Independence can be a very good thing. But not always.

I am a rather independent sort.  Most Texans are.  After all, the West was won by independent, rugged individualists.  Individualism is not only in the culture, but in our DNA.

Part of the greatness of our country is due to those people who struck out on their on to new adventures and enterprises, often pulling themselves up by their “own boot straps.” 

Independence can be a very good thing.  But not always. 

I remember once when I was at a chaplain’s conference out in Californian, one of our fellow colleagues lost his billfold.  It had all of his money as well as all of his credit cards and I.D.  Well, chaplains being a rather empathetic sort, we got together and collected money to help him to get home.  However, when the representative tried to deliver the money to him, he refused it.  “I don’t need it,” he said.

Here he was, penniless with no I.D. over 500 miles from home, and he didn’t need it?  It was certainly a case of him being too “independent” for his own good!

Sometimes we need to embrace our need to be dependent.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Yes, some people are too dependent upon others.  In fact, being overly dependent can be downright pathological.  I am afraid, for example, that we have some systems in our society that sometimes foster unhealthy dependence.

The Diagnostics and Statistical Manual, or DSM IV, is used by physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrist to diagnose mental and behavioral problems.  One of the diagnostic categories is “Dependent Personality Disorder,” a condition in which an individual is so dependent upon others that the person never reaches any personal fulfillment.

Another category, though, is one called “Schizoid Personality Disorder.”  Not to go into all the details, let me just say that the main characteristic of this disorder is that the person is extremely withdrawn and socially isolated – an extreme example of hyper independence.  Again, this kind of person never reaches his or her potential or fulfillment either.

Now, most people live somewhere in between.  In my experience, though, most “normal people” in our culture live on the “independent” side of the “midline.”  In other words, most “average” people are just a little too independent in our society today.

That’s me. 

However, there are times when we are thrust into situations where our beloved “independence” is stripped away. 

I think back again to the operating room during my recent surgery.  There I was immobilized, wearing nothing but a hospital gown – you know, the kind with the split down the back.  As my mind began to get blurry from the anesthetic, I remember one of the last thoughts was, “Oh, no!  I can’t do anything about this now!”

I was in a position of total dependence upon my surgeon and other caregivers.  Of course, I really would not have wanted to be awake during the procedure, but, as an independent sort, it would almost have been worth the pain in order to feel in control.

Then, of course, there was the recovery time afterward.  Even as they got me out of the bed to go home, I tried to refuse the wheelchair.  “I can walk,” I said as my head was spinning. 

Life sometimes plays funny little jokes, however.  I was going to have to sleep in my recliner for the first couple of weeks.  However, the handle that operates the reclining mechanism is on the right side of the chair, and it was my right arm that was operated on.  Every time I needed to get up or sit down, I had to call for my wife to operate the handle on the chair.

I won’t go into the details about grooming and hygiene, but I was totally dependent upon Katy for almost everything for a while.

However, I learned an important lesson.  Being dependent is not such a bad thing sometimes.  It is humbling.

We human beings like to think that we are in control of our own destinies.  However, we are not, in the grand scheme of things.  We are really, ultimately, totally dependent upon God.  For everything.  Our lives.  The air that we breath.  Water.  Weather.  Everything.

That includes eternity as well.  During my recovery, I was often reminded of the verse that says, “For by grace are you saved and that not of yourselves, not as a result of works …”

No matter how “independent” we think we are, we are all ultimately dependent upon God.  That is something you can depend on.
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas.  He can be contacted at