Independence or Interdependence?

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Independence, for many people, is the often the finish line in the race of life. Life does not end with independence. Independence is merely the most basic level to becoming a truly happy and fulfilled human being and child of God.

In recent years, many of the churches I am familiar with have developed a degree of "independence" from paradigms and ideologies they have rejected as ungodly. It is a wonderful step in the right direction. The only problem is, it cannot be allowed to end there. There is another finish line. Independence is only the halfway point in the real journey.

I think most Christians understand that relationships are the most important things in life. This materialistic world and self-centered society doesn’t promote healthy relationships. Most of the time our world only pays lip service to living the emotionally interdependent and spiritually healthier lifestyle. We hear much about being "proactive," "putting first things first," and "beginning with the end in mind." These are all building blocks to the independent level. They are like the footings and sub-floor of a building. Very necessary, but alone they do not make a building.

The road to being an independent person is paved with hard work and an ability to focus and look ahead. Independent people are able to look down the road and see what type of life they can attain with God’s help. But, something is still missing—other people. We all have other people in our lives. Some of those relationships exist out of choice; with others we have no choice. Still, I think most would agree, we need to make the best of those relationships no matter who, how, or why they exist. Family, work, church—we all are part of some type of community.

Independent thinking goes only so far in a community. At some point we have to learn how to be part of a marriage, a family, a company, or some other relationship requiring cooperation, love, caring, listening, etc. All basic stuff, right? But, if that’s the case, why is there so much turmoil and so many problems in human relationships in general? We all have our successes and difficulties in these areas.

I won’t try to solve all the problems here. I would like to suggest we think about what it means to be interdependent. First, let me say, it doesn’t mean we lose our identity or independence. On the most basic level, it means we begin to look outward and desire to understand other people and recognize other people’s uniqueness. We learn to value and help in a cooperative attitude.

Will it always receive the welcome we hope? No, because not everyone sees the value and need for interdependence. Others may still be on the road to independence. We do not need to sacrifice our independence to let others know we are there for them. The danger is that taking care of ourselves is also caring about others. Too often people go out of their way for others so much that they drain themselves dry or allow others to do it. So, when we have done what we can for another’s well-being, give them the cooperation or space they need.

Still, there are several things we must do to achieve interdependence. If you are still with me, you may recognize the model from Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Achieving interdependence brings a different kind of victory. Rather than the private victory of independence, interdependence is a public victory.

It is impossible for anyone to be truly successful at interdependence without self-mastery. No one can fake certain necessary character traits for interdependence over the long haul. Why? Because, when we choose to be part of an interdependent community, it opens up endless opportunities for deeper and more meaningful relationships. We have limitless ways to produce, contribute, learn, and grow. It also opens up the possibility of difficulties, hurts, disappointments, and frustrations. We cannot control things other people do, so we must understand, acknowledge, and not take it too personally.

Interdependence requires a deep level of trust. Communication must be able to flow unhindered and in a nonthreatening way. Covey describes it in terms of "emotional bank accounts." We must make more deposits than withdrawals with other people or the account will close. This is in very simplistic terms.

If you haven’t read Covey’s book, I recommend it before embarking on the road to interdependence. It is the road to building the kind of relationship God the Father and Jesus Christ have with each other. It is the way to continue placing the kind of building blocks the church needs and we all need in our personal lives.

Think about it. The blocks required to reach interdependence are: ability to think win/win in relationships, seeking first to understand, then to be understood, and synergy. When all the blocks that form independence and then interdependence are put together, synergy and interdependence are the result. Synergy is difficult to define or describe. Covey says: "Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part."

Isn’t that a fitting description of what we view as the perfect church and family of God? The challenge is learning to apply and live with growing pains and lessons we learn along the way. Godly character and a healthy spiritual family don’t happen overnight or without the work and pain involved in putting the blocks together.

It seems we want that spiritual home, that spiritual family and safe haven, but don’t want to put forth the effort, sweat, and cooperation it takes to get there. For some reason we think when Jesus comes He will make everything okay. There is much Jesus and the Father can and will do. What Jesus and the Father will not do is walk the journey for us, or build the building without stones. They are also very choosey about what stones they will put into the building. Jesus is the cornerstone. All the other stones depend on His strength and support, but the stones also need each other for the whole building to become reality.

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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca