A few weekends ago, my parents and I watched the NCAA women’s basketball national championship: the Connecticut Huskies vs the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The power, speed, and agility on the court showed a stark contrast to me sitting on the couch with my blanket and cup of tea, my head aching and my stomach trying to decide if it liked the snack I’d just eaten.
How could the players concentrate past the noise of the crowd, the cheerleaders, the announcers? Didn’t the music give them a headache? How did they not shut down in front of so much stimulation, during so much exertion, under so much pressure? (I was shutting down just watching!)
And then the commercials–Champion, Lululemon, sports organizations and channels showing women in all types of athletic attire and activities. The Orgain protein powder commercial hurt the most. That feeling? It’s been so long since I felt it. That woman running up the steps in the last shot, sweaty but confident? That used to be me. I remember the joy, the empowerment, the freedom and triumph of pushing my body through a challenge and winning.
I push my body every day, sometimes just to get out of bed, and it never feels that good.
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed by bigger life things, and now stung by a fresh reminder from the thorn in my flesh, I took my blanket to the back patio steps and cried into the cold darkness. I felt so weak, so broken, inside and out.
God, I need a hug, I told Him.
And He gave me one. I felt His arms holding me, supporting me, and the corresponding image He put in my mind came from a future novel idea: the female main character, K (who also struggles with chronic illness), being carried by the male main character, N. (There may or may not be some romantic interest between them.)
At first K fights N. She doesn’t want to be carried, let alone by the guy she likes, doesn’t want him seeing how weak she is. She tenses up. She argues. She tries to get down.
But that’s not the image God gave me. What I saw (and felt like) was K letting N carry her–relaxed, resting her head against his shoulder, grateful for his strength that compensates for her exhaustion.
And it was beautiful, a sweet snapshot of the dependence and sustenance between these two characters, motivated and sealed by their love for each other: K knows she needs help, that N can help her, and that resistance will only make it harder for him, so she grants him the opportunity to show his love. N would do anything for K and loves to help her–with his superior strength, it’s no bother to carry her, and he’s thrilled by the chance to demonstrate how much he cares for her.
It’s the same way with God. We need Him, and when we resist His help we’re not making it easier for Him or for us. He wants to help us, has infinite resources to help us, and delights in showing us how much He cares for us.
If we let Him.
Dependence in Scripture
Our culture is losing sight of the beauty of this dependence given and received in love. Twenty-first-century America celebrates independence, power, and ability and discards need, weakness, and help.
But that’s not how God made us. He made us to need Him.
Here’s a brief comparison of how the world sees weakness and how God sees weakness:
|The World||The Bible|
|weakness is bad||weakness is good (Jn 15:5)|
|weakness puts limits||weakness gives opportunities (II Cor 12:9-10)|
|weakness should be hidden||weakness should be accepted (Ps 103:14, Matt 11:28-30)|
|weakness is useless||weakness is useful (II Cor 1:4)|
|weakness is ugly||weakness is beautiful (I Cor 1:25-31)|
|no one should have weakness||everyone has weakness (Ro 5:12)|
|no one understands weakness||God and others understand weakness (Heb 4:15, 11:34, II Cor 11:27-30)|
|weakness has no purpose||weakness has a purpose (Jms 1:2-3, II Cor 3:5, Ro 5:3-6, Gal 4:13)|
|comes from PRIDE||comes from HUMILITY|
|leads to frustration, anxiety, confusion, fear, and loneliness||gives joy, peace, confidence, gratitude, and fellowship|
My pride and my silly, fallen humanity want to pretend I don’t need God, that I can walk on my own, thank you very much, so put me down. In fact, I could probably run the ball all the way across the court, dodging players and twisting left and right before leaping to hurl the ball straight into the net.
As I huddled in my blanket in the darkness that night, thinking about those strong, beautiful players and my weak, broken body, I realized that if it weren’t for my weakness I might never feel the sweet, tender beauty of God’s arms holding me, cradling me, carrying me oh so gently because He knows how fragile I am, inside and out.
Those players, because of their physical abilities, their athletic prowess, might never know the need to rest their bodies in God’s arms the way I do. And I thanked God for the weakness, the brokenness, the fragility that privileges me with knowing the security, the strength, and the stability of His almighty arms beneath me.
And then I read Deuteronomy 7:7-9 in my devotions:
The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Pair this with Romans 5:8 (“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”), and we see that God loves to choose the underdog, the little guy (or gal), the runt of the litter–aka the weak and needy–because He loves to love.
Is it any surprise then that He created us to receive this love?
Dependence by Design
Let me bring up another sport, one of my all-time favorites to watch: figure skating. There’s something mesmerizing and deeply beautiful in the juxtaposition of strength and beauty represented, respectively, by a man and a woman on the ice. Granted they both have immense strength and grace, but come on, their outfits and their moves highlight their different, God-given, equally beautiful roles: the man’s broad form of strength and the woman’s slender figure of grace. Alone they’re nice, but together they’re breathtaking.
Just as God designed man and woman with complementary differences, so beautifully illustrated in a sport like figure skating, He also created us for a different role in our complementary relationship with Himself, so perfectly demonstrated in a situation like chronic illness. (Can anyone say II Corinthians 12:9, His strength is made perfect [complete] in our weakness?)
God’s job is to sustain, ours is to depend. So it’s okay to rest on Him, He’s got plenty broad shoulders. It’s okay if we fall, His hands are strong enough to catch us. It’s okay if we can’t hold our own weight, His arms will fit beneath us and hold us up.
And while we might think it’s ugly and terrible and undesirable to be held helpless and needy in someone else’s arms, it’s really the beautiful, wonderful plan that God desires to show us His love. To borrow another image, we’re the four-year-old daughter with the skinned knee and He’s the good father holding us safe.
“Let me carry you,” He says. “Let me help you. Let me show you how much I love you. It’s no bother, it’s not an inconvenience, nothing too big or too small for my care. Trust me. Lean into me. That’s it, just rest. Stop trying to do it yourself, you can’t and you’ll hurt yourself. I want to carry you. I want to love you, and I want you to be loved. That’s it.”
Despite the different context, I was recently struck by this point in Douglas Wilson’s book Ploductivity:
Too many people confound our finitude with our sinfulness, but the breach between us and God is one that was caused by our unholiness, not our size. Before Adam sinned he was just as small as the day after he sinned, but he was still able to walk with God in the cool of the day. Our size is a feature, not a bug.p 72, emphasis added
Did you get that? Our finitude–our limitations, our smallness, our neediness–isn’t a mistake. It’s how God designed us.
So when we recognize our neediness, when we cry out to God for help, when we lift up our arms like a toddler and ask our Abba to pick us up and hold us, we’re doing exactly what He created us to do. And it’s one of the best ways we can glorify Him.
Whatever your valley looks like, whatever needs you have, are you letting God carry you? Are you holding yourself apart from Him, hurting both Him and yourself with your rejection, or are you leaning into Him and letting Him be the God you need? Do you value the beauty of your dependence and the way God has designed your relationship with Him?