Changing from Self-Reliance to Relying on God

Contributor:  W. Travis Stewart, LPC, NCC writer for Addiction Hope

rugby-596747_1280The final moments of the movie Rudy may be one of the most stirring movie endings ever to make it onto the big screen. Regardless that we’ve seen it coming the entire movie (I mean really, would they have made a story about this guy if he hadn’t actually made it on the playing field?) and despite our own knowledge that the director has choreographed every second we see on screen, from the swelling music to the chanting crowd, in order to make us cry, we love it. We love the idea that this small kid, who was told over and over again that he couldn’t play Division 1 football, could have so much self-reliance, tenacity and fight that he beat all of the odds and actually played football at historic Notre Dame University.

The Dark Side of Self-Reliance

Americans love a good story about self-reliance. Self-reliance is as American as Clint Eastwood and the self-help section at Barnes and Noble Booksellers. It’s also as predictable as an addict telling himself, “I don’t have a problem” or “This will be the last time” or believing she don’t need treatment because she can “beat this” by herself.

man-802120_640But self-reliance has a dark side. We are not talking here about self-discipline or self-confidence, but rather, the idea that I can handle all of life on my own. Neither are we thinking here of self-care—that necessary attention to setting healthy boundaries and seeking appropriate rest.

We are talking about the falsely comforting idea that “I’ve got what it takes and don’t need anyone else.” Self-reliance sees self as the end-all and be-all. It believes the lie that to be vulnerable or ask for help is to be weak. Self-reliance sees the self as the ultimate resource and highest value.

But this valuing of self above all other things gets in the way of freedom.

Self-Help and Self-Hatred

descent-841413_640The idea of self-help is a lovely thought. Who wouldn’t think that working on improving your life, your character, your bad habits, are all good ideas? But it is a closed system. As Jesus said, “How can the blind lead the blind?” If my own self-resources resulted in the mess I am in, how can my self-resources get me out of it? The truth is that reliance on myself will keep me stuck in the system.

Nor is the cure hating the self or devaluing personal dignity. Someone consumed with self-hatred is just as powerless as the individual who thinks she needs no help.

17th Century writer George MacDonald calls out self-hatred for what it is; self-protection. When we punish ourselves we are not “denying self” as Jesus calls us to but, rather, attempting to control a part of the self which troubles us. MacDonald writes, “The diseased satisfaction which some minds feel in laying burdens on themselves, is a pampering, little as they may suspect it, of the most dangerous appetite of that self which they think they are mortifying.” [1] When we hate the self we think we are putting it to death when in reality we are protecting it.

The self is just usually in the way. We don’t need to discover it so much as we need to be freed from it. Our hope lies in finding freedom from reliance on self. Jesus, in ways that were graphically violent to his contemporary listeners, encouraged his followers to “take up their cross and deny themselves.” Again, crucifying self does not mean hating it. Pastor Tim Keller writes,

Becoming More Humble

A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, But a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself. [2]

person-371015_1280And C.S. Lewis writes in his book Mere Christianity:

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.

And we most clearly see Christ when we see how He handled his own self. He laid it down for others. He denied the urge for self-preservation. When we see this more clearly we see our path to freedom. When we see his sacrifice for us our self-reliance begins to melt and we learn to ask for help.

Admitting Need

In addiction, our rescue must come from outside of the system. This does not suggest being passive but rather recognizes that what the self brings to the table is not sufficient. We need what others offer. We need their insight into our beliefs, their challenges to our defenses, their spotting of our blind spots. Just as they need us.

Rudy Rutiger did not make it on the playing field by himself. He worked hard, he was determined, he sacrificed for his dream, but if his teammates had not set aside their own self-preservation and told coach they weren’t suiting up unless Rudy played, his cleats would have never touched the grass in the stadium (watch this scene).

We only discover our freedom when we admit our need, connect with others who are on the journey to relying more on God and less on self and live in the freedom of self-forgetfulness.



Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you struggled with self-reliance?  What steps have you taken to begin relying on God in your recovery?  Was this a difficult process for you, why or why not?


About the author:

Travis Stewart has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005.  His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future.


Christian Track:  Addiction Hope is proud to announce the initiation of a special Christian Track of blogs and articles to commemorate our 10th year of being blessed with such a special community of those in or searching for addiction recovery.  Watch for further special blogs noted as “Christian Track”.


  1. Lewis, C.S., George MacDonald; an anthology, Simon and Schuster, 1996, p. 69
  2. Keller, Timothy, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, 10 Publishing, 2012, p. 33


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