Moore: A matter of dependence
It’s a classic scene.
The funeral is over and friends have gathered at the family’s home. He was a good man. A hero. If this is a movie, the camera comes to rest on the figure of the eldest son standing quietly in the corner.
The father’s best friend approaches the boy, kneels down in front of him, and says “Young man, your father was a great man. But he’s gone, and you’re the man of the house now. Look out for your sisters and your mom. They’re depending on you.” Thinking he’s said a good word, the man departs, leaving the grieving son with an impossible burden. “Be your father. They are depending on you.”
Crucial to emotional and spiritual health is the matter of dependence. We depend upon many things and people to meet our needs. The problem is much of what we depend on will eventually fail to meet these needs. When this happens our sense of well-being is threatened and our old friend, stress, takes center stage. If you’ve been reading my monthly column for a while, you know that I am happily dependent upon coffee. If my source of coffee is interrupted, I can be stressed! Is coffee anxiety a thing? Oh, coffee, how I love thee … let me count the ways … but I digress.
The issue of dependence runs two ways. Not only do we make ourselves dependent on things that don’t hold up, but like the young man above we find ourselves being depended upon to meet others’ needs in a way we simply can’t sustain. It’s easy to find examples in the surface areas of life (like losing your cell coverage), but the real issue involves our truest and deepest needs.
I occasionally officiate weddings, and when working with an engaged couple I always share what I call my “Jerry Maguire” marriage counseling. You remember the story don’t you? There are two famous quotes from the movie, the most famous being Cuba Gooding Jr’s career-launching “show me the money!” The second quote, and relevant here, is first uttered by Rene Zellweger’s Dorothy as she and Jerry (Tom Cruise) witness a highly romantic deaf couple signing to each other. Dorothy, who can read sign language, tells Jerry what she ‘heard’… “He said, ‘You complete me.’”
You complete me. That’s an awesome line for a romantic movie, and a disastrous strategy for any relationship, marriage or otherwise. It’s not hard to see why. If I’m dependent on another person to make me complete, or I enter into a relationship because I think this person will make me complete, what happens when (not if) they can’t keep up their end of the expectation bargain?
The answer is stress, leading to resentment and bitterness, which too often results in the decision to try and meet our needs elsewhere. Work. Alcohol. Recreation. Another source of acceptance and validation. You name it. Whatever the outcome, the relational stress can be traced to the false belief that “my need for being whole, complete, is dependent upon the provision or performance of another person.” The converse is also true, when the validation we seek is contingent on our provision and performance. The result is a relationship based upon mutual taking, and the outcome is sadly seen all around us.
But what if we were able to meet our deepest needs — our need for well-being — in a source other than a fallible human being? What if our relationships in life could be based upon mutual giving, rather than mutual taking?
As a follower of Christ, I am convinced that such an option exists. A central claim of the Christian Gospel is that through faith in Christ a believer receives a new life, and moreover, a new source of living. I’m not talking about rote religious activity. Rather, this is where dependence for our deepest needs— hope, peace, contentment, validation, security, identity, well-being- shifts from draining the resources of another person to the limitless resources of God Himself.
Then, when the relationship is rough or the job sucks, it may feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under us, but not our foundation. Because as precious and important as these things may be, they are not our source of life.
It’s a constant temptation to try and meet our deepest needs in lesser things, even wonderful things like relationships, kids, community, and the simple and profound joys of life. These gifts are expressions of God’s love, but our life, our well-being, and our dependence aren’t found in God’s gifts. They are found in him.
Speaking of dependence, anyone for a cup of coffee?