I’ve grown into adulthood knowing full well my fierce independent streak. My mother has more than once reminded me of the two year old who would furrow her brow and exclaim, “No. I DO IT!” When I was in graduate school as a full-time stay-at-home-mom, friends would ask if they could help me. “Nope. I’ve got it.” My husband left for work one Monday morning and, when he came home at 6pm, he found the carpet from the first floor on the curb. He asked me, “How in the world did you get the carpet out from under the massive, 600lb armoire?” He then asked me if I needed any help finishing the vacuuming and putting furniture back. My response: “Nah. I’ll do it.” These are just a couple of examples emphasizing my inability to ask for help.
But nothing makes that two year old rear her stubborn head more than being in a cast. Having dislocated my thumb twice in the span of an hour and suffering from a minor tear in the ligament, I was casted for three weeks back in 2013. I told the doctor that the cast would really infringe on my independence. He responded, “Well, you need to move from being an independent variable to being a dependent one.” He knew not the depth of the truth he spoke. What he called engineering language, was, for me, theological language: I can’t save myself, I can’t love people properly, I can’t love God by my own power. My fierce, “No. I DO IT!” falls flat at the foot of the Cross. “No, Lauren, you can’t do it.”
We cannot save ourselves, and we cannot love God or others on our own. It is impossible for me to love (anyone) apart from Him loving me first (see 1 John 4:19). Michael Allen, referring to Blaise Pascal, writes, “all human problems begin with our failure to sit still, that is, our inability to receive.” There is no way around it, we cannot grit our teeth, clench our fists, furrow our brow and declare, “NO! I DO IT!” From the moment we breathe in our first to the moment we breathe our last, we are, to the core, desperate, dependent, receivers.
We properly stress and emphasize that we are first receivers from God before we are givers toward our neighbors. Before I can act toward my neighbor, I need to be made aware that God has acted toward me in radical ways through His Son, Jesus Christ, liberating me from death by His death and resurrection. Being loved by God, I am free to love my neighbor. As I receive from God, I pour out to you; it is not of my own strength and determination that I love you and act for and toward you, but of the strength and life of the one “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
One thing that often receives less attention, however, is that while I am first a receiver (from God) before I am a giver to you, my neighbor, I am also a receiver from God before I am a receiver from you. Not only are you my neighbor, but I am your neighbor. I need you. I need your help. If I see you as always the object of my love and never the subject of love toward me, then I am, technically, still stuck in my fierce independence and stubbornness. If you receive from me and I never receive from you then the relationship is dead in the water.
But here’s the thing: My sham existence, my “No, I do it,” is sentenced to death in my confrontation with God’s first word, the law. And then, out of the ashes, I am given true existence – dependent, receptive life – by God’s second, final, and ultimate word, the gospel. In the hearing of these “two words” all the shame and humiliation associated with asking for help are silenced; and in the new (receptive) life, I am given new eyes and a new heart toward God (what do I have that I did not receive?, see 1 Cor 4:7) and toward you, my neighbor—not just as someone who needs help, but as someone who can help me.