Family Works


Rob Coombs ID. Min. Ph.D.
Posted 7/2/17

As I prepare to celebrate this Independence Day, I find myself rereading a letter from a young man whom I’ve known for 30 years.

By the age of 14, he was heavily involved in drugs. He finally …

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Family Works



As I prepare to celebrate this Independence Day, I find myself rereading a letter from a young man whom I’ve known for 30 years.

By the age of 14, he was heavily involved in drugs. He finally dropped out of school with a 3.8 GPA (almost straight A’s) early in his senior year, and began to drift from city to city and state to state. During his adolescent years, I encouraged him on several occasions to give up his drugs, which were clearly leading him down a path of destruction. My interventions, plus two treatment programs, were of no real use, since he was not committed to facing his addiction.

After two years on the road, during a drug-induced high, he killed another man. He was sentenced to 20 years in a penitentiary in Alabama. During this time, he successfully completed a drug treatment program and finished an associate’s degree with top honors from a community college that offered extension courses in the prison. While in prison, he conveyed his thoughts in a letter concerning freedom that offers penetrating insight that I remember to this day. With his permission, I share one paragraph.

“It is Independence Day. We’ve been unable to go outside on weekends for a month or two, and this holiday weekend is no exception. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? ... This is the fourth Independence Day I’ve spent on the inside and it hasn’t gotten any easier. The ideals of the United States do not apply here. I do not, however, feel cheated of any privileges or inherent rights. I realize that almost every person in prison is here because he decided to sacrifice his freedom. This includes myself. At some point, each of us decided to exhibit power over other people’s lives that was not ours to exhibit. We all took something that was not ours to take. We gave up the rights that the Declaration of Independence proposed to the people of this country. Because of our choices, this day means little to us.”

Daily we are free to make a multitude of choices, but when we make those choices we must face the responsibility of choice, knowing full well that how we choose will directly affect the outcome of our lives. Learning this lesson and learning this lesson well is paramount for our maturation into adulthood. Two of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child are (1) the freedom to make appropriate decisions, and (2) the responsibility to accept the consequences.

For children, it is natural for them to believe they will not have to suffer the consequences of their choices. Somehow, someway, the child feels he or she will be exempt. If every person believed that he would not be exempt from facing the responsibility of his choices, this world would be quite a different place. But we sometimes (even as adults) suffer from the delusion that we will somehow be exempt.

We all have heard it said, “I just don’t believe that will happen to me.”

If not for this belief, following the first accident involving drinking and driving, no one else would have chosen to drink and drive. After reading of a top athlete in perfect physical health dying from a drug overdose, the drug market would cease to exist.

But we can read and see the consequences of choice and still not believe it will happen to us. The reality, however, is that such consequences are inescapable. We may not suffer the consequences publicly, but nevertheless the consequences are there.

Freedom, one of the most precious gifts of life, can be a blessing or a curse. What freedom means to you this Independence Day will largely depend on the choice you have made.

Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.


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