There are times on my journey that I learn uncomfortable lessons.
These are the lessons I’m grateful for after I go through them but really would love to trade in for a refund while I’m in the midst of the experience. This is one such time in my life right now.
Thankfully, God does not issue refunds or rain checks. His deliveries really are best!
My season in Dubai has taught me uncomfortable lessons about helplessness, and it’s twin cousins dependence and surrender.
These are three concepts I really wouldn’t have considered great friends at other stages of my life. After all, we live in an age where we almost must be “badass” and “take our power back.”
Have you ever noticed that the more we focus on our strength, the more tired we become as a global society?
Everyone’s striving… everyone’s in their masculine energy all the time… and no one seems to resting well.
Of course, as some friends have reminded me, words like “helplessness,” “dependence” and “surrender” can trigger incredible feelings of anxiety.
You might even find them off-putting, because it is very much possible to experience those feelings in a highly negative situation.
Feeling helplessness during an abusive episode, for example. Feeling dependent on a man (as a woman with no income or options), from a place of weakness and not by choice. Feeling the need to surrender to a controlling supervisor or relative for the sake of your safety.
Put in those terms, “helplessness” can sound like a disease for which we need a doctor’s prescription. And perhaps that’s at the root of our aversion to the concept.
We associate it with seasons where survival seemed to be our only possible reality.
But what if there’s a place for helplessness that’s actually rooted in an extreme form of strength? One that enables us to thrive?
Maybe we can’t even get into a lifestyle of thriving without discovering that form of it, either.
There is a form of helplessness, I believe now, that is necessary to shift from surviving to thriving. Taking back our power, recognizing that we do have available inner strength and resources, may be a necessary stage of the journey. But at some point it just won’t be enough for the level of the battles we face.
If helplessness does not always have to come from a place of weakness, then, perhaps it can instead become our greatest “gentle weapon” in our quest to become strong. Precisely because, if practices as a choice and a discipline, it allows us to relax for once. To throw off that constant, nagging, aching, frenetic urge that pushes us to run around trying to help ourselves out of our ever-present chaos.
We can’t really surrender to the help of God if we’re busy helping ourselves.
I think God knows that. And I think He also knows that the only way to get us to lay down all our own efforts is to simply tire us out.
I reached that point recently, after a year in Dubai.
When I think of everything that happened in that year–which I’ll share more about next week for my first anniversary of arrival–I get tired just reviewing the list.
I’ve spent the last couple of years scrambling around to ensure I could survive. (You can read more about that here.) Mostly because, I think, I was scared to death to wind up more helpless than I already did. I felt helpless enough when the bottom dropped out of my world, and I found myself getting divorced, losing most of my possessions, and losing my dream home too, all at the same time.
That kind of helplessness did not feel good. It felt terrifying. I saw myself as being at the mercy of forces beyond my control. Forces which were perfectly happy to do me harm. Forces I needed to resist.
But now, I’m tired of trying to make it all that work.
I crossed three continents, learned to live on an empty bank account, and found myself pulling an Arya Stark moment regularly–“I am no one, I am nothing, I am nowhere.”
But you can only sustain that for so long before it all goes ka-put.
Piece after piece, the over-functioning parts of me have just shut down now that I’m stationary again in Dubai. I’ve slipped into a quiet restful state almost against my will.
I supposed you could categorize this new phase as “surrender from sheer attrition of willpower.”
And maybe that’s okay.
Maybe that’s a happier, healthier place to be.
Maybe it’s also what Jesus meant when He said so long ago:
“Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
At some point you just have to put your burden down.
You have to admit you cannot carry it any further, and to do so will mean to collapse from sheer exhaustion.
In setting it down, however, you give someone else a chance to carry it.
That’s where helplessness, to me, can become a positive quality.
In the past, I felt helpless against people and forces that wanted to harm me, or impose their will over me with no thought for my best interests.
By contrast, God has my absolute best interest at heart. He promises me rest. He promises that His “burden is light” (as it says in the next verse, Matthew 11:29). To become helpless before Him, then, is to recognize I don’t have to make it all happen. Or any of it happen.
This is good news for weary souls everywhere. I am not responsible to figure out all the provision I need. Or all the love. Or all the opportunities. I am not even responsible to figure out how to fix my mess.
As I rest in God, He figures all that out for me.
So in that moment, that when I collapse from exhaustion and say, “I give up,” what I’m really saying is, “I give it to God.” Which instantaneously makes me stronger than I’ve ever been… because I’m no longer going it alone.
I think I’m going to sit here awhile in this state, which the Eastern sages would call, “blissful non-action.”
The classic Alcoholics Anonymous text refers to it in Steps 1 and 2 as “We admitted we were powerless …. that our lives had become unmanageable” and “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
The Bible refers to it as letting God fight my battles on my behalf (Exodus 14:14, 2 Chronicles 20:17, Deuteronomy 3:22, Isaiah 40:31, Psalms 34:17, Romans 8:37).
Right now, that sounds just about right by me.
It may not be fashionable or even deemed appropriate in our society to be helpless in this way, especially if it requires the need for divine intervention.
But when you are helpless before Almighty God by choice, you are not yielding to a power that intends your destruction or your punishment. You are yielding to the very creative force of the universe, the commander of angel armies, and the tender parent who calls us as sons and daughters…. all wrapped into one.
That’s a level of strength I could never muster on my own to get things done myself, any day of the week. And in an age where we all must be “badasses,” it’s surprisingly refreshing to say, “I just don’t have to be anything at all.”
Honestly friends, I’d rather nestle than wrestle any day.
It’s so much less…. work.