Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Independence Myth

“What our culture values is independence and the freedom to be free from our obligations to each other, our neighbors and the world... We believe if we put our head down and work hard enough for long enough and save our money, we will never need to face the shame of asking for others help.” ~David Henson*

When I graduated from college, my biggest goal was to find a job. I wanted to be self-sufficient. God wants us to not be a burden on others and to be generous to people, right? That meant he'd help me find a good enough job to be financially independent! Of course!

Self-sufficiency is a cultural ideal. Adulthood is defined by it. You get to drive, then live on your own in a dorm room, then drink, then you graduate and start supporting yourself: your journey to adulthood is now complete. Not surprising we see it this way: our nation was founded on independence. We want to do our own thing. We want to be free.

But sometimes we're so independent from one another, we can't connect. Families are no longer the smallest social unit; individuals are. We have lost the art of mentoring one another. We use sex to draw us closer, but don't even know how to talk about sex. We don't know how to be vulnerable or dependent on anyone.

We were made dependent. We need one another in order to function properly, to be fully ourselves. We need people to call us out when we're being hypocritical. We need people to tell us we've done a fantastic job and stop messing with it because it doesn't need to be tweaked any more, really.

Most of all, we need that basic food for the soul: love.

Love requires dependence. You have to wait for someone to offer you their love and keep offering it, every day. If they stop loving you, your soul gets hurt and goes hungry. In order to let their love into your life, you have to be vulnerable to the imperfections of their love. In order to be loved, you put yourself on the chopping block of someone else's choices. Your heart's greatest need can only be met by someone else. You depend on others.

This is the whole answer to the question of why a good God would allow the world to get so messed up. He can ask us to love and to live well, but he can't force it. He had to make us capable of choosing. We are independent lovers. We are free to choose.

We need each other. We need friends to help us in our weakness, talk us down in our panic, reprimand us in our foolishness, and join us in our joy. We need friends to humble us. Nothing puts life into perspective like receiving an undeserved gift. We cannot earn anyone's love. We are utterly dependent on others for soul-food. We need to remember that.

Don't make self-sufficiency your highest goal. If you're financially dependent on someone else and feeling the judgment of our culture, hold your head high. If you're emotionally dependent on a loved one, spouse, or friend, accept the support they give you with gratitude.

We need each other. That's just how it is. It's a good thing when we realize it.

* David Henson. "The Shameful Neighbor: Food Stamps, Stereotypes, and the War on the Hungry (A Homily)", 2013.