We live in a society that encourages a focus on self; self-sufficient, self-disciplined, self-reliant...all wrapped up in a healthy self-esteem. We pride ourselves on our independence and our ability to take care of ourselves. Our goal for child rearing is to create independent, self-sufficient adults. We are training our children to someday get to the point where they no longer need us. We take care of ourselves and we don't need anyone's help.
Don't get me wrong; healthy self esteem is important and I want my girls to be able to take care of themselves. My husband and I started dating when we were 16 and we were both fiercely independent from a young age. I started working when I was 15 years old and paid my own way through college. My husband worked two jobs during college so that he could have his own apartment. We couldn't wait to get out on our own, couldn't wait to move away to forge our own way, be our own people, prove ourselves. We achieved our career goals well ahead of schedule, I got my Masters degree, we bought our own home, two beautiful children, etc., etc., etc. The American dream come true. Northern Virginia upper middle class with all the trimmings.
So, is that a bad thing? Absolutely not! I am proud of the hard work that underlies the achievements that the world can see. But, here's the problem; being self-sufficient can get in the way of our relationship with God. When we routinely find success seemingly through our own hard work, we forget that God made us to be dependent on Him. We forget that He put us in this place, blessed us with these skills, gave us these opportunities to further His kingdom. We get wrapped up in our belief that it is all up to us; the world will stop if we let up for one minute. If we quit striving, pushing, working, sweating, fighting....if we decided to step out of the battle...if we let the ball drop...what might happen? We get so enamored by the fruit of our own labor that we begin to believe that our own effort is what it is all about.
Yet, God didn't make us to be independent. He didn't make us to live by our own efforts. So when we do, we get tired. When we do, we get frustrated and overwhelmed and stressed out. When we do, we lack a sense of greater meaning and purpose. I heard a definition of the word EGO today that I had never heard before; EGO stands for Edging God Out. Ego is what happens when we get an exaggerated sense of our own importance. When we operate as if our efforts are keeping the world as we know it from disolving into chaos, we forget who is God. I once heard someone say that we need to wake up every morning and resign as General Manager of the Universe...apparently, that job is already filled by Someone else!
The good news is that we get a really good deal when we invite Jesus to be Lord of our life. If we take Him up on His offer to abide in Him, we can relax. Sure, we still work hard and take care of our responsibilities. Yet, when we are living a surrendered life, when we are living in constant communion and conversation with the God of the Universe, we have a Power that far exceeds our best efforts. We can quit striving and clawing and fighting and struggling and allow God to achieve His goals and His purposes through us. It might still be hard sometimes, but it is never boring and it is never meaningless. There is a supernatural Power available to us as Christians that so many of us never access. We rely on grace to reconcile us with God, but then continue to live by our own power. God can only empower those areas of our life that we are willing to surrender to Him. For instance, it amazes me how often I try to parent my children in my own power instead of surrendering my children and my role as their mom to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to infuse every aspect of my relationship with my girls. That fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) comes in pretty handy as a mom!
God wired us to need Him and He also wired us to need each other. Again, our culture of self-reliance gets in the way of our ability to depend on one another. We smile when we are in pain, we laugh when we feel like crying and we say "fine" when someone asks how we are doing....even when we are anything but fine. We hide our brokenness and pretend we have it all together. Yet, again, God puts something within us that makes that pretense feel wrong...something within us that yearns for connection. So, if we are lucky and if we are brave, we allow a few people in and we let ourselves need them. And because God made us to bear one another's burdens, it feels right and we feel like we are home. So, if we are lucky and if we are brave, we risk a little more and we share a little more...and God is glorified in those places where we are real.
Last night, we had two couples from church over for dinner. It was the kind of evening that I believe makes God smile. Real people...His people...laughing together, talking about nothing and talking about Everything, wondering if it's OK to be real and then finding that it is. The night went very late and it was wonderful. Last night was about connections...about community...about depending on one another, enjoying one another, caring about one another...moving past the surface and saying what is true and real...even when we disagree. There was nothing remotely churchy about the evening, yet it was all about the True Church...perhaps a little closer to what Jesus had in mind than many of our church gatherings. Today, I am deeply grateful for the friendships that were nurtured here last night and I hope there will be more like them in the future.
I am also deeply grateful that I am over the whole self-sufficient thing...I need God and I need the wonderful people He has placed in my life. Seems sort of silly to be tough and independent when He has made Himself and His people available to journey with me. Isn't His plan awesome?