You know the women like me. I take care of myself. I’m financially stable, careful not to lean too hard on my friends, and skeptical about marriage because it’s sold as two people desperately needing each other (and “need” is not in my vocabulary). In short, I’m an independent woman.
An independent and foolish woman.
A Beautiful Virtue…for a Country
Independence is America’s cardinal virtue. It is a beautiful virtue for a country, and many nations commemorate the day they received the privilege of governing themselves. The individuals within the US also have a reputation of self-sufficiency, rooted in the nation’s humble beginnings and tradition of governance “by the people.” Even the newest generation of American adults, “millennials,” despite being obsessed with collaboration and social media, take pride in a strong sense of individuality.
Like independent nations, independent people are self-governing, free from external authority. Practically speaking, this means independent people are accountable only to themselves – I, the self, is the greatest authority over their lives. At first, this is incredibly liberating: to do only the things that please and protect myself! I know best how to make myself feel safe and loved, so why should I expect another person to fill those needs for me? And why should I be expected to do the same for someone else?
The Secret to Success
Many people sense the coldness in this way of thinking and actually enjoy supporting and receiving support from others in their lives. Humans are social animals. We give and receive kindness and seek the warmth that comes from being part of the crowd. Even the most independent people, though they may deny the force of their need for relationships, feel the tug of both worlds: the desire to be content and fulfilled as an individual, as well as the need for others’ support. In the midst of it all there is the nagging fear: I am not enough – for myself or for others.
Yet there are plenty of people with orderly lives and healthy relationships. I’ve noticed the people I respect most have something in common: They don’t get upset when I accidentally suggest they aren’t sufficient for everything life demands of them. What is their secret?
To begin with, these people already know they aren’t enough. They don’t live in fear of being found out because they are honest with themselves and others about their shortcomings. They’ve realized independence is a myth and they’re free from its deceptive claims.
They also accept an uncomfortable truth: Their honesty about themselves creates an authority vacuum in their lives. If I’m not able to hold my life together, who (or what) is? These people have found a reliable answer to that question and they’re willing to stake their lives on it.
This is the tricky part because there are so many ideas, people, and objects wrestling to take control of our lives. Some are more appealing or legitimate than others, but it’s a daunting mess to sort out. It’s very easy to trade one false authority for another, relinquishing our uncompromising independence for a mentality in which we base our decisions on the opinions of others rather than our own opinions. But others will disappoint us as often as we disappoint ourselves. So the first question to ask about anything that takes over your life is, “Is this real?” That is, is this person or idea a legitimate authority, or is it simply something you’ve granted inordinate influence in your life?
Sometimes we give false authorities free reign out of a sense of fear, as when we live for the opinions of others. But submitting to a false authority isn’t always driven by fear; sometimes we allow pleasant things to dictate our lives even though we know they can’t save us. This happens when our favorite comforts become more than familiar habits – they become our salvation. It could be one of any number of comforts: yoga, running, music, or something more serious like sex or alcohol. We bury the knowledge that these patterns can’t save us and cling to them because we have nothing else. The problem with allowing these comforts to rule our lives is that they aren’t meant to function as authorities. At best, there will be gaps in the needs they provide for, and at worst they can become destructive.
A More Excellent Way
If it’s true there is a Creator, it seems like a cruel form of divine entertainment to watch humans make the same mistakes over and over while they chase dreams of perfection. It seems unfair for him to create individuals who can’t perfectly care for their own needs. In doing so, however, he shows that his values are different from our own: While we crave self-sufficiency, he says long-term relational commitments (he calls them covenants) are more important. He says failure is an opportunity for grace and need is an opportunity for love. He says there’s something bigger at stake than my ego, and I say that’s a relief.
So, yes, I like being responsible for myself, and I doubt that will change. But I am foolish to allow that aspect of my personality to invade my life and rule over it. There is only one authority who is legitimate to govern my life, and he is the governor of all things: Jesus Christ. What rules your life? Are you willing to face up to it? Or will you come with me and look it in the eye, renounce its place in your life? I’m done with this self-reliance. I’ve found a more excellent way.
“[He is seated] in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And [God the Father] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).