When Self-Sufficiency Is No Longer Sufficient


“…and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size… I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” —2 Corinthians 12: 9-10, The Message


Although I committed these verses to memory years ago, I can honestly say that they live more in my head than in my heart. They are more often than not impotent in my life, and their impotence has nothing to do with God, and everything to do with me. Let me explain.

You see, I generally live as if I am independent, self-sufficient. Granted, trauma in my past created the memory muscles that cause me to automatically depend on myself, but given my faith perspective, one would think I would have developed the muscles to automatically trust in God. This, however, is not the case, and God is, more often than not, the last one I turn to when I have almost completed depleted my resources and capacity.

Another contributing factor to God being my second, or third, or fourth or fifth option for a source of resources, power and strength is that in Enneagram terms, I am a Type Two. This type is known as the Helper. Twos need to be needed and usually we, consciously or unconsciously, make ourselves indispensable. We are quite attuned to the needs of those around us and thrive on being able to find solutions to problems.

We are the strong ones, the go-to people, because we often appear to have an endless supply of strength and energy and confidence. The downside of being a Two is that when I am in an unhealthy place, I get caught up in a busy, functional space, ensuring that everyone else’s needs are met. In the process, I become deaf/blind to my own needs, almost always barrelling myself towards burnout. So, even though I am aware of this shadow side of myself, I inadvertently find myself in this dark space precisely because I become completely tuned out to my own needs.

Two such periods come to mind (I have so many examples to choose from, but for the sake of brevity, and because I can go on and on, I’ll stick to these two. *grin*)

The first example occurred in my third year of theological studies. I was a lecturer’s assistant for one term, co-facilitating the teaching of introductory courses–Biblical Studies and Theology–to first year students. I plunged enthusiastically into the role. One of my responsibilities was to deliver one lecture–of approximately four hours–for each course ON MY OWN, a task which sent my entire being into a manic space.

I spent hours and hours researching and preparing for those two lectures. My lecture materials were ridiculously long, with way too much information. Yet, even though I knew this, I couldn’t bring myself to reduce the content. In many ways, the slides were my crutch because I was not confident enough with what I knew.

The night before my first lecture, I could barely sleep. Just the thought of standing in front of a group of peers to deliver a lecture as if I know what I am talking about, literally put the fear of God in me. Yet, not once during the preparation process did I turn to God for help. Not until the following morning, when I woke up feeling sick with anxiety. Only then did I realize that I had depleted my reserves. And that was when I prayed the words, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” These words became my inhaling and exhaling as I plugged into God, and allowed God to fill me with power.

The second period is the one I am living in right now.

Several enormous changes occurred in the past four months. In April, my hubby and I became parents and we acquired our dream home. I was thrust into a frenzy of busyness, and because so much of it involved getting stuff done, whether it was packing or unpacking boxes or feeding, bathing, or general caring for baby girl, I slipped into functional mode. And as time went on, I became really sad and anxiety-ridden.

I tried to make sense of these emotions, perplexed at their presence during what should be the happiest time in my life. On a cognitive level, I understood that I had undergone huge changes in the last four months, and that some of the sadness and anxiety could be attributed to the loss of my “old” life, but the intensity of emotions seemed out of proportion to my situation. Unable to make sense of how I was feeling, and struggling to deal with burgeoning fears of inadvertently harming myself or baby girl, I called a friend, who is a counselling psychologist, desperate to find some clarity for the intense emotions.

She listened and held space for me as I poured myself out in her practice room. She said it sounded like I’m struggling with mild depression and anxiety, as a result of all the adjustments I have been experiencing. She even encouraged me not to dismiss taking medication to help me through this space, if the emotions became unmanageable. As she gently spoke those words, I stopped feeling like I was drowning.

These labels–depression and anxiety–and the suggestion to consider medication, gave me the courage to embrace, and admit, how weak and rundown I was feeling. With that admission, I found my voice and began to articulate my needs and asked for help. And somehow, in the process, I found myself consciously leaning into God, easing myself into a space of comfort, love and strength.

In the past I have shared these verses with others who have cried out for strength. But because I get caught up in this illusion of never-ending strength and seeming self-sufficiency, it never occurred to me to invite God into my process whilst I simultaneously reached out to my community for support. Why would I require strength from God, much less my friends and family, when I am under the impression I do not need it?

In both these examples, I had completely ignored my need for help, depending rather on my own reserves, running myself dry in all my doing. How different would these experiences have been if I had had the eyes to see God’s mysterious working in my preparation of that lecture or in the words of my counsellor friend or in the medication that helps me manage my anxiety? How much less frightening would these moments have been had I recalled the countless times in the past when God had provided all I needed through my community or through resources that presented itself at the right time.

Thankfully, I am loved by a God who patiently waits for her strong-willed, stubborn, wayward child to recognise provision. What a wonderful, ever-present, always mysterious God we serve.

My prayer is that I begin to strengthen the memory muscles that will enable me to automatically acknowledge God as my primary power source; that in moments of weakness, I will become quiet, asking God to show me how she has been quietly providing me with what I need, showing me over and over again that God is my all in all.