The box was heavy and I dragged it awkwardly as my mother offered to help. Determined and stubborn I answered, “No, I can do it all by myself!”
Do you think this childish scene happened when I was a whiney 5 year-old? Or maybe when I was a petulant teenager? No, this incident happened just two weeks ago! A grown woman with an immature need to be independent and self-reliant, this is not a new story for me.
For example, a year or two before Neil died we had an argument and refused to speak to each other for several days. During that time I bought a new treadmill, and after the three delivery men plopped the monstrous box in the middle of the living room, I set out to unpack it and put it together.
Wrestling it out of the package took almost an hour and I worked up a sweat doing just that much. The assembly directions were confusing, calling for tools with which I was not familiar (what’s the difference between a Phillips head screwdriver and a flathead one? or an Allen wrench and all the other wrenches in Neil’s toolbox?) Once I googled that information, and figured out what speed nuts and frame caps were, I got to work adding the “uprights” and the “head unit” into position. I was quite proud of myself!
Unfortunately, then I discovered that the speed nuts and frame caps didn’t fit the way they were supposed to.
Neil walked in to find me frowning, with my hands on my hips, the instruction booklet balanced on the edge of the coffee table. He offered to help, but I spitefully replied, “No thanks, I can do it myself.”
“Col, just because you’re mad at me doesn’t mean I can’t help you,” he said wisely. I struggled on my own for another hour or so and finally gave up. I imagined walking on the treadmill, only to have the inadequately tightened bolts pop off, causing me to fall and break my leg. For a ridiculous second, I thought to myself “Now that would punish Neil!”
The need to be independent and self-sufficient can be very powerful. Can you relate? I hate to ask for help; it makes me feel like I have failed somehow. Even as I write those words I know how wrong they are but the sin of pride is one I easily succumb to. The illusion that I can do it all by myself perpetuates my sense of being in control; here we are again back to that unreasonable need to be in control!
And as bad as that is in my daily life, it’s even worse in my spiritual life. When I think I can do it all with my own strength I miss the fact that I need God’s help every day. I am not self-sufficient and I cannot stand alone, and if I am unwilling to admit and accept that, I can’t possibly have a genuine relationship with God.
Awareness of my own inadequacy teaches me to rely on God, whose “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians12:9).
St. Paul wrote, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), not “I can do it all by myself.”
Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
And in Psalm 121, I am reminded that “my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
So today, I won’t do it all myself. I just might ask someone in exercise class how the side leg squats are supposed to be done. Or I could ask my friend to share her tuna cake recipe, admitting hers taste so much better than mine.
And I will ask God to help me as I struggle with widowhood and my oh-so-empty nest. Small steps to be sure, but at least they will get me moving in the right direction.