Self Help

Leave Self-Help and Try Radical Dependence Instead

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I was on The Ride Home with John and Kathy yesterday (40min mark) complaining about the idea of having to get my life together. Found myself using the term “radical dependence,” which I think I must have made up on the spot, unless someone has already. Anyway, it struck me, as I was saying it, how again, Christianity is not what the world is looking for. Because radical dependence, while it offers some psychological comforts, is really a narrow and terrible road.

Primarily because, if you are not an actual child—as in, you have grown up and can take care of yourself (#self-care)—the practice of radically depending on someone else, like God, is going to be painful, is going to cut against the very nature of who you are, and is going to make you feel foolish and ridiculous.

But it is what Christians do. The other word for it is obedience. To obey is to do something that someone else wants you to do, usually when you would rather not, and often without knowing why it would be good if you did. You mortify, or turn away from the thing you deeply desire to do, in order to do something that someone else, like God, desires you to do. You do it as a matter of trust. You don’t know how it will work out, you don’t know how you will be able to survive, but you do it because this other person said you should.

A child who wants to run out into the street but, upon hearing his name called insistently along with the word “Stop,” who then turns and runs back to the one who called him, does so because he knows two things. One, the other person will make him more unhappy if he doesn’t turn back (that is discipline) and two, the other person has been right before and is therefore trustworthy. So also with the grown up person who is well able to get out of bed in the morning and decide what to eat for breakfast and where to work and what to wear and what kinds of people to be friends with. The only reason you stop and obey is because you know that you will be more miserable if you don’t and you know that God is good, even if you can’t feel it in the moment.

This kind of obedience is very different from the call most of us want to hear from God. We want God to call us to some lovely job that will make us happy. We want God to call us into relationships that will soothe the loneliness and make us strong. We want God to call us to be with nice people in beautiful houses driving expensive (and clean) cars. We might bolster that desire with lots of smooth sounding messages like, You need to take care of yourself, and You can do it, and You are special and loved by God.

Whereas, obedience more usually means staying in impossible situations a lot longer than is bearable. Staying in a marriage with someone who actively undermines who you are (as long as it’s safe). Carrying on with a job or a task that gives you no sense of satisfaction at all. Standing and talking to someone in the church hall who can only repeat the same three phrases over and over again, and who is angry with you, and yet you have to talk to her every single week. Enduring a body that doesn’t work the way you want it to and is racked with pain. You stick in all of these places, obediently, and cry out to God to rescue and help you—to help you in your weakness, to strengthen you, to comfort you, to change the heart and mind of the other person. And he does…eventually. Long after you wanted him to.

You could have solved some of the problems yourself. But you waited. And waited. And did the hard work in front of you, sometimes in agony—emotionally and physically—as you went along. You endured because you knew that God was good, you knew he could be trusted, and you knew that it would honestly be worse if you didn’t.

You depended on him with every fiber of your being. Which is ultimately a peculiar and terrifying kind of love. It is to love God so much that in yourself you are willing to die, slowly, because you would rather have him than yourself. It’s not cheap. There are no YouTube videos that will make you feel better while you’re doing it. You can’t make money off of this kind of obedience, that kind of love. The only thing you get out of it is eternal life. And you also get, as you go along, the perfect strength of a kind God who gives you exactly what you need at each moment, and who stretches you to stoop and reach towards another person who doesn’t see the way forward very well either.

Don’t give up. Try radical dependence on God today. I’m working on a hashtag. But in the meantime #girlgotochurch.

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