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The Myth of Self-Reliance
Mark D. Roberts
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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The Myth of Self-Reliance
Image: AlexBrylov/Thinkstock

Self-reliance is quintessentially American. Our heroes are those who found strength in themselves to accomplish greatness. They didn't depend on others. At least that's the story we've imbibed.

In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American philosopher, published his seminal essay on "Self-Reliance." He wrote: "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string …. It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance—a new respect for the divinity in man—must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views." Rather than relying on anything external, even God, we are to depend on ourselves and the divinity that resides in us.

David was snared by the trap of self-reliance. In Psalm 30:6-7, he writes, "When I was prosperous, I said, 'Nothing can stop me now!' Your favor, O LORD, made me as secure as a mountain. Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered". When things were going well for David, we began to believe in his ability to control his own life, to accomplish anything he sought. But, in fact, it was the Lord who had made him "secure as a mountain." So when God hid his face from David, his life fell apart. He realized that his prosperity was not a result of his own cleverness. Rather, it was a gift from God.

Have you ever experienced anything like this? I know dozens, probably hundreds, of people who have lived David's story. When things were going well in their lives, when their businesses were thriving, when their children were "good kids," when their health was excellent, they began to think of all of this as a result of their own doing. But then reality came crashing down like a tidal wave, washing away the fiction of their self-reliance. Like David, they came to realize that they were meant to live in daily dependence upon God, honoring him in all they do.

Adapted with permission from the original article "Avoiding the Trap of Self-Reliance" at All rights reserved.

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