I am a free spirit, always yearning to break free from the mundane to experience the wild. Sometimes I run to pretend that I am running away from my problems and anxieties. To me, the physical movement of running can express my desire for the emotional or mental need to move away from something. It’s a liberating feeling and the thought of it pushes me to run even harder. As I was running on the track one day though, I realized that there are two ways to look at it – “running from” and “running towards.” Am I running towards anything? Was I running towards anything during exchange?

I had always thought freedom meant escaping to somewhere far away. I went to Australia supposing that I was escaping my problems there, but as time went on, I realized that I was still stuck with them. I left Canada feeling confined in my worries and doubts, and arrived in Australia with a new set of worries and doubts. That was when my search for freedom began. From traveling into the city to be amidst the bustle to going on day trips to secluded beaches, and from sitting in coffee shops around my neighbourhood to flying to other provinces to explore their beauty – I loved it all. However, no matter where I was, I was still me – stuck with my own thoughts and insecurities. There was nothing physical that I could do to push them away. Away, away, away… That was the problem. I was always trying to run away, but never to anything. When Jonah ran away from God because he didn’t want to go to Ninevah, he ended up getting brought back to the same situation he was running away from. And that was how I felt. So, I questioned myself: which one would be more effective – “running away from” or “running towards”?

I found my answer one Sunday afternoon. I was sitting in Anthenaeum Theatre where Hillsong Church City Campus was held, and this one line stood out to me: “We are most free when we are in God’s presence.” Suddenly, it clicked. At the time I didn’t realize it, but now I know. (And even as I know the answer today, living it out in the different seasons of my life is still a challenge each time). I was looking for something dependable but flexible, constant but not a burden. It was a search for more than just freedom; it was a search for a way out of the mindset I felt trapped in and for an escape route from the life I didn’t feel like I was living right – answers that could only be found through a renewal of the mind and Christ-given transformation. Instead of running away from my troubles, I need to run towards God. I need to find and experience freedom internally before anything external can bring me joy.

If freedom is wherever God is, then I want to be wherever He is.

(Taken at Dandenong Ranges National Park, Melbourne)

Read part 2/3 and part 3/3 of the biggest lessons I learned on exchange.