Have you noticed how children cannot wait to achieve independence? Infants, of course, are fully dependent for being fed, bathed, clothed, even being transported from place to place. But after children reach a certain age, usually not older than two years old, they instinctively start asserting their “declaration of independence.”
When you try to help a child putting on her shoes, she dismisses your efforts: “I do it!” the independent little one declares. Perhaps you offer to help the little boy finish the last bite of food off his plate. “No, I do it!” he responds emphatically. Parents want their children to become independent eventually, just not at the ages of two or three.
This impulse toward self-reliance and self-sufficiency remains strong throughout our lives. Many people dream of becoming “financially independent,” reaching a point when a regular paycheck is no longer the compelling motive for working. Others yearn to fill the description offered by the hero of “Invictus,” written by William Ernest Henley. In this brief poem, first published in 1888, the central figure declares, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
It seems commendable to want to be master of your own fate, to take responsibility for the outcomes of your own actions and decisions. However, complete independence has a downside.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, we read about Uzziah, who for 52 years served as king of Judah. We are told, “He did right in the eyes of the Lord…. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5). For much of his life, Uzziah openly acknowledged dependence on God for his prosperity.
However, a time came late in his royal reign when apparently success went to Uzziah’s head. Even when confronted about his rebellion, he refused accountability and correction. “…His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God…” (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Uzziah had become self-sufficient; he needed no one, not even God.
This king lived thousands of years ago, but human nature has not changed much since then. Many of us, early in our business or professional careers, realize success is beyond our grasp. We turn to others – even God – for aid in getting established, especially when job responsibilities and pressures seem overwhelming. Once success is attained, however, we can lose that sense of dependence. “I have pulled myself up by my own bootstraps,” we might conclude, basking in self-adulation.
As King Uzziah learned, this attitude usually leads to disaster. Failing to recognize help in climbing the “ladder of success,” as well as support for continued success, foster false pride – and exposes our vulnerabilities to competitors and opposition. The Bible tells how to avoid such calamity:
Recognize God as the source of wisdom and success. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).
Welcome correction and reproof. “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored” (Proverbs 13:18).
1. How have you seen young children display the natural impulse for independence?
2. Do you agree that there is a negative aspect to asserting our independence? Why or why not?
3. What is your reaction to the brief account of King Uzziah? Read the remainder of the 26th chapter of 2 Chronicles and explain your reaction to how the king demonstrated belief in his self-sufficiency and the consequences he suffered as a result.
4. Would you say that you are in any danger of becoming too self-reliant? If so, what steps might you take to maintain a healthy balance between independence and dependence, whether that means reliance on God, colleagues where you work, or even members of your family?
NOTE: If you have a Bible and would like to review additional passages that relate to this topic, consider the following verses:
Proverbs 1:7, 1:20-33, 6:20-23, 13:10, 13-14; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Robert J. Tamasy is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit corporation based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. A veteran journalist for more than 39 years, he is the author of Tufting Legacies; Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace; and has coauthored with David A. Stoddard, The Heart of Mentoring: 10 Proven Principles for Developing People to Their Fullest Potential (NavPress). For more information, see www.leaderslegacy.com or his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com.