The problem with independence

The American culture has taught great lessons to its inhabitants about working hard, about dreaming and about being yourself. It shouts from the rooftops that this is a place where anything can happen, that everyone has the opportunity to achieve or to fail, and that life is what you make it.

However, there is one lesson our culture has taught us, and this lesson is poison to our souls. Just look at every car on the highway and you will see it. Our culture has taught us that we can, and should, live this life alone. It has taught us that independence triumphs dependence and that individuality is better than community.

The problem with this view is the fact that none of us is smart enough or strong enough to predict and/or overcome every challenge or circumstance life throws at us. There are times when we just can’t do it on our own, and we need each other, but our culture has taught us that this is a sign of weakness, not strength.

I felt this recently in regards to our current situation in which we are trying to sell our home 2,000 miles away and purchase a home here. My wife is a homemaker and I am in sales, which means if I don’t sell anything, the prospects of buying a new home become more difficult, especially considering we cannot buy a new home until we’ve sold the old one.

For someone who is a go-getter, this situation has stopped me in my tracks and made me realize two things:

1. Although I often think I am in control, I am not.

2. If the outcome of my life depends upon me alone, I am destined to fail.

Now reading those two statements probably makes some of you cringe, especially if you are a high achiever, because it wreaks of self-doubt and a victim attitude, something high achievers never display. But that is not the angle I am playing.

What I mean by these two statements, especially the latter, is that the outcomes in my life are affected by the choices I make, but yet are not determined solely by those choices.

For example, in an attempt to sell our house quicker, I flew back to St. Louis and spent four days working on the house. We put in hardwood floors, we stained the deck, updated the landscaping and painted the door and shutters, fixed holes in walls and repainted them. It was a lot of work, and I put forth maximum effort for four straight days, over Mother’s Day weekend, no less.

But my work will not make anyone buy my house. It may help to entice someone to buy it, but ultimately the outcome of this situation is beyond my control.

Similarly, my job in sales requires that I do certain things. I need to make a certain number of phone calls each day, and keep an organized record of all my leads. I have to show up for work on time each day and put in my eight hours. But nothing that I do will ever make someone buy my product.

The danger in believing we are in control and that the outcomes of our lives depend upon us comes when we don’t get the outcomes we expect even when we’ve done the things that often lead to those outcomes. It would be easy to carry the weight of frustration and disappointment with us when this happens, and let the stress of life bring us down.

In my experience, the only way to not let these undesirable outcomes depress us is to acknowledge and accept the fact that life is ultimately out of our control. This is a scary thought for many because it inevitably leads to a dirty word in our American culture: dependence.

The question is, who are we dependent upon? Is it other people? Is it the government or other institutions? Is it mother nature or some god? I submit, begrudgingly I’ll admit, that it is a combination of all of the above. This is uncomfortable to acknowledge because I have been taught by my culture that dependence is bad. The truth, however, is that dependence is liberating. It’s not about me, so I can be free from worry and doubt.

The college I attended had a Latin motto inscribed in its logo that I never paid much attention to until I graduated. It reads Deo Fisus Labora, meaning “Trust in God and Work”. The older I become and the more I have to worry and fret over, the more I value that statement.

It is right for me to trust in God, as my life ultimately is dependent upon Him. And it is right for me to work hard, as I have a part to play in this life. My effort doesn’t ultimately determine the outcome, but it does affect it.

It’s a mystery how these two concepts interact with each other, but they do, and God has given us other people (family, friends and fellow Christians), and other institutions for our good. We truly are better together.

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