Celebrating (In)Dependence Day

Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Last Fourth of July, after burning my 16th straight hot dog, I finally asked my dad for help. This was not easy. I’m a 30-something male. I should know how to barbecue by now. But desperation — and my mother’s howls that “the potato salad is going to turn if you don’t hurry up with those hot dogs” — forced my plea. Ugh. I hate asking for help. I prefer to take care of things on my own. And after all, isn’t that what Independence Day is all about? Independence?

The thing is, grilling hot dogs isn’t the only thing I need help with. And if I think about it, there are a lot of ways in which I’m not independent. In fact, if I really, really think about it and am honest with myself, there are a lot of things that I’m quite dependent upon, such as whatever that thing is that makes my cell phone work, or whatever that other thing is that gives me those billion channels on cable TV, or that other thingy that makes my car start. So, outside of recognizing that my technological illiteracy is bone-chillingly staggering, I hope you were also able to glean from these examples that I’m a pretty dependent guy and the whole notion that I’m some sort of autonomous being is an illusion.

We pride ourselves on our independence. We are a nation of pioneers, after all. And we live in a world/age/era/culture — call it what you will — that looks askance at any form of dependence, be it on family, government, or the kindness of strangers. We look with pity on the post-collegiate 20-somethings living with their parents, praying to God that won’t be us. We turn our heads when the person in front of us at the grocery store pulls out food stamps. We nervously cross the street when we see someone begging for change. We can do it on our own. We don’t need help.

We are lying to ourselves.

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We need to admit that we can’t do it all and that we need help. And that goes for everything from grilling hot dogs to grieving the death of a loved one and all that is in between. And yet we still fight it, don’t we? I know I do.

And it is at this point in the story that I replace hot dogs with my life and my dad with God. See the analogy there? I’m always trying to “handle” my life, to make it better, to make things work. But what I’ve found through much trial and error (think burning hot dogs) is that my life operates much more smoothly when I depend upon God.

And that is the continual invitation, be it on Independence Day or any other day: complete and utter dependence upon God. And no, I’m not talking about quietism here, the idea that doing God’s will is nothing more than docile submission to the world around you, or a sort of passive immovability in the face of life. What I’m speaking of is a continual conversation with and cultivation of a relationship with Christ. A life rooted in prayer, Gospel values, and humble acceptance of God’s will. The willingness to stop trying to fix outcomes and instead live by the tenet, “Thy will be done.” That is dependence upon God.

We need to admit that we can’t do it all and that we need help. And that goes for everything from grilling hot dogs to grieving the death of a loved one and all that is in between. And yet we still fight it, don’t we? I know I do. Oh, of course, I pray every day and attend Mass, but when it comes to certain things in my life, I frequently find myself saying, “That’s okay, I got this one, God.” That is, if I say anything at all because usually, I’m trudging forward, head-down, full-steam with blinders on, and the result is something along the lines of burnt hot dogs.

St. Ignatius once said, “Work like everything depends on you, pray like everything depends upon God,” and I think that’s a pretty accurate summary of what a radical dependence upon God looks like. We don’t stop doing the footwork, but we do stop trying to control the results. We are in a continual conversation with God, who is always leading the way. And that is the thing — we’ve got to remember who is God and who is God’s creation. That is, we’re not in charge.

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The Fourth of July might be the biggest secular holiday in the United States (I say “might” because I got that information off the internet), but it offers us the opportunity to take a step back from our busy worlds of making things happen, doing everything, and fixing it all, to pause for a moment and commit (or recommit as the case may be) to a deeper dependence upon God.

And really, what better time is there to surrender to God than Independence Day? And no, I’m not joking, because when is there a better time to recognize God’s loving activity in our life and our world than while gathered with friends and family? What better time to recognize God’s immanence and glory than while watching in awe as a shower of red, white, and blue flashes across a pitch black sky? What better way to appreciate how God provides for us than while inhaling the smoky, sumptuous aromas off the grill?

Yes, God’s in the thick of it all and is inviting us to move closer, to let go of the reins, and to let God take care of things. It’s a pretty nutty idea, this whole dependence on God thing. It goes against the grain of all we are taught to value, and yet as has been proven time and again, from the disciples through the saints, it is in this dependence that the greatest strength of all is found.

(Originally published July 3, 2018)