulfilling as I thought it would be?
Because living your best life is impossible when you exercise the kind of freedom that says my will be done.
“Living your best life is impossible when you exercise the kind of freedom that says my will be done.“
Unless you believe that The Purge movies are an appropriate example of human freedom.
The plot for this series is that, for 12 hours once a year, nothing is illegal. Everyone is free to do what they want. You can imagine what happens when 329 million people in one country exercise their freedom to “see what they can do, to test the limits and break through.” With no right, no wrong, and no rules, chaos ensues. The Purge is a horror movie, not a romcom, because the freedom to do whatever you want turns out to be no freedom at all in the end. For you or for others.
At first glance, it would seem like freedom to be able to trade in hard truths for a create-my-own-reality way of living, but that existentialist free-for-all leaves us short on true freedom and high on anxiety.
Jesus shows us what true freedom is.
Jesus explained that misusing our freedom to do what we shouldn’t do actually leads to a hidden form of slavery. True freedom starts with letting him set us free from our slavery to sin so that we can live how God created us to live.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36)
Jesus taught that true freedom meant setting aside our natural inclinations and following God’s will. But he didn’t just teach this to us; he modeled it for us.
Jesus, who holds the universe together by the power of his might, can do anything that aligns with his holy nature. Yet when it came to following his Father’s will, Jesus gave up his freedom, saying, “Not my will but thy will be done.” Why? He followed God’s will—all the way to the cross—so that we could experience true freedom: freedom from sin (Col. 1:15-17, Matt. 26:39, Luke 22:42; Heb. 10:10).
“He followed God’s will—all the way to the cross—so that we could experience true freedom: freedom from sin.”
To be truly free, each of us must apply the gospel’s guardrails: we say no to sin so that we can say yes to living life to the full (John 10:10). Freedom is not ripping the guardrails off the road, making them up ourselves, or pretending they don’t exist. If we do that, we may experience what feels like freedom for a while, but eventually we’ll careen off reality’s road and into a ditch of one kind or another.
As we hold to the teachings of Jesus, we will enjoy freedom to live our best lives in the areas of marriage, sex, and raising children. In each of these areas, our post-Christian culture will try to persuade us that saying no to our desires is slavery. Yet true freedom comes from saying no to sin so that we can say yes to living the truly good life.
What is freedom in marriage?
When we marry, disciples of Jesus say no to intimacy with others to say yes to being known and loved by one person for life. We say no to selfishness and yes to the safety and empowerment of sacrificial love. Marriage says yes to staying together even when life gets hard.
Baby daddies don’t generally stick around. Married men do.
This is not just a conservative or traditionalist idea. “Anthropologists have long recognized that the most fundamental social problem every community must solve is the unattached male.” Marriage gives men a place to direct their sexual, physical, and emotional energies in positive ways. Marriage benefits not only a man’s family, but it also blesses his community. “When a father leaves, stability often leaves with him and the risk of childhood traumas that lie at the heart of so many of our social problems skyrockets.”
Our culture disagrees.
According to our post-Christian culture, marriage is the cherry on top of an already-great life. It is for two people who love each other, whether that’s two men or two women or a man and woman. The state’s marriage license has become a stamp of approval to validate an emotional bond between consenting adults. Marriage should fulfill you emotionally, financially, physically, and sexually. But at the same time, a marriage shouldn’t ask too much of you. And if your romantic or sexual desires change, waver, or lead you somewhere else? Well then, you get a no-fault divorce.
“If your romantic or sexual desires change, waver, or lead you somewhere else? Well then, you get a no-fault divorce.”
Gen Z and Millennials were the children who had to do the emotional heavy lifting to support their parents’ freedoms. They are the casualties of no-fault divorce. So, it’s no wonder that as adults so many of them don’t want marriage at all, or when they do marry, they don’t want kids.
Imagine the freedom of living in a marriage where the husband and wife say no to selfish desires so that they can say yes to one another. If you didn’t see this growing up, you can still live this. In our marriages, we can and should be cheering each other on in perseverance, in forgiveness, and in intentional everyday discipling.
What is freedom in sex?
Americans are obsessed with the idea of sexual freedom. Our culture promotes two competing ideas about sex in its movies, books, and TV shows. On the one hand, we are told it’s just a physical urge like hunger that we satisfy when we feel like it. And on the other hand, they tell us it’s so important that you can’t live your best life without it. So, which is it?
At its core, sex is super glue—an act of intimacy which “glues” a couple together as part of what the Bible describes being united as “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
Freedom in sex means saying no to some desires so that you can have true freedom to enjoy sex in its fullness, not isolated from the other rich and beautiful facets of marital oneness.
“Freedom in sex means saying no to some desires so that you can have true freedom to enjoy sex in its fullness.”
Sex is a pleasurable, baby-making activity meant to be practiced within a marriage. The first chapter of Genesis shows us how God intended sex to be used: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’” (Gen 1:28).
Endorphins and oxytocin are released during sex, and these feel-good hormones activate pleasure centers in the brain that create feelings of intimacy and relaxation and help stave off anxiety and depression.
Scripture tells us that, if we have sex with just anyone, we’re inadvertently “super gluing” ourselves in a one-flesh relationship (Matt. 19:46; Mark 10:8). And we thought every Friday night we were only trying to find “prince charming” in our own version of The Bachelorette.
“If we have sex with just anyone, we’re inadvertently ‘super gluing’ ourselves in a one-flesh relationship.”
Whether we have sex in order to experience a few minutes of pleasure or to find ultimate meaning, we’re living as though the guardrails of sexual reality don’t exist. Women are (rightly!) scared and frustrated when they get pregnant by a boyfriend or one-night stand from their Hinge date. Instead of demanding abortion for them or asking them to settle for childish boyfriends allergic to commitment, we should be asking how we can get back to using sex according to the freedom found in God’s designed order.
What is freedom for children?
American culture tends to believe that we can pay someone to do the relationship work of childrearing for us. This stream of thought leads to the belief that parenting is an interchangeable activity. Rather than a mother’s love and a father’s love, any people can lovingly raise a child. Culture also largely teaches us that children are a lot of trouble. They’re an inconvenience. We typically wait to have kids until we are ready to be inconvenienced on our terms. They are expensive and, many people quip, if society really cared about babies, it would make having one entirely free.
But the best things are never free, or easy, or even fair. Actually, making something totally free denies the inherent value in it. Smoothies are better for you than cereal in the morning, but it is not the job of any government to offer free smoothies on every street corner to be sure that people have the opportunity to drink one if they want.
For children, there is no adequate substitute for the family. (And by family, we mean married, biological parents when at all possible.) The primary job of parenthood is relational. “Decades’ worth of research affirms how dramatically male and female differences manifest in the family, the relationship in which the two sexes are required to cooperate most intensely… Mothers and fathers differ in smell, voice, physique, and their interactions with their kids.” A father’s love is critical in preparing his child to launch into adulthood and a mother’s love is critical to ensuring her child’s physical and emotional well-being. Children learn how to attach to others, how to love, and how to cooperate in families. Even adoption, a beautiful concept fleshed out in the gospel, addresses the fact that every child needs a family.
“A father’s love is critical in preparing his child to launch into adulthood and a mother’s love is critical to ensuring her child’s physical and emotional well-being.”
Think about it. If you could dream up your perfect childhood, what would it look like? We’d guess it’d be in a happy, loving family.
Here’s the good news: If you didn’t have a healthy, happy childhood, you can provide one for your kids. By saying no to your own sleep, you’re saying yes to easing your infant’s hunger. By saying no to workaholism, you’re saying yes to your role as a mother or father: the only mother or father that child has. By saying no to binge-watching your favorite Netflix show, you’re saying yes to the hard but important conversations with your teen.
We will also mention that, after the recent ruling on Roe and Casey, we have an opportunity to be ambassadors for real freedom, God’s freedom. We can model what it looks like to champion vulnerable human lives at all levels—saying yes to making room in our lives for children, even when it is inconvenient. We need to embrace our historic heritage as the people who love and take care of “unwanted” children. True freedom means being unencumbered by selfishness so we can live the lives of sacrificial, joy-filled love God created us for.
Aligning with Truth
By understanding what sex is for, what marriage is for, and what children are for, you can align your life with these truths and flourish in the freedom of them.
Even when your freedoms are violated in the most horrific way, you don’t have to move outside the guardrails. You can say no to the easy out. Ryan’s mom did just that.
You see, over 30 years ago, Ryan’s biological mother was raped. She could have said yes to abortion. Hardly anyone would have blamed her. Even those who are opposed to abortion in most cases tend to approve of it in the case of rape or incest. Yet, had she followed their advice, she likely would have experienced a sharp decline in her mental health. Had she done that, her son would be dead.
Instead, she courageously gave him a chance to live. At six weeks of age, he was adopted and grew up in a loving, multi-racial Christian family of 15.
Ryan and his wife, Bethany, are now also adoptive parents. As co-founders of The Radiance Foundation (TRF), a life-affirming 501c3, they strive to create a culture that believes every human life has purpose.
“Real freedom is giving up some freedoms to gain better freedoms.”
Real freedom is giving up some freedoms to gain better freedoms. Living your best life is found in the freedom that comes from living according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23-25).
The truth of the gospel is this: every situation, heartbreak, violation, and discomfort gets redeemed when we invite the gospel with its guardrails into our lives. Broken things are made whole; lives are restored and saved. As disciples of Jesus, we get to partner in that restoration.
 Glenn T. Stanton, Why Men and Women are not Equal, August 26, 2016. https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/08/why-man-and-woman-are-not-equal.
 Katy Faust & Stacy Manning, Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement (New York City: Post Hill Press, 2021), 10.
 For more on this thinking, see chapter 4: Marriage Matters in Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement, especially pages 72-73.
 “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one union (sexual) from all other kinds of union, which are meant to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure…It means that you mustn’t isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, anymore than you ought to try to get the pleasure of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again…” See C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins ebooks, March 2021), 104.
 Cari Wira Dineen, The Hidden Benefits of Sex, May 4, 2012. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/hidden-health-benefits-sex/story?id=16278890#:~:text=That’s%20because%20endorphins%20and%20oxytocin,WH%20advisor%20Laura%20Berman%2C%20Ph.
 Jennifer Roback Morse, Love & Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, Ruth Institute Books, 2008, p. 161.
 Faust & Manning, Them Before Us, p. 60.
 Ryan Jaslow, Abortion Tied to Sharp Decline in Women’s Mental Health, September 1, 2011. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/abortion-tied-to-sharp-decline-in-womens-mental-health/