While we were on our annual week-long camping trip with friends, our daughter fractured her elbow. The girls were jumping from bed to bed in a cabin we temporarily rented until the rain let up so we could set up our tents. Down she came on her elbow, resulting in the fracture. After her arm was cast in pink, purple, and white camouflage—complete with glitter—she went around asking people to sign her cast, which is the only perk of having a cast.
During that time, she was telling people that she wouldn’t be able to do much and would have to rely on my help for the next 4-6 weeks in order to do almost everything. One of the women we know told her: “No, you need to be more independent. Figure it out.” I realized immediately this was terrible advice and explained to my daughter why.
While it was well intended, it is this mentality that gets in the way of our spiritual development and maturity in times like these. It is also a common error that runs rampant within our individualistic society that prides itself on will, power, independence, and pride. This radical independence and individualism has greatly damaged the Mystical Body and our culture because it has led us to believe that we do not need anyone else and we can do it ourselves. We should never depend on anyone. We must do it ourselves.
The sin that undergirds this belief is the deadly sin of pride. The enemy of our souls whispers or yells—depending on the situation—telling us we should and must do it our own way. This does two things within our soul. First, it leads us away from a radical and total dependence on God for everything. Second, it pits us against our neighbor, including our loved ones, by convincing us that they are an impediment or infringement upon our freedom, rather than gifts from God.
My daughter and I are both extremely strong willed and independent. This is only a good thing when it is rightly ordered to God and His will. Otherwise, these traits are vices that have to be pruned out by God lest we allow pride to rule our lives. The broken elbow is an inconvenience, and she has already started to understand that it will be a complete annoyance by the end, but God is teaching both of us something important by permitting this injury that we would have missed had it not happened.
The reality is, we need one another. This extends beyond just my daughter and me. Christ places people in our lives to help lead us into deeper union with Him and communion with one another so that we can grow in charity. Love is not learned in isolation. Pride causes us to cave in on ourselves so we can selfishly cling to our own wants and desires. Charity leads us to move outwards towards God and others by emptying ourselves out. Part of this growing in love is learning to overcome the fear of vulnerability and weakness that we experience in our Fallen state.
My daughter now has to rely on me for the simplest of tasks that she could do on her own before a few days ago. I’ve experienced this same vulnerability and weakness during my periods of illness and injury. These times are an opportunity for Christ to unleash tremendous graces in our lives if we open ourselves up and surrender our independence in favor of dependence on Him.
Christ does not want us to be dependent on people in an unhealthy or sinful way. When we place people above Him, our relationships become disordered and this dependence can lead to sin. Instead, Christ wants us to depend on those He has placed within our lives so that we learn to become more dependent on Him. When we encounter a situation beyond our control, it becomes of a moment of grace when we cry out to Him in our helplessness and seek His aid. More often than not, the answer to our prayer is the help of another person. God works through the people around us.
Every time my daughter surrenders to my help, she is allowing me to love her in her weakness and to serve her in a manner that reflects Christ’s love for her. The same is true when my husband, daughter, and others have ministered to me in my hours of need. God is not calling us to be more independent in these periods. He’s calling us to surrender our desire for control, independence, and freedom. He wants us to be united to Him on the Cross in our afflictions and to give our entire being to Him. This happens spiritually and practically when we surrender and accept the help of others. We have to stop grasping and open ourselves up to His plan.
This call does not change because we discover in this life that some people are unreliable. We all have experienced trusting and relying on the wrong people. We have been betrayed, rejected, or let down. It is true that God is the only one we can ultimately rely on completely, but that does not mean that God wants us to live a life of independence that really is a cover for deep-seated pride. He wants us to love others and to be loved by them.
Even though being in a cast is not easy, it has already changed my daughter. Her strong-willed independence has been stifled and now Christ is asking her to turn to the mother He has given her for help. For a strong-willed child, this is a difficult, but necessary lesson. It is necessary for all of us who believe that we are meant to rely on ourselves. This is a lie of the enemy that has taken over our culture. Often, this lack of reliance is a cover for fear of letting others in, and it is a rejection of charity.
No, we do not need to become more independent. We need to become more dependent on God and the Mystical Body of Christ. We as the Church are meant to rely on one another. This is the nature of communion. Sadly, this aspect of discipleship has been lacking in the West. There are many Catholics who do not think they can rely on anyone next to them in the pews or even their parish priest. We have not sought to build up authentic communion in our parishes where we can rely on one another in times of need or simply in daily life. We do, in fact, need one another, and this will become even more evident in the difficulties we will face in the years ahead.
I do not want my daughter to be more independent. I want her to rely on Christ, on her parents, and on those who Christ has put in her life. All of our relationships must be ordered to Christ. In learning to depend on others, she will learn how to be dependable for those Christ places in her path later in life. Her surrender in this injury will help her grow in humility, charity, patience, and perseverance. These virtues lead to holiness, while radical independence does not.
It is in these times we learn that we do not ultimately belong to ourselves. St. Therese teaches us that we must surrender everything to God. “For a long time now I have not belonged to myself; I have given myself entirely to Jesus. He is free to do with me whatever He likes.” This is how we are called to live. We belong to God and must surrender to Him and His will, which includes relying on the people He places in our lives to care for us in our weakest moments.