The Other Side

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Few things are as frustrating to us as the feeling of helplessness. We tend to seek to avoid it at all costs. It comes clustered with other feelings like out of control, fear, and a sense of inadequacy. You may have noticed that it seems like it is hard-wired into most of us despite the reality of experiencing it nearly from the time we are born. It gives us a sense of being confined and might be what nudges a child to try whatever escape imaginable from the crib or various “baby gates” set up to protect from hazards of various kinds.

We have the sense of helplessness when we feel confined even if it is for our own benefit as a protection. Being strapped down for a medical test or procedure can send some of us (maybe most) into a panic. Watching helplessly as a deer decides to cross the road in front of us when we are traveling at 60 mph and have no way to avoid hitting it or watching a child carelessly dash across the street without looking to see if it’s safe brings a sense of desperation to stop what is likely to happen.

It might be hard to determine whether a sense of helplessness for us or someone we love is the hardest. Neither is a choice we want to face. But such times come to all of us anyway at some point in our lives.

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My recent experience with falling flat on my face on a patch of black ice is my most recent example. I was helpless to stop what was happening and my dear husband felt helpless as he saw it happening and was too far from me to help or intervene.

But all these examples are real events happening all around us and to us and those we love. These are not examples of learned helplessness where someone over time falls prey to the deceptive thinking that seeming helpless means they can avoid responsibility to do something that he or she is fully capable of doing. That’s a very different thing and nothing good can happen from practicing that even though initially you may believe you gain something good from it (truly a snare to trap you in the habit).

But is there anything about helplessness in real situations that gives something we miss and need to recognize?

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“God wants us to come to him empty-handed, weary, and heavy-laden. Instinctively, we want to get rid of our helplessness before we come to God.”

Paul Miller

We don’t always wait to go to God when we feel helpless but to deny that we might do so more often than we want to admit is also true. I smile when I recall how often our daughter would call my mother (her grandmother) in distress about something she lost. The response she would get is “Have you asked the Lord where it is?” She would then follow up with assuring she would pray she found it. And it was amazing how often a prayer we might not think of produced the lost item. Maybe we tend to think that something is too small to ask for prayer and we should be able to figure it out ourselves.

“The gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to – our helplessness – is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.”

Paul Miller

One of the things we hopefully gain as we get older and develop more maturity is the recognition of the truth Paul Miller writes. We recognize that even after we make a commitment to the Lord, study the Bible, and grow in many ways that we are still prone to mess up and come to recognize we need grace every moment of every day. (We also become less critical of the flaws of the disciples we read were the closest companions of Jesus when He walked the earth.)

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God doesn’t expect us to have it all together, to not be helpless. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is acquainted with our frailty and temptations, our fears and foibles. And He loves us anyway. His decision to send Jesus to show us and demonstrate his dependence on God, the Father, gave us a perfect example. Certainly, none of us can have the knowledge of Christ who nonetheless depended on God at every step. And little wonder when He hung on the cross that He felt the anguish of helplessness over the choice to save us rather than himself.

In A Praying Life by Paul Miller, he quotes a powerful passage from A Letter from Jesus Christ by John of Landsburg, a sixteenth century Catholic monk:

“I know those moods when you sit there utterly alone, pining, eaten up with unhappiness, in a pure state of grief. You don’t move towards me but desperately imagine that everything you have ever done has been utterly lost and forgotten. This near-despair and self-pity are actually a form of pride. What you think was a state of absolute security from which you’ve fallen was really trusting too much in your own strength and ability… What really ails you is that things simply haven’t happened as you expected and wanted.

In fact I don’t want you to rely on your own strength and abilities and plans, but to distrust them and distrust yourself, and trust me and no one and nothing else. As long as you rely totally on yourself; you are bound to come to grief. You will have a more important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of me. You may hope and trust in me absolutely. My mercy if infinite.”

This is the other side of helplessness that we can miss, and all God offers us if we acknowledge what He already knows – we can’t do life and all it fails to deliver that we may want or need – without Him.

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2 thoughts on “The Other Side

  1. I love this, Pam. I tend to try to fix my fears and wants with action before prayer. Currently, I’ll be leaving a job at the end of June due to moving and marriage, and I’m feeling the fear that I won’t find a suitable new job. I hear God saying, “I got this” yet I can still spend time looking, when I could be doing something else! “In fact I don’t want you to rely on your own strength and abilities and plans, but to distrust them and distrust yourself, and trust me and no one and nothing else.” I’m taking this to heart!

    1. I look forward to hearing how God moves in this new venture and what photos you share and your new discoveries. Have a blessed weekend and keep trusting Him for your next steps.

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