The Value of Powerlessness

“Power, according to Jesus and the Trinity, is not something to be “grasped at” (see Philippians 2:6-7). I don’t need to cling to my title, my uniform, my authorship, or whatever other trappings I use to make myself feel powerful and important. . . .  It seems to me that the only people who can handle power well are those who don’t need it too much, those who can equally let go of it and share it. The only people who can handle power are those who have made journeys through powerlessness‘” (Richard Rohr in “Daily Meditation” for March 7, 2017).

We are torn by ugly political power struggles in America (and globally). One definition of power is maintaining control. By contrast, a  definition of progress is sharing control. Richard Rohr is right on target; the way to power is through powerlessness. But how do we move from maintaining power to sharing power? 

Unfortunately powerlessness is not a desired condition in our world; few people would say that they choose to be powerless. How do we get at a proper understanding of powerlessness?  Perhaps by what it is not.  Powerlessness is not weakness. It is not living in a vacuum. It is not  forced on us by mistreatment because of race or gender.  It is not bowing to the needs and desires of another.  It is not surrender to a the manipulation of a person or a group or a nation.

Powerlessness  is the acceptance of the fact that outcomes are not in my control. God is in control; I give up my addiction to being in charge of the world and surrender to God’s wisdom and grace. I choose the freedom of living in an attitude of powerlessness. 

Surrendering control doesn’t mean I have no power. I cannot control the actions and responses of others, but I can control my own. And I do have influence in my environment! I can choose to collaborate with the Creator God in bringing harmony to a world filled with acrimony and grace to situations that are dis-graceful. To get back to Rohr’s comment:  real “power” comes by letting go of our addiction to control and, instead, cooperating with others to find solutions.

I have learned that the best tools for learning about powerlessness are silence and solitude. These soul-training exercises bring me face to face with God, with my own false narratives about how to live in the world, and with the behaviors I use to manipulate others. Silence encourages communion with God and provides an atmosphere of introspection, pondering, mulling over, and reflection. Solitude takes me out of the fray, out of the noise and confusion, and into serenity. Silence and solitude usher me into a space where I can listen – to my own heart and to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They are tools to creating and accepting powerlessness, which eventually gives me the right to speak and act on my truth. 


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