One of my boys was born independent. He walked on his own at nine months. He was constantly pushing my hand away: “I do it myseff, Mommy.” He didn’t want help with anything, ever.
Only two things would drive my little guy to ask for help: nightmares and sickness. He tended to have bad dreams, and he knew if he called for me I would come running. When he was sick, he would let me sit with him, stroking his sweaty curls and caring for him in all the ways he was far too busy to accept on a normal day.
That apple didn’t fall far from the tree. As a child, I was often praised for my own independence. My parents were celebrating my initiative and can-do attitude, and of course we want our children to become confident in their autonomy- to a degree. For me, independence is a virtue turned liability: I don’t want to need help, ever. I would just as soon not ask for it if I didn’t have to. Asking for help makes me feel weak, vulnerable, incompetent, even embarrassed, as if I should be able to handle anything by my own wits and strength.
Becoming a mom was the first major blow to my self-reliance. I knew nothing about babies. I mean NOTHING. I had probably changed 3 diapers before my own son was born, and quickly learned that if I was going to keep this little fella alive, I’d better start seeking advice, fast. The next two babies arrived soon after the first, and I needed a clone of myself to get the work done.
Turns out that was what other moms needed too. When I became a mother, my friends became my community. We didn’t just share recipes and paperbacks, we shared our responsibilities. We watched each other’s kids and ran each other’s errands and drove each other’s carpools- and handed each other Kleenex, when tears of exhaustion came. We didn’t keep score of giving and receiving- we were way too busy for that.
All that sharing and helping prepared my independent self for the greater neediness of becoming a single parent. But when that happened, there was only so much other people could do for me. Even though friends came running to help when one son ran away from home, another one busted his teeth out playing basketball, another one lost the steering function on his car just hours after he got his license… Single motherhood confronted me with a depth of need I didn’t know I had. All of us need God, but parenting on my own forced me to face my insufficiency. With a mixture of reluctance and desperation, seasoned with grateful relief, I am learning to lean on the sufficiency of God.
God is so infinitely complex that He goes by several different names. I have learned to love Him as El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One. El is translated “strong one” or God. “Shad” is the Hebrew word for breasts, signifying nourishment and satisfaction, and “dai” means to “pour out” or “heap blessings.” In fact, this name is sometimes translated “the Many-breasted One”- the One Who can sustain us all.
In her book None Like Him, Jen Wilkin explores some of the implications of God’s self-sufficiency: “If God needed anything at all outside himself, he would be capable of being controlled by that need. A need is a limit, and … God has no limits. Because he needs nothing outside himself, he cannot be controlled or coerced, manipulated or blackmailed by another who possesses what he lacks…Praise God that his plans do not rely on my faithfulness, his joy doesn’t hinge on my good behavior, his glory doesn’t depend on my performance. … This is good news for us.” (p.60-61)
God promises that He will meet all our needs according to His infinite resources (Philippians 4:19). His riches are inexhaustible; He will not run out, and He will not be stingy. Furthermore, He knows our weakness far better than we do, and He is not surprised or disappointed by the depth of our need. In fact, He is eager to demonstrate His care for us. For this reason, my friend Julie says we declare ourselves “incompetent and unashamed,” and come to Him to supply all we lack: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.“ (2 Corinthians 12:9) We need look no further than His grace to find our sufficiency.
I can only imagine what some of you might be thinking right now. You want to believe that God meets all your needs with His gracious plenty, but frankly, you can point to a few things that you need that you don’t have. Maybe you have prayed about these things and don’t see them in your life: love for a difficult person, a restored relationship, a job, a cure, enough money… How do I reconcile this apparent lack with a God who says He meets all my needs?
When my husband died, you’d better believe I asked God about this. Doesn’t a wife need her husband? Ok, maybe not need as much as want. But oh my goodness, don’t my sons need their father? How does this possibly work with the Philippians 4:19 promise: “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory?” There were only two possibilities. Either Scripture was wrong (impossible), or… in some very real way, my sons do not need their dad.
I hate even writing that. Of course kids need their parents. That’s why God gave children a mom and a dad. But there is a deeper sense in which my boys have a heavenly Father who will never die or leave. I am not being sentimental or whitewashing the real struggles we have had, but I have seen God’s Fatherhood at work in their lives, and it is real. No, God doesn’t walk in the front door after a day at work and ask about the Spanish test. He doesn’t shoot baskets or (much to my dismay) teach teenage boys how to drive a car. God does offer love, guidance, security, protection- all the things Jeff offered, except that He can do it all perfectly.
God is providing what we need. My boys and I need to be willing to recognize and accept what God gives, even though we don’t have the dad- Jeff- that we want. My boys and I can get so caught up in missing Jeff, and wondering why God took him on to heaven, that we can miss the fact that He has given us an even greater gift: Himself.
Finally, I invite you to think about our greatest need and God’s greatest provision. From the moment Adam and Eve ate that fruit in the garden, humanity needed a Savior. Without Jesus we were hopeless, lost for eternity, but the answer to our deepest need did not arrive for thousands of years. “In the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) God met the need. So while I might not see the provision for all my needs in my life today, I know my most urgent need has been gloriously met and thoroughly satisfied.
Need some encouragement? Think through your Bible for a minute. Look at all the inventive ways God provided what His people needed in the right way at the right time. To name a few:
A ram in the bushes for Abraham
A wife- Rebekah- for Isaac
Aaron to speak for Moses
A pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, manna in the wilderness, water from a rock
Extra daylight for Joshua
Boaz to protect Ruth and Naomi
King David to lead Israel
Wisdom for Solomon
Beautiful Esther to defend her people
Oil and flour for the widow, her son and Elijah
Ravens to bring cakes for Elijah
Elisha to help Elijah
Artaxerxes (a pagan king) gave Nehemiah time off work to rebuild Jerusalem
Jonah to preach to Ninevah
John to prepare hearts for Jesus
A perfect, sinless Savior, the Lamb of God…
He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 NIV
link to prayers: Trusting the Sufficiency of God