It has been only five weeks since our daughter, Ansley May, was born. I know what follows is the cliche “new parent” phrase, but: my life will never be the same. It hasn’t been a simple shift in direction. I’m not just talking about discovering a strange satisfaction in changing a dirty diaper, or the joy of watching Ansley’s big blue eyes explore this strange new place called “home”, the disruption of our former sleep patterns or how we are now a unit of three rather than two. The change I’m talking about has been a radical course correction.
It is only by becoming a father that I’m finally learning to embrace dependency.
Dependence is something I’ve tried to deny in my life for years. I not only want to suppress it, I want to actively fight against it. Even in my relationship with God, I want to have something to bring to the table. I cling desperately to a sense of independence, and a proud autonomous fortitude, but to depend entirely on God? It leaves me feeling helpless. So, over the years, I have worked relentlessly to remain a sense of control in all circumstances and areas of my life.
If I’ve learned one thing in my mere five weeks of fatherhood, it’s that dependency is actually a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Ansley is unashamedly and utterly dependent upon Julia and me. She is sincerely helpless. She’s dependent and not even aware of it! She feels no sense of shame about needing us, nor an awareness of how deep her need actually is. Her neediness is simply there and it propels her to cry out for help, for care, and unknowingly, for love.
Ole Hallesby has a classic book on prayer that you should read. In it he says, “Helplessness is the real secret and the impelling power of prayer. You should therefore rather try to thank God for the feeling of helplessness which He has given you. It is one of the greatest gifts which God can impart to us. For it is only when we are helpless that we open our hearts to Jesus and let Him help us in our distress, according to His grace and mercy.” Thank God for feeling helpless? Really? Many of my prayers in the past have focused on asking for strength not helplessness.
What’s Mr. Hallesby getting on about?
It takes a deep breath of humility to admit that we’re helpless, and that we are completely dependent upon God for His aid.
On a basic level we need air, food, and what not. We get this. But on a bigger level, we are dependent upon God to initiate a relationship with us. The last I checked, no one can make the heavens bow and have God descend upon their very command. In this way, we should feel helpless in our relationship with God. I think Jesus tells us that children are a model of entering into the kingdom of God because they are unashamedly dependent. They need their parents to provide and care for them (cf. Mark 10:13-16). They can’t make their parents provide for them. Likewise, we cannot expect to have some sort of leverage in our relationship with God. We are inescapably needy.
What children don’t know is that it’s a parent’s joy to care for their children. I have found a deep joy in caring for Ansley in her dependence. Even in times of exhaustion, frustration, and amid the most mundane tasks, I’ve been taken by surprise by the joy I feel in caring for her. I expected to love her deeply, but I didn’t expect that it would be accompanied by tears and waves of joy!
Our helplessness is a gift because it opens us up to the joy of God’s heart. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus asks “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Just as a parent delights in providing for a child in their dependence, God delights in giving us his presence in our dependence. It is his joy.
The good news is that God delights in caring for us and in providing for us. We may fear that our metaphorical diapers are too filthy, and too great of a burden, but if Jesus had the humility to have his diaper changed, he has the patience and grace to change ours. There is no situation too big or small, too important or mundane, that God isn’t joyfully willing to enter into with us. It is his delight to meet us in our neediness, and to lavish his presence upon us.
Depend on God whole heartedly. Forsake any false sense of strength. As David writes, “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (Psalm 33:16-17). We have absolutely nothing in our hands that haven’t been placed there by God. We are abysmally helpless in the hands of our Maker. There is not a moment that we do not depend upon him to sustain our breath, which is but borrowed from his mouth. Cling desperately to the grace of Jesus Christ. We are all as helpless as a panicked, crying infant before God. We have nothing, but in Christ we possess everything (2 Corinthians 6:10).
In Christ, we are given the great gift of the Father’s joy and delight in us; and what could satisfy us fully but the joy of God the Father? We need only embrace our dependency to receive it. When we do, Jesus fulfills these promises for us, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). What I’m finding, and why the course of my life has radically changed, is that when I live from a place of knowing that God delights in me, and even takes joy in me unfathomably more than I do in my daughter, I’m freed from any sense of guilt, shame, or need to prove myself. I find myself anchored in a joy that lasts, and flows from an eternal love that frees, that empowers, and that overcomes.
I will depend on that sort of love.