One of the things that is uppermost on my mind now as a widow is that I must be independent and not helpless proving to my four daughters and the world that I can do this by myself. Having to ask for help has become a sign of my weakness. Proving that I can take care of myself has become the number one priority of my life.
Yesterday I began reading Philip Yancey’s book entitled PRAYER: Does It Make Any Difference? and discovered what God thinks about helplessness.
One sentence that I have heard others say to a widow is, “You are so strong!!”, and after reading in this book, I believe those words may be to a widow’s detriment because it puts into her mind the belief that it’s wrong for her to need help.
“Norwegian theologian Ole Hallesby settled on the single word helplessness as the best summary of the heart attitude that God accepts as prayer. ‘Whether it takes the form of words or not, does not mean anything to God, only to ourselves,’ he adds. ‘Only he who is helpless can truly pray.’
As adults we like to pay our own way, live in our own houses, make our own decisions, rely on no outside help. All the while we are systematically sealing off the heart attitude most desirable to God and most descriptive of our true state in the universe. “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” Jesus told his disciples, a plain fact that we conspire to deny.
The truth, of course, is that I am not self-reliant. As a first-grade student I hated having the teacher stand over me to correct my reading miscues; I wanted to “do it myself!” But had the teacher not assumed her proper role, I may never have learned to read books, much less write them. As an adult I rely on public utilities to bring me electricity and fuel, vehicle manufacturers to provide me transportation, ranchers and farmers to feed me, pastors and mentors to nourish me spiritually. I live in a web of dependence, at the center of which is God in whom all things hold together.
Prayer forces me to catch sight of this my true state. In Henri Nouwen’s words, “To pray is to walk in the full light of God, and to simply, without holding back, say ‘I am human and you are God.’ “
Most parents feel a pang when the child outgrows dependence, even while knowing the growth to be healthy and normal. With God, the roles change. I never outgrow dependence, and to the extent I think I do, I delude myself. By trying to be strong, I may even block God’s power.