The insufficiency of self-sufficiency

Last week I had about 48 hours where my fingernails were just long enough to achieve that natural-French-manicure look but just a millimeter or so too short to be broken prying Legos apart. According to Matthew, this is primo back-scratching length. As I was finally helping him reach that spot below his shoulder blade that had been driving him crazy, he mused, “I feel like surely at some point humans had to have evolved the ability to scratch their own backs, but that gene didn’t get passed on because they never procreated. If you can scratch your own back, you don’t need anybody, so they just died out.”


[[ He also said thank you. I feel like I should mention that. ]]


Thus, according to his highly scientific theory, those with the genetic ability to meet their own needs don’t go out looking for any help. They don’t form attachments, including the kind that lead to little back-scratching babies. So ironically, the thing that makes them self-sufficient also insures that they will never pass their self-sufficiency on. It’s kind of a one-generation gift. Self-sufficiency is not sustainable.


Now there’s a flip side to that coin, obviously. Being too dependent doesn’t get us where we want to be either. There are a whole mess of psychiatric terms I could throw around here that mean things go wrong when people get overly attached to each other. The most obvious problem, though, is that people are imperfect and mortal and will eventually disappoint us or die. Cheerful, I know. But even C.S. Lewis said it, so don’t blame me.


The Four Loves

Now, push pause for a second. This is not a sad “find a partner or you’ll die alone” post, and it’s not a “best be having some babies so your life has meaning” post. It’s a “hey, y’all, maybe we really do need each other and that’s okay” post. The thing to keep in mind here is scope. If we’re sticking with the evolution metaphor, remember that it applies to an entire species, not to one individual. It’s not one freakishly adaptable creature moving from primordial ooze to fish to crawling critter all by its lonesome. That sounds like a bad new Marvel movie. It’s about the ones who had that thing that was helpful passing it on and the ones who don’t keeping their genes to themselves so that overall, as a group across multiple generations, the critters find the best fit in their environment. That environment includes others.


By nature, we are all dependent. Life at its core is a needy little beastie. Oxygen, water, shelter, food… It’s hard to feel too high and mighty when you realize your whole body can be taken down by the absence of one teeny tiny molecule in the air. Why wouldn’t that neediness apply to people, too? We’re made for community. When God created the first human being, there was a void. Despite God’s presence, the human still felt alone. Sometimes we need to see God through each other, like glasses that correct a vision problem.


What if we could shake our rugged individualism and reclaim the good in words like needy and dependent? What if we got as much of a high off of letting others help us as we do in helping them? When I signed up to go on a short-term missions trip in college, our college minister explained that they encouraged students to write letters asking friends and family members for financial support rather than just raising the money ourselves through events like car washes or bake sales. The letters gave other people a chance to participate in the ministry with us. Sometimes our dependence is an invitation for those around us to become the hands and feet of Christ. Sometimes seeing a need reminds us what we have to give. We can’t do it all on our own, and we may be edging our neighbors out of a chance to answer their callings when we insist on trying. Let’s work together.


You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Kitten back scratches




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