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.