Learning to Be Helpless

The title of this blog post alone might make some of you shudder. If I’m honest, the idea of it bothers me a little. Our culture is one of independence and success, helplessness isn’t a “good” option. When life goes wrong, you pull up your bootstraps and tough it out. When life throws you lemons, you make lemonade (or you throw the lemons back at life… depending on your temperament).  When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Enough maxims, you get the idea… the concept of helplessness is one to be frowned upon in our society.

This past week I’ve been rereading Paul Miller’s A Praying Life and it is completely changing my view of personal helplessness. I sped through the book a while ago and didn’t really spend too much time thinking through it. Fortunately, I’m rereading it for a work project and this time around it is hitting me in a completely different way. The whole book is centered around learning how to connect with God through prayer, but unlike a lot of current books on prayer, it is not a behavioral modification book. Miller’s book is not about being more self-disciplined or becoming a better Christian so you can be a better pray-er. No, it’s the complete opposite and it’s absolutely refreshing.

Chapter 6 of the book is entitled “Learning to be Helpless.” What an odd idea for our Western culture. Miller writes, “I, for one, am allergic to helplessness. I don’t like it. I want a plan, an idea, or maybe a friend to listen to my problem. This is how I instinctively approach everything because I am confident in my own abilities” (p. 54). Whew! That hit home for me. He then moves on to remind us that helplessness is the key to how a Christian life works.  God didn’t come to save those who have it all together, He came to save the sick and wounded. It’s amazing how often I need to be reminded that my pride is sinful and that God gives grace to the humble. “As we see our weaknesses more clearly, we begin to grasp our need for more grace” (p. 56).

Then for those of us who seem to have a problem with relying on ourselves a little too much, Miller shares a quote from the 16th century Catholic monk, John of Lansburg. He says this in A Letter from Jesus Christ:

I know those moods when you sit there utterly alone, pining, eaten up with hunhappiness, in a pure state of grief. You don’t move towards me but despeartely 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… As long as you rely entirely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief. You still have a most important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you to 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 is infinite.

John of Landsburg’s words strike a cord in my own heart as I become more aware of my internal struggle to trust in my own abilities rather than in a sovereign God. Miller’s book has been a good reminder that when I think that I can do life on my own (and I think that FREQUENTLY), I don’t take prayer seriously. I have no need for prayer, or a God for that matter, when I believe that I can do anything/everything myself. Then as a result of my failure to have a “healthy” prayer life, my conscience attributes my failure as a lack of discipline in a busy life. Lack of discipline isn’t the problem, it is a lack of necessity. My sin has blinded me from seeing the necessary dependence I must have on my Savior. I must be helpless, like a child.

Miller says in an earlier chapter that unlike the many prayers we hear out loud in churches or in Christian circles, prayer isn’t coming to God pretending that we have it all together. Rather it is an honest dialogue, typically childish, to an all-knowing Father about the reality of hearts, thoughts, and circumstances. It’s the art of learning to be helpless and honest.

So that’s what I’m learning to do this week. I’m learning to be helpless. I’m learning to pray in an honest, broken way because I am a broken human being. If you’re struggling with your prayer life, or even if you’re not and you would just like a good resource on prayer check out A Praying Life.  Trust me, it’s great.

Alright… those are my thoughts for the day. Much love to you all – Brit

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