in(ter)dependence

I have always considered myself independent.

I can teach myself. I can take on all the extra tasks. I can pay for it with my hard-earned paycheck. I can deal with my problems alone. I don’t need anyone to entertain me, coddle me, or help me get where I’m going.

But a pride-filled independence at its worst is relentlessly isolating.

The more I think about it, the more I believe western culture’s push for independence is dangerous to the church. Like a fatal toxin seeping into the bloodstream, independence—the king of western ideals—is infiltrating the body of Christ. Personally, I’ve seen just as many negative effects as positive when independence pulses through my veins and powers my decisions.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m aware that some aspects of independence are valuable. I think that independent people often have high drive, accomplish great things, and are hard workers. And that is wonderful!

But unchecked independence tells us we can do it all, have it all, be it all. It screams that we don’t need anyone, and we don’t owe anyone anything. It whispers that if we depend on anyone or anything, we’re failures.

Dependence on God

Here’s the truth: we are never fully independent, because our entire existence is dependent on the maker of our souls.

The following are three definitions of independent:

  1. not subject to another's authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free.

  2. not influenced by the thought or action of others.

  3. not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.

But we are subject to another’s authority. We are influenced by thoughts and actions of another. We are contingent upon something else for existence.

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15-18).

We were created to live dependent on God, just as the entire world carries out its existence contingent on His will.

A drive for independence is primarily dangerous because it can easily lead us to believe we don’t need God. Sometimes we don’t even realize this is the case: we may logically know we need God, but our actions tell another story. This shows up when rather than praising God for the blessings He shares, we seek recognition for our efforts. Instead of asking for guidance, we guide our own steps. When we should be knelt at the feet of Jesus, we drag ourselves up and try to stagger forward.

A mindset of independence can cause us to hold on to our burdens, dragging them along with us, because of untrue feeling that God can’t/won’t/shouldn’t take those things from us. What if we were to exchange the pain and trouble of proudly marching on alone for the peace that comes with a humble surrender?

Interdependence on Each Other

Last fall, during one of the first classes in my graduate program, the professor spent some time emphasizing the importance of a good support system that included other students from the cohort. Year after year, she explained, there are students who are isolated from the rest of their cohort… and time after time, these are the students who fail their classes or drop out of school altogether.

This stuck with me. Grad school, infamous for the stress it induces, can only be done well with the support of others. If this is true

of formal education… I’m fairly certain the same is true for the bigger stressors such as, I don’t know, LIVING.

Even if you have communion with God, a Christian life is not one that can be lived in isolation. The Church, the body of Christ, the flock, family… whatever you choose to call it, those who follow Christ are a part of something far greater than themselves. We are designed to depend on one another to live a full life that brings glory to the one we follow. We need each other to fulfill our needs, whether giving us a meal when money’s tight, a listening ear when we’re doubting, or a shoulder when life gets tough.

Friends, the Bible does not encourage us to become like Christ by the brute force of our own will. We are not told to fight alone. We are instead instructed to meet together, encourage, admonish, and help each other, and to love one another because we are unified by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:25, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 1 John 4:11, Ephesians 4:1-16).

The gospel is a communal message, and it saves us from the weight of independence. The gospel invites us not only into a redeemed relationship with God, but into a renewed relationship with our brothers and sisters. There is a built-in support system when you belong to the body of Christ.  When we try to live as though we don’t have membership, we ourselves fail, and the rest of the body misses out on the unique gifts and support we can offer.

...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).

I want to be a part of this body. A part that is working properly, for the benefit of the entire body. Even when it seems easier to do things alone. Even when I want to do things according to my own plan. Even when every fiber of my being says I can’t ask for help. I want to choose to be dependent on the Lord, and interdependent on my brothers and sisters.

I am meant to be in(ter)dependent.

And so are you.