In this abiding series, each post will be framed as an email correspondence to a friend who is seeking to get ‘more’ out of his or her faith. My hope is that by exploring this topic as a conversation, you will resonate with the message as deeply as if it were a letter addressed to you.
To: Friend Seeking More from Faith
From: Doug Nuenke
Subject: “The Aftermath of Dependence”
Hello my friend,
I hope this note finds you well. In our last correspondence we talked about Old Testament thinking as a barrier to abiding in Christ, but I’d like to steer the conversation toward a relational dynamic that can influence our relationship with God. We can theologize our hang ups, but very often there is a personal independence that can undermine our willingness to abide in Christ.
You spoke so candidly in your last letter about a time when you were profoundly disappointed by a friend. Disappointed may not be a strong enough word. To put it plainly, you had your heart broken, and now you’ve put up protective barriers so that it cannot happen again.
I’m familiar with this impulse. Whenever someone hurts us, the natural response is to build up defenses, trust no one, and go at it alone. We don’t always realize that our independent spirit is often a product of hurt. It doesn’t matter if the source of the heartache was a parent, a romantic partner, or a friend. It’s surprising to discover that even the most loving relationships can wound us.
C.S. Lewis says it best in his book The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Part of the way Christ seeks to redeem us is to invite us into friendship that is wholly reliable and true. In John 16:33 Jesus promises, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Turbulent relationships are part of the ‘trouble’ that we will experience on Earth, but Jesus has overcome even the feeble, sin-riddled ways we relate to one another. He came to show us a better way.
I know that you all but vowed to live without the help of others, but if a flourishing life is an abiding life, we cannot flourish without a dependent relationship with Jesus. We exchange vulnerability for His overwhelming love.
Right before Jesus’ powerful imperative to “Abide in Me,” He promised “I will not leave you as orphans (John 14:18). A couple verses above, he promises the Holy Spirit—a helper who will be “with you forever.” The common theme in these verses is that a full life is one in which we are not alone. We are vitally united to someone, depending upon them in a life-giving partnership.
Based on your past experiences, I understand how the fear of betrayal keeps you from a tender-hearted approach to companionship with God, and yet I believe that even this is something Jesus seeks to overcome in us, in you.
We were never meant to be lone rangers. Indeed, it is impossible for us to do anything apart from Christ (John 15:4). In Christ, we become adopted sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:15). And this union means that we are not just tolerated as part of his family, we are cherished as His friends (John 15:5). We are joined to His ecosystem, grafted as branches dependent on the vine, so that His unrestrained love can flow into our lives and mend what others have broken. In the aftermath of our dependence, Christ makes us whole.
As we have discussed in previous letters, we can try to prove our worth by striving, but ultimately a full life is one merged to the source of life: Jesus. Even in this moment, He is inviting you out of isolation and into the depths of a perfect friendship. I hope you will consider His offer.
Until next time,