Oprah Winfrey brought her 2014 tour to DC last weekend: The Life You Want! “The only courage you need in your life is the courage to live your dreams!” she shouted to a room of adoring fans. Then she told them how to use a circular diagram to draw a life map. Conferees learned how to turn down the negative inner voices inside their heads, and choose a more positive language to describe their feelings.
Ideas like those must surely sound energizing in an arena full of cheering middle-class women. But when those ladies get back into the grind of life this week, many of them will discover they need a lot more than a happier vocabulary and the courage to live their dreams. The poet Robert Burns described it this way: “The best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry.” When life goes off the rails, people commonly find that the positive plan is absolutely worthless without the personal power. And life can leave you feeling very powerless.
That’s the starting point for classic Twelve Step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol. Our lives had become unmanageable. But how can a powerless person do anything constructive? Step Two answers the question: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. People like that need to turn their lives and their will over to the care of God.
We human beings are skilled at self-deception. We really believe the right attitude can help us seize the day and claim the life we want! We have come to accept the bizarre idea that you can do anything you set your mind to. Yeah, except Rudy Ruettiger (God bless him!) only played the final kick-off against Georgia Tech and never saw action for the Fighting Irish again; and most young people who aspire to compete in the Olympics fall short long before reaching the games. A positive attitude and passionate determination are great assets, but until you come up with some power you’re just spinning your wheels.
The prophet Isaiah knew what it felt like to be stuck, trapped, powerless. But he was able to write Isaiah 40:31 because God had showed him what it was like to be empowered from on high. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
I get to talk with broken, powerless people all the time. I have good news for them: when the wind of God fills the sails, you don’t have to keep rowing anymore. Smart sailors know how to use the wind.
Lift up the Cross!