When it comes to living in freedom and fullness of who God created them to be, most people — even Christians — are facing one tremendous obstacle: themselves.
That’s according to Hollywood producer, bestselling author and motivational speaker DeVon Franklin, who, in an interview with The Christian Post, said in his experience, very few people are actually happy due to the unrealistic expectations they place on themselves.
“I've been in the church my whole life, I’ve been a Christian my entire life, and in my experience, a lot of people in the church community are not free,” the 43-year-old New York Times bestselling author said.
“They're free because Jesus died for their sins, but then they put themselves in a prison of other people's thoughts and opinions about how they should live. And as a result, we are literally perpetuating a culture where we want to judge and vilify people if they don't live according to how we think they should live as a Christian.”
But one day, every person will have to stand alone before God and be accountable for their life — and whether they were faithful to the calling He placed before them, Franklin stressed.
“If God has called us to do something, we can't stand up at the end of our life and say, ‘Well, I didn't do it because the church I went to said it was not a good idea. I didn't do it because of my religion,’” he explained.
“Too often we are living for the culture, or whatever culture we're in: family culture or religious culture, gender or race culture. Whatever the culture is that you or I may feel most beholden to, we tend to allow that culture to have the most authority over us,” he said.
To help liberate people from the cultural constraints he believes do more harm than good, the author and CEO of the Franklin Entertainment production company wrote his new book,Live Free: Exceed Your Highest Expectations.
In it, Franklin shares personal stories and draws on biblical wisdom to identify how readers can become everything God calls them to be — personally, professionally, culturally and relationally. He also highlights the power of setting one's own expectations, rather than accepting those imposed by culture, career and relationships.
“When I look at the amount of judgment in our culture, I attribute that to people not really living free lives; they're not really living based upon the freedom of their calling and what God has put within their heart," he reflected. "They feel very constricted and constrained by the communities that they identify with and don't always know how to break free.”
Living the life God is calling one to live fulfills the biblical mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself,” Franklin stressed. But a common tendency in the Christian community, he said, is to focus on the “neighbor” and not the “self” part.
“Especially in our Christian community, when I see the lack of love of our neighbors, even those we don't agree with that don't agree with us, that then to me is a mirror for the lack of love of ourselves,” he explained.
“In order to love our neighbor well, we have to love ourselves well. We have to accept who God created us to be. We have to love this creation called self. We have to acknowledge that we are not perfect, we don't have it all right, we're going to fall, we're going to say sometimes the wrong thing. And God understands that. The only person that walked this Earth that was perfect was Jesus Himself. If we were expected to be perfect, then we wouldn't need Jesus.”
If someone is living the life that God has called them to live, their “number one goal is going to be to encourage you to do the same,” Franklin said.
The pastor and author understands firsthand the pressure to appear perfect and bow to societal expectations — in fact, “Mr. Perfect'' was his nickname growing up. When Franklin was just 9 years old, his father died at the age of 36 after suffering a heart attack. Navigating his father’s death — and being the middle child of three boys raised by a single mother — compelled Franklin to lean into the “image of the perfect kid.”
“That perfect kid really found value and validation through achievement,” he said. “I started this kind of performance-based assessment of myself. So as long as I was achieving, I felt good, but the moments I missed the mark, I felt completely devastated.”
Franklin, who is behind the inspirational film "Breakthrough," the Sony Pictures Animation film "The Starring," and the Sony Pictures film "Miracles From Heaven,” said the pressure to achieve and succeed carried him well into the professional world and “created a tremendous amount of anxiety.”
“The more my desire grew to impact the world and to be used by God, the more I realized that this burden of perfection was a block,” he said, compelling him to “kill Mr. Perfect.”
“I had to kill the expectation I was going do everything right, and I had to be OK with missing the mark and making mistakes."
Giving oneself grace and breaking free from societal expectations, he clarified, does not “mean you’re free to do whatever you want to do.”
“I'm just saying on the path of life, we're going to make some mistakes, even when we have the best intentions. As I've given myself more grace ... I have become happier, I have become more joyful, I have become a better friend, ... a better husband and become a better person because Mr. Perfect was terrorizing me personally.”
“We don't serve an angry God,” he stressed. “When you look at how God is portrayed, especially post Jesus, ... Jesus paid the price for those sins, He is the sacrificial lamb for our sins. So as a result, we do serve a God who loves us, who cares for us, who only wants the very best for us.”
“When we understand that, we then have to be easier on ourselves. Because if I'm easier on me, it's very easy for me to be easier on you. But if I'm tough on me, then I'm going to be tough on you. If I am forgiving of myself, it's easier for me to forgive you. If I am appreciative of myself, I can appreciate you. If I love myself, I can love you.”
Franklin cited John 8:36, which reads: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” adding: “If I already have that assurance against the power of sin, then why then don't we extend that assurance against the power of opinion?”
In his book, Franklin — who has been married to actress Meagan Good for nearly a decade — discusses the important role lowering expectations and effective communication play in a happy, fulfilling marriage.
“If you want your spouse to give you love, cheerfully and joyfully, why would you try to make them meet an expectation that they don't want to meet?” he said. “So then what happens in a relationship is, instead of it being a loving relationship, it becomes a controlling one. ... I’m going to withhold love, I'm going to withhold sex ... spouses run down the list of the repercussions for not meeting the expectation, and often those expectations are unspoken.”
“So the way to live free in your marriage, in your relationship, is, one, what are the unspoken expectations, and then you've got to communicate; two, give your spouse the opportunity to say yes or no; and three, if they say yes, then you can hold them accountable ... if they say no, then you’ve got to talk through what that means and resist the temptation to draw an incorrect conclusion about how they feel about you.”
Truly living freely, Franklin stressed, takes humility and work — and “the faith to believe that God can heal us.”
“If we only focus on the external at the expense of the internal, we may never become who He called us to be and get the life that is actually promised,” he explained. “We all have endured wounds and trauma and trials, and those wounds ... leave a mark in our spirit, and until we start to acknowledge that it's there, it doesn't heal. It just amplifies and comes out in other ways.”
Franklin added that often in the Christian community, “we spend time learning about our industry, learning about God, learning about our hobbies,” but rarely “do we put any work in learning about us.”
“Until we learn about [ourselves], there will be bouts of happiness and joy, but we will never be content, because we really haven't taken the time to do the work to figure out what's going on in here,” he said, gesturing toward his heart. “The more we learn about who God created us to be, and do the hard work and to have humility, that's when everything starts to change, I believe, for the better.”
For those struggling with anxiety, Franklin offered the advice to “find the peace of the present,” adding: “Take a moment to just be grateful for the moment. It's really hard to be upset and grateful at the same time. ... Appreciating today, finding the value of today, getting more content with where we are today, positions us for more peace tomorrow.”
The award-winning producer also said there’s wisdom in seeking therapy, adding: “Let’s not put a taboo on therapy and counseling because there are professionals that God has gifted to be able to help someone if they have some severe depression or severe anxiety that goes beyond just reading books and affirmations.”
“If you are anxious, use every tool available to you to get out of that anxious state because there's an amazing life waiting for you on the other side of it,” he added.