May 17, 2024

The Lie of Self-Sufficiency

Have you ever woken up from a dream with a new realization? A new perspective?

A few days ago, I awoke with this thought in my head: The ideal of American self-sufficiency has twisted the way we present the gospel. It is actually toxic because it fails to recognize the necessity of surrender.

I have no idea what I was dreaming that led to this realization, but the thought itself had the weight of truth. Believing that we, as individuals, must do everything in our power to sort ourselves out and get “right” with God has led us down a dangerous path.

Think of the myriad of Christian “self-help” books that exist. I am not blind to the fact that I have even written a book in this genre—although I would suggest that Rest for the Weary is more like a remedy to the self-help craze. It is clear that many of us feel the need to “fix” ourselves. We know something isn’t working in our lives. We feel restless, anxious, and exhausted. We know something needs to change, but we aren’t sure how to make that happen.

Here’s the problem. We weren’t created to be self-sufficient. We were created to be dependent upon our creator, our provider, the one who always has our best interest at heart.

Not only were we created to be dependent upon God, were were actually made to become one with him. When we rely on self, we ignore our need to be dependent upon and in union with God.

In God’s eyes, a person who is completely dependent upon others for their care and support, and even their survival, is no less valuable than the most self-sufficient, independent person. This is profoundly countercultural and worth reflecting upon. If you could do nothing for yourself would you still believe you are immeasurably valuable?

God doesn’t value us for what we do. He values us for who we are, his beloved children created in his own image. Unfortunately, we often miss this important truth. The only way to experience the life we were meant to live, the life we find in the love of God, is through surrender.

Think of the story of the rich young ruler that appears in all three Synoptic Gospels.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,”he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22)

I used to read this parable and think it was primarily a warning about the deceitfulness of wealth. And while that’s certainly part of it, the warning goes deeper. It has to do with our heart attachments. Anything of this world can draw us away from God if we give it undue priority. Even things we think of as “good” can become destructive idols.

The young man’s wealth wasn’t the problem as much as his attachment to it. It is a lesson for all of us. What are we clinging to that prevents us from experiencing God’s love? Are we willing to surrender the things that keep us in bondage in order to receive abundant life?

Some of us cling to our reputation or title. Some cling to unhealthy relationships. Many of us cling to our own abilities or will power. We believe we can make our lives better through positive thinking or grit. It’s tiring, isn’t it?

How many of us have been led to believe it is up to us to “make things happen” or “build the life we want?” Sure, we may have to work toward a goal. If you are called to be a doctor, you need to go to medical school, pass exams, do a residency, etc. No one becomes an opera singer without knowledge of music theory and years of vocal training. But God never asks us to do these things on our own strength. When he has given us talents and skills, our hands must be open to him, acknowledging that even these gifts belong to him.

The truth looks different than what we often believe. God wants us to hold the things of this world—even our own dreams and abilities—loosely, not placing our hope in them. In our Father’s kingdom, weakness, humility, and dependence are more valuable than strength, power, and independence. And yet, even in the Church, we often learn that we must rely upon a set of rules and tools to achieve our personal and spiritual goals. Or worse, that we must wage war, contending for what we need.

Don’t we know we have a Father who delights to give good gifts to his children? He wants us to be free rather than afraid. Our inheritance is already available to us. He isn’t waiting for us to somehow “get it right.” He knows we can’t. Surrendering our perceived strength, talents, and abilities is the only way into kingdom abundance. It is the only way to live in freedom.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 1:32). I love this image of a flock. Sheep are dependent upon their shepherd, just as we should be. God doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. He guards us, guides us, and provides for us. When we fall into the trap of self-sufficiency, we miss out on this beautiful blessing.

Our lives would undoubtedly look different if we allowed ourselves to depend more upon God and on each other as we learn to love. And perhaps we would discover that shedding the burden of self-sufficiency feels a lot like freedom.

What lies has our culture led you to believe? What heart attachments do you need to surrender to God? How is he asking you to let go?

Pray with me:

Loving Father,

I so often try to do things on my own strength.

I confess to you that I’m tired, worn out.

I need your help.

Show me the things I’m clinging to that are weighing me down.

Help me to experience your perfect love that casts out fear.

Show me the path of surrender and help me to trust in your goodness.

Reveal any lies I have believed that have led to striving, perfectionism, and restlessness.

Help me to let go.

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