Why Independence is Not Enough

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“In our high value for independence that’s ingrained into our hearts and heads, we often miss living out a way of being that’s necessary for healthier human beings, systems and cultures — interdependence.”

When I was in college, I spent a summer semester in London.

It was an amazing experience, and even 25 years later, I still have many fond memories about my time there. One definitely-not-fond-but-rather-embarrassing memory is that we publicly celebrated July 4th that summer.  The local TGIFriday’s hosted a USA party and a big group of us decided to go. I remember being on the subway in our red, white and blue and being rather loud and inconsiderate about the USA’s independence from England. People stared at us for being rude.

We deserved it.  None of us had any sensitivity to that moment; we were just college kids being college kids.

Not Enough

While we were celebrating our independence, they remembered their loss.

Even though I highly value the USA’s tenacity and spirit, I have come to view independence in an entirely different way over the past chunk of years.

Independence is not enough. Yes, getting out of oppressive systems is important and everyone deserves freedom. Finding our strength, courage, dignity and basic rights is critical as individuals and cultures. Pioneering our way to new lands forges new futures.

But we need to be careful about overvaluing independence.

Independence can often lead to feeling superior, to protecting ourselves from those not like us, to believing that we don’t need others and can do everything on our own. It easily creates hardened hearts, prideful spirits and a divide between “us and them”–the kinds of things Jesus was often speaking out against.

Needing Others

In our high value for independence that’s ingrained into our hearts and heads, we often miss living out a way of being that’s necessary for healthier human beings, systems and cultures–interdependence.

We need each other.

And for many of us, it’s hard to admit that. At least it is for me.

I am a master at being independent. From a very young age I learned how to take care of myself and make sure I didn’t “need” anyone too much. For me, my Christian experience intensified my independent spirit even further, as I was taught that my faith was just about “me and God” and that was enough. Because God wasn’t in-the-flesh sitting next to me, I could continue to live out my faith independently from others. Many of the churches and ministries I was involved in had the same ethos of an independent spirit that kept us separated from others.

True Strength

For me, in my quest to remain independent, I ended up feeling lonely, disconnected, fragmented and insecure.

Independence creates a false strength, while interdependence creates real strength, the kind that I think God always had in mind for us.

I believe interdependence is desperately missing in this world. 

Because interdependence is love.

When we’re interdependent, we need each other, like really need each other.

– We receive as much as we give.

– Our differences become strengths, not liabilities.

– We listen better.

– We see what we didn’t see before.

– We learn mutual submission.

– We are forced to work through conflict instead of leave when the going gets tough.

– We are confronted with our own prejudices.

– We practice love.

We learn what we can never learn when we are safely protected in our own little independent worlds. 

Today, this holiday is a regular day for most of the world. Many people will be riding subways wondering why the Americans are waving their red, white, and blues.

But for all of us, here’s what I hope:

We keep asking God to help us give up the safety of independence and bravely risk interdependence. 

In our families. In our friendships. In our churches. In our neighborhoods. In the world.

We need each other.

It’s what sets us free.

Happy Interdependence Day.

_____________________________________

Photo credit: Julie McLeod

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Down We Go--Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids. Her most recent book Faith Shift can be found on Amazon.com
Kathy Escobar

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Kathy Escobar
  • So many people want to think they are an island, and that they depend on no one. It’s just not true.

  • Mindy

    Artfully expressed, Kathy. Thank you. Independence has often seemed like a substandard goal…and even idol. Interdependence is a much truer path to freedom.