The Paradox of Powerlessness

February 15th, 2017

So much of the current political landscape is wrought with aggressive attempts to grab and hold power from the “other” group. Our culture reveres the powerful and we aspire to emulate them; from the playground bully to the CEO bully, from the power-tripping correctional officer to the domestic violence perpetrator, from the condescending parent to the undermining child. We are addicted to power. Next to power, cocaine looks like Starburst candy. Power is the most sought after drug on the planet. Yet, the scriptures reveal an upside-down kingdom that is built on the paradox of powerlessness.

What are the negative consequences of not accepting personal powerlessness?

If we do not help our youth accept powerlessness over the uncontrollables and unchangeables in their life, then they could:

  • Begin to frustrate themselves in their attempts to gain control and to fix the unfixable.
  • Become extremely rigid and dogmatic in their handling of life’s problems believing that there is “only one way” to do things, the “perfect” way.
  • Deny the enormity of the things which they do not have the power to change and become locked into “fantasy” or “magical” thinking that given enough time, energy and resources they can succeed in changing them.
  • Become so full of self-pride as to believe that only they can be the “savior” for the ills or problems they are facing.
  • Become so self-preoccupied that they become incapable of reaching out to ask for others’ help and support in facing these problems which are beyond their power and control.
  • Lose their faith in the capability of human beings to help out a fellow human who is in need of help and support.
  • Become so frustrated and depressed in trying to solve the unsolvable problems that they find their temper, anger and rage igniting and flaring up spontaneously, inappropriately and disproportionately.
  • Feel so defeated by the non-fixable realities of life that they come to believe that God is impotent and inadequate.
  • Forget that they are a human being and as such open to failures and mistakes and not the “perfect being” who is omnipotent and infallible in all things.
  • Cling onto the people whom they cannot control or change until they one day walk out on them frustrated by their incessant efforts to change, correct or reform them.
  • Lose perspective of their own limits and not be self-protective of their energy, resources and spirit in their incessant effort to solve the unsolvable.
  • Increase in a sense of low self-esteem because they are incapable of making everything right and perfect with all people, places and things in your life.
  • Deny the existence of and need for the Holy Spirit in their life, upon whom they can call for help and assistance.

The Scriptures remind us that:

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” —2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NLT)

Because of the very nature of their developmental stage students are prone to all of the above.  We, as caregivers, must help them understand that weakness and brokenness is a prerequisite to entering the upside-down Kingdom.

Instead, imagine a kingdom where we divested ourselves of our personal power:

  • Anxiety decreases because we let go of our need to control outcomes.
  • We are fluid in our thinking, allowing for creative and collaborative solutions to the problems of the world.
  • Develop a sense of calm and peace that transcends the overwhelming concerns we face.
  • Demonstrate humility because our pride won’t inflate because of how smart or strong we are.
  • Shame loses its debilitating grip over us, as we ask for help from others.
  • We believe in the goodness of others because the culture is one of shared powerlessness and cooperation to meet each other’s needs instead of fighting for fear of scarcity.
  • Rates of depression and violence decrease due to people caring for and working with each other so that all needs are met.
  • The development of a deep and trusting faith that God can, wants to and will meet all of our needs.
  • Are patient and longsuffering with one another so that no one is alone in the moments of need.
  • We do not resort to manipulation to stay connected to meaningful relationships.
  • Inhibit the development of “savior complexes” because no one individual holds all the power/resources.
  • A personal sense of wholeheartedness in a growing number of individuals, loving and leading out of their wholeness, not their brokenness.
  • A complete and utter dependency on the Holy Spirit for all of this and more.

Can you imagine raising youth in such a world? Can you imagine what potent and powerful adults they will be if they are raised with the paradox of powerlessness? Can you imagine the impact they could have on our world?


chrisCHRIS SCHAFFNER is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.