Admitting My Helplessness

by Will Peycke

My laptop died this morning. It had been showing its age recently but still seemed to doing fine. Until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. I spent most of the day trying to get back online so I could write this blog post.

Two weeks ago, my car died. It had been showing its age, too: after 21 years and 210,000 miles, it certainly didn’t look the best. But it was a Toyota, and we often joked that it might rust out before it quit running. Then at 2:45 AM on a Sunday morning, we woke up to the sheriff ringing our doorbell. He pointed to a smashed-up vehicle in the middle of the road and asked, “Is this your car?” 

A few hours earlier, I had parked it on the street in front of our house. One of our neighbors was driving home late, reached for his phone, pulled the wheel just a bit, and that was the end of our car. I spent most of that week talking to insurance companies and shopping for a new car.

I like to think I have things under control. That I am on top of things, that I’ve got it together. That I know what I’m doing. Until, all of a sudden, I don’t. 

Can you relate?

I wonder if that’s why John refers to his readers so often as “little children.” Have you noticed this theme in 1 John this summer? Here are a few examples:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you…” (1 John 2:1 ESV)
“I am writing to you, little children…” (1 John 2:12 ESV)
Children, it is the last hour…” (1 John 2:18 ESV)
 “And now, little children, abide in him…” (1 John 2:28 ESV)
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God...” (1 John 3:1 ESV)

Add to that list another eight times John refers to his readers as “children” or “little children,” and it becomes clear that this is more than a term of endearment or greeting for John. Thinking of believers as children is a key part of his theology. There are multiple reasons for this, but for the purposes of this post, I want to zero in on just one. If there is one thing that’s true of little children, it’s that they don’t have it all together. On the contrary, little children are completely dependent on their parents or other caring adults. They can’t handle life on their own. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about letting go of our desire for control and trusting our Father instead. The car, the laptop, and plenty of other situations keep reminding me of this truth—and of my need to live it out, not just write about it! It is easy for me to focus on what I need to do, what I need to figure out, what I need to make happen… and to forget how dependent I am on my Father—for everything. 

Here is how Paul Miller expresses it in A Praying Life:

Little children are good at helplessness. It’s what they do best. But as adults, we soon forget how important helplessness is. I, for one, am allergic to helplessness. I don’t like it. I want a plan, an idea, or maybe a friend to listen to my problem. This is how I instinctively approach everything because I am confident in my own abilities. (Miller, A Praying Life, 42)

I need smashed cars and dead laptops to remind me of my helplessness: it’s not my agenda that is the most important or my efforts that are the most effective. On the contrary, it’s my helplessness that drives me to the Father and opens the door for his power to work in my life. Instead of tackling life through my own abilities and strength, God keeps inviting me to ask him for help and rely on his strength:

We received Jesus because we were weak, and that’s how we follow him. Paul told the Colossians, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (2:6). We forget that helplessness is how the Christian life works. (Miller, A Praying Life, 43)

As I removed my dead laptop from my desk this afternoon, I had to push my stack of prayer cards out of the way… the stack I had been neglecting for several weeks because I had been “too busy” to pray. I knew this was a lame excuse and had even admitted it to others, but I kept telling myself I would restart my regular prayer times as soon as I got caught up on all these other things I had to do. I needed a dead laptop to force me to admit my helplessness.

Here’s how a friend of mine named Tony puts it: “We say things like, ‘the least we can do is pray.’ But prayer is never the least we can do. Prayer is always the most we can do.” 

How is God reminding you of your helplessness this week? Where do you need to admit your helplessness and, like a little child, ask your Father for help?