Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


Leave a comment

The Myth of Self-Sufficiency

IMG_1633

Setting the plate in front of me, the waitress smiled and offered a cheerful “Enjoy your meal!” before walking away. My salad looked delicious, but I frowned. The chicken breast displayed on top would be difficult to eat without using two hands to cut it into smaller pieces. I’d hoped what I ordered would be easy to eat one-handed since my right arm was tucked in a sling. Staring at the food and shifting with discomfort, I weighed my options. The women around me at the table were engrossed in conversation, unaware of my predicament. Finally I turned to a friend next to me and apologized for interrupting. “Um, do you mind cutting up my chicken?” Realizing my problem, she happily obliged while I tried to act casual.  There was no reason to feel embarrassed, but I still felt like a child.

I’ve had an independent streak since I was little. It might have been my position as the youngest of five. It might have been the four-year gap between the next sibling and me. My independence led me to a college far from home. And it led me to a job as a teacher where I was isolated in a classroom instead of regularly working alongside colleagues. “Capable” and “efficient” were good descriptions for me. I didn’t know much about being a team player or learning to work well with others. The idea of delegating responsibilities made me cringe with fear and mistrust—whether it was at work, at home or serving at church. I had friends and meaningful relationships, but tackled much of life as a Lone Ranger.

Getting married, raising children and gaining life experience have changed me incrementally over time.  I’ve begun to recognize that many things I thought I could handle on my own were actually better and more enjoyable when I shared them with others. Whether it was planning class reunions, leading Vacation Bible School or facilitating Bible studies, I’ve learned the value and joy of working with others.

One thing I’ve struggled with, however, is asking for help or receiving it when it’s offered. This changed drastically when a bike accident left me with a broken right wrist and elbow recently. “Capable” and “efficient” are no longer words used to describe me. Instead, they characterize the many people who have stepped in to help me during this challenging season. I’ve been blessed and humbled by the numerous ways friends and family members have come alongside me.

Self-sufficiency has its place, but when it is over emphasized, it leads to isolationism and a lack of community.   It’s also a breeding ground for pride. Although it’s been humbling, the outpouring of support I’ve received since my accident has provided clear evidence of God’s love. It’s also reinforced the blessing of Christian fellowship. I’ve learned to accept help when it’s offered and to ask for it even when it isn’t (which is not easy to do). I’m depending on my family more. And I’m learning to let them do things their way instead of mine (which is also not easy to do). My lack of self-sufficiency has blessed my marriage in ways a book or couples’ seminar never could.

This experience is enabling me to understand an old familiar passage in a new light. King Solomon, perhaps the wisest man that ever lived, wrote these words:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)

Solomon was rich and powerful, yet he understood the value of relationship and community. He knew life was better when shared with others.

Self-sufficiency only works when things are going smoothly. Although we like to think that “normal” life equates with the absence of trouble, we are only fooling ourselves. Jesus assures us in John’s gospel: “In this world you will have trouble.” Fortunately he follows this with this assurance, But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV)

Here is the truth: only God is sufficient. Thankfully, he never intended for us to be on life’s journey solo. He’s given us the blessings of fellowship and community as tangible ways to meet our needs.  They also remind us that we are never alone.

If you can relate to my struggles with pride and self-sufficiency, I invite you to pray and ask God to show you one area you can surrender to him by letting someone meet a need you have. Maybe you won’t have to break your arm to recognize that sufficiency in anything other than God is just a myth.

The song ‘”Brother” by the band NEEDTOBREATHE celebrates that life is better when we’re in it together. (Ladies, don’t get too hung up on the title, just substitute “sister” if it makes you feel better). Click on the link to enjoy this inspiring song.

Continue reading

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Live Like You Believe It- What Love Is Week 1

IMG_8836

Reading through the opening chapter of First John makes my mind dart from one topic to the next. I sense John’s urgency as he writes, his passion for his readers to embrace a relationship with Jesus and to let their lives reflect the difference knowing Him makes. John’s approach is direct not because he is harsh, but because he cares too much to risk having someone miss the point.

He starts by emphasizing that he knew Jesus personally saying, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3 NIV)

The word “fellowship” comes from the Greek word “koinonia.” It includes both a spiritual and a practical component. Those who believe in Jesus and his resurrection are united in the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father. Put simply, they have a personal relationship with God. And this means they also have a relationship with others who are connected with God. “Perhaps the clearest theological use of koinonia [fellowship] is in 1 John 1:3-6, where we read that when we walk in the light truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ and that this relation of grace has profound implications for daily living. For if we say that we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, we lie! Here the basic meaning of ‘fellowship’ is a real and practical sharing in eternal life with the Father and the Son.” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

In essence, when we are walking closely with God, we connect easily with others who are doing the same, whether we’ve known them for years or are meeting them for the first time. I had the privilege of seeing this dynamic recently as I gathered with a group of women for a special lunch. All of us were believers, but some had never met.   Despite this, the talk around the table was rich and deep. An outside observer would have thought we’d all been close friends for years. The reason for this was our common love for and relationship with Jesus. Through many encounters like this one, I’ve learned it doesn’t take long for the Holy Spirit living in me to recognize himself in someone else I meet.   True fellowship flows naturally when people connected with God engage with one another.

Conversely, we don’t experience deep fellowship with people who have a façade of faith, but no substance behind it. John describes them as people who “claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness” (1 John 1:6a, NIV). John doesn’t mince words– he says people doing this “Do not live out the truth.” (1 John 1:6b, NIV) This reminds me of the years I spent volunteering with the high school group at my church. I could always tell how the girls in my small group were doing spiritually by how closely they wanted to connect with me. Those who rode the fence between faith and worldliness often remained at a distance from me, no matter how much I lovingly pursued them. They were lying to themselves, believing they could live by worldly and godly standards simultaneously. They wanted the warmth and reassurance of the light, but were lured by the lies lurking in the darkness. As long as they remained divided, true fellowship couldn’t happen.

John continues his teaching in the next section by explaining the importance of being honest about our sins. Again, not mincing words he says, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NIV) As our world continues to eliminate moral standards, the line between right and wrong is slowly being erased. Our culture has moved from excusing sin to embracing it and calling it good.  When we determine our own versions of right and wrong, then we can convince ourselves that there is no such thing as sin. And if sin no longer exists, nothing is off-limits. Ultimately, this mentality eliminates the need for Jesus, the one who gave his life to forgive our sins.

For Christians, it is vitally important to recognize sin in our lives and to confess it. This means we need to study God’s Word consistently so that we can know the standards he calls us to maintain. We do this not because we want to follow a list of rules, but because we love God and don’t want anything to impede our fellowship with him or with others. Admitting our sins is an act of humility that honors God and reminds us how much we need him. When we ask for forgiveness it reminds us that we’re not perfect and that we need to show God’s grace to others. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)  Doing this deepens fellowship with God and with other believers.

I’d sum up John’s teaching in this passage by saying that if we claim to know Jesus and to walk in the light, it will be evident in our lives. We’ll have meaningful relationships with fellow believers and we’ll have a deep love for God and the truth of His Word. We will admit that we are sinners, humbly confess sin and seek forgiveness regularly. Doing these things enables us to live with authenticity and to invite others to do the same.

Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” describes the tension between getting stuck in the dark of worldliness versus embracing the light of Christ. Click on the link and make it your prayer as you listen.

Continue reading