We just celebrated Independence Day and so this thought is on my heart. Independence is a big word and it packs a whopping message. Here is the definition from my favorite dictionary, Webster’s 1828:
INDEPEND’ENCE, n. [in and dependence.]
1. A state of being not dependent; complete exemption from control, or the power of others; as the independence of the Supreme Being.
2. A state in which a person does not rely on others for subsistence; ability to support one’s self.
3. A state of mind in which a person acts without bias or influence from others; exemption from undue influence; self-direction. Independence of mind is an important qualification in a judge.
We just had new friends stay with us for a couple of days and you know what my paralyzed friend wanted to learn from me? More independence. She is about my same level of paralysis but wants to be able to do more things on her own then she is currently able to do. Her husband has been very devoted to taking care of her, but she doesn’t want to have to rely on him as much. She wants the “ability to support herself”. I have full confidence that by this time next year, she will be meeting some of her goals.
I remember well the days when I was desiring to learn my own independence! I scoured YouTube videos and drove my physical therapist crazy wanting to learn things like how to hop a curb, push myself up a ramp and get from the floor into my wheelchair. Is it easier for someone else to just do that for me? Yes, but it does not make me independent! I told my hubby often, “There will come a time when I will get older and I will not be able to do as much for myself. Let me learn to do whatever I can by myself and let me do it.” He has had to learn to back off and even let me fail. I still cannot do everything by myself (like reach high things) but I could live alone and take care of myself if I had too.
My physical independence had to be learned because I had something stripped from me. Paralysis took away the identity of who Alicia Reagan was. The woman that she was was not who she suddenly became. I did not recognize this girl who could not sit up, get from point A to B, restroom, shower, get dressed, or get in a vehicle without help. With every new avenue of independence, came a reflection and memory of who this girl was. Today, I am still not the girl I was. I am a new person. Completely redefined because of a physical disability. I am okay with that because it has made me a stronger and more determined person. The independence that I never used to think twice about has now been worked hard for and I cherish it.
Now let me twist this whole analogy into the thought that has so strongly been on my heart since July 4. I think often about what it means to be a Christian. A true follower of Jesus Christ. I have thought much about this since I became paralyzed because suffering also strips away so much fluff and pettiness of what we call the Christian life. I want to be a true follower of Christ or I don’t want it at all. Christ is enough or He is not. I am His disciple or I am not. I follow a religious set of rules, or I follow the Ruler of the universe. I am saved by grace or I somewhere deep inside of me think that the good works that I do help my salvation. I believe that God is in charge and charts the course of my life or I am a victim of cruel fate. Somewhere, these things have to be decided.
I have had 3 years to think long and hard about this. I have read what Jesus said in Luke 14:26 “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” This just means that you must love them less than you do Jesus and that you cannot follow them. You must follow Christ all the way or you will never be a true follower of His. That sounds very familiar to definition #3 “A state of mind in which a person acts without bias or influence from others; exemption from undue influence; self-direction.”
There is one major difference though. Independence as a Christian is different from independence as a paraplegic. My independence as a Christian means that I am 100% dependent on Jesus Christ. He alone sustains me. He alone guides me. He alone saves me. He alone charts my course. I do not follow a religion or denomination. I follow Him. I do not follow traditions. I follow Him. I do not follow church politics. I follow Him. I do not follow what is popular or “in”. I follow Him. The hardest part of that verse that I mentioned is the last person I am not follow – and that is me! I am to hate my own plans, dreams and desires and “independence” or I cannot follow Him. This life of mine is not about me. It is about Him. It is not God’s will for MY life. It is my life for whatever God wills.
My dependence in Christ is true Christian liberty. There is no liberty when there is fear from a tyranny. There is no liberty when there is fear of what others think about you. There is no liberty when it is all about your opinion of how life should be lived and how God may have other plans. Liberty in Christ and true independence says, “I am Your disciple and I will be swayed by no other but You.” This is an independence that I had all along but only through suffering have I learned to cherish it. Join me, dear friends, and cherish your independence!!