The freedom of dependence

How does the phrase, the freedom of dependence, strike you?  Perhaps it seems puzzling or even contradictory to you.  It is certainly counter cultural on the surface.  It may even be offensive to you and “anti-American.”  We live in a society that strongly promotes independence.  We are, after all, a country born out of a desire for independence.  Many people have sacrificed their time, energy, health, and even their lives to fight for and protect our freedom to be independent.  For their sacrifices, we should always be grateful.

But does our hard-fought independence really provide freedom?  Thankfully, we have remained free from the tyranny of oppressive dictators and similar regimes.  In general, we have been free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  I’m afraid, however, that these pursuits have not resulted in the most desirable, sought after fruit of true freedom.  True freedom results in perfect peace.  Is that what you feel?  Is it what you see in others in our society?  I would venture that real peace is a rare commodity in our society.  Admittedly, my view may be somewhat biased due to my work as a mental health counselor.  My clients recognize their lack of peace for various reasons, and this makes them even more determined to find it somehow.   However, looking beyond those precious souls desperate enough to come to me for help, I see very little evidence of peace in others.  What is the problem, and more importantly, how do we find this elusive peace that all humans crave?

I believe our fierce pursuit of independence has led us into a horrible trap of being dependent on the wrong things.  For example, one of the most sought-after goals in America is financial independence (aka, “I just want to be comfortable.”)  I have met quite a few for whom financial independence is their stated goal and a few who have obtained it.  Unfortunately, I have not seen either the pursuit of this goal or the obtaining of it result in real peace.  I most often see the anxiety of those clamoring for the goal and the fearful anxiety of those trying to hold onto that which has been obtained.  Thus, financial independence can deviously make our peace dependent on wealth that can trap us “by many foolish and harmful desires.” (1Timothy 6:9)

The closely related goal of amassing material things has a similar effect it seems.  When I had a 20+ year old truck, I never cared or even noticed when it got a scratch or a ding.  I was happy when I got a brand-new truck.  But the first scratch and ding on my new truck threatened that happiness (peace).  Would I become overly upset about a thing?  Would I be overly anxious to repair the imperfection so I could settle back into my deceptive peace?  If so, was I truly free or was my peace dependent on something that would ultimately be destroyed one way or another? (Matthew 6:19)

For others, family and friends are all that matter.  At first, it might seem they got it right.  After all, it is true that God designed us for relationships.  The trap here can be more subtle but just as devious.  When relationships are what give us our sense of worth and value, our peace is at the mercy of those relationships.  And since relationships involve human beings, they are not a solid foundation for peace.  In my office, I continually hear about broken relationships with family and friends.  We will never be free if our peace is dependent on relationships with others. (Luke 14:26)

Another focus of some is the seemingly benign goal of good physical and mental health.  This goal leads some to ardently pursue healthy eating, physical and cognitive exercise, and the avoidance of chemicals and contaminants that might injure one’s health.  Like all goals, this one has the danger of becoming obsessive.  Otherwise, what’s the harm in being healthy?  Nothing of course, unless one’s peace is dependent on health which, despite even obsessive, compulsive attempts to protect it, is subject to disease, accidents, and the relentless effects of ageing.  The litmus test is how we react when health is taken from us.  Can we still have peace in the presence of cancer, accidental deaths of loved ones, or world-wide pandemics?  Or will we succumb to the temptation of Job as delivered by his wife to “curse God and die”? (Job 2:9) 

There are other goals that people pursue to get or maintain peace like pleasure, entertainment, achievement, busyness, good works, and education to name a few.  As with all the goals discussed, these never ultimately provide the freedom of peace that they offer.  Each has its own special trap, but they all provide a shaky peace that can crumble at any moment when circumstances change.  That’s because the answer doesn’t lie in an independence built on any of our pathetic compensations for our anxieties.  Rather, the answer lies in complete dependence on God alone.  Dependence in practice is expressed through trust.  Job, after experiencing incredible loss and going through a hard grief process, found peace in returning to his trust in God alone. (Job 42) We can find this peace also by accepting the simple truth that God is in control (of everything and everyone, all the time), trusting that God’s love for us never wavers (Romans 8:38-39), and choosing to make our relationship with Him the primary focus of our lives. God’s word promises that as a result of this dependence on Him, we will find true peace. (Isaiah 26:3) Then, in His amazing grace, God will add other things to our lives. (Matthew 6:33) And as I was reminded in the sermon that inspired these ramblings, the way to pursue this dependence on God is to keep His word a close and constant companion in my life. (Psalm 119:165)

As we approach another celebration of the birth of Christ, let’s remember that one of His many names is the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)   And the peace He gives is unlike anything that any other pursuit can offer. (John 14:27) So in this Christmas season, I pray that you may find or rediscover the firm foundation of peace found in total dependence on God.