Do you ever find yourself thinking something like the following out loud? Especially throughout this past year.
“I’ve got this.”
“I’ve been through much worse (so I can make it through this, too).”
“This is nothing compared to what I've been through.”
“How can she not handle what she is going through? It's really not that bad.”
If you have, I’d bet every dime (who actually has dimes anymore?) I own that you are the proud owner of a survivor's mentality. By default, this mindset keeps us from becoming dependent on others. It allows us to live our lives with a level of self-sufficiency forged from hardships, disappointments, abuse, loneliness, or various other personal traumas. In essence, it's using your persistence through tough circumstances as a means of perseverance through current or upcoming challenges.
I am not sure where your "I've got this" attitude came from but mine was developed through a rough home life that eventually pushed me to move out in the middle of my junior year of high school. I walked down a broken path, doing whatever was needed to survive — including living with boyfriends or bad roommates, doing drugs, defining my worth by what a man said about me and dropping out of college more than once. By combining toxic circumstances and not knowing Jesus, I was bound to make a lot of bad decisions and some of those decisions still have the ability to keep me up at night. But, I managed to get out of every bad situation I put myself into. Surviving those experiences, I gained a lot of life lessons and strength. I came out the other end more confident in my abilities to handle difficult things. I think this mentality is a common narrative among adults who grew up in unhealthy living situations or survived trauma.
As with all things, a little bit of the survivor mentality is healthy. It pulls us through when life gets tough. It’s an outlet for our disappointments, and it can help us gain self-confidence. God grows us through trials, so strength and perseverance are an expected product of coming out the other side. But if we aren't careful, survivorship fast becomes destructive and rotting to the core of our relationship with God. Why would we ever need God and His perfect plan if we can solve it all on our own?
For me personally, in moments of tension, I find myself telling God “I’m good. I got this. I’ve been through worse. I am strong enough to handle this.” Sometimes, I genuinely don’t think to ask God for help before immediately reverting into my independent attitude. What does that say to God?
I don't need Him.
I don’t trust Him.
I don't care for His guidance.
I'm more capable than He is.
Should you asked me If I thought or felt any of those actual things I would say "absolutely not!" But I have to ask myself, is that true? Because my actions speak a different set of words. When I don’t bring my struggles to God and allow Him to be the solution, I rob Him of the glory He deserves. He has redeemed my life from the pit with no help from me. So why should I rob Him of the pleasure of showing His goodness in my chaos? What if someone sees God get me through the small things and thinks “Oh, her God is a God that cares about all of it. Maybe I should see if He’d care about me too”? I don’t ever want my pride to hinder someone from knowing the goodness and grace of Jesus.
I have more harsh news: Survivor mentalities gone wrong don’t just hurt our relationship with our Father, they harm our relationship with community. When we think we are the reason we have toughed it out or made it through, we become quick to judge others that we see are struggling. We are quick to think people are weaker than us because they seem incapable of handling what we can handle. I don't know if you already know this, but it's really bad for a friendship to believe your friend is weaker than you.
I have personally done this with my sister-in-law and best friend, Hannah. Had it not been for her constant grace and empathy, I would have wrecked our friendship over something I deemed as trivial in her life. Side note: God will embarrass you, real quick, to humble you. IT IS NOT FUN. I started experiencing the same thing she had walked through (the very situation in which I told her to suck it up). Let me tell you, I handled it with much less grace and patience than she did. God allowed me to see first hand how easy was for my survivor mentality (i.e. pride) to take over and make me act like the south side of a northbound horse — if you know what I mean.
(Thanks, Hannah, for loving me still)
As women of God, we are called to lay down the false notion that we, in any way, have had a hand in our survival. We are called to lay down the idea that we can keep ourselves afloat and swimming. Of course, we are called to make smart decisions — whether financially, emotionally, relationally — whatever. We make those smart decisions by seeking and surrendering to God and pursuing community. Regardless of what we have survived, we didn’t do it alone. I can see throughout my whole path (most of which I wasn’t a believer) God's hand in all of it. I can look back and see His intervention so clearly that it overwhelms my heart.
On the other side of receiving His grace, we must recognize we have had no part in our past or future. We recognize His sovereignty over our lives and stop trying to ALWAYS fix it, prepare for it, plan for it, work it out, and claim the success all on our own.
This is not a trivial or easy task. This is so very tough when you’ve survived big and small things — single woman, divorced mom, cancer patient, widow, caregiver, or wanderer. Coming out the other side makes you feel invincible, but we are not invincible without God. We need to make sure we do not forget His grace in our newly gained confidence. These routines remind us God is in charge:
This may feel like a cop-out, but it is genuinely the best place to start. God gladly gives wisdom to those who seek it (James 1:5) and wisdom isn’t just about knowing the right answers but also comes in the form of self-awareness. Once you’ve gained understanding, you can work to stop that mentality from taking over and start taking steps to see God in the midst of your struggles.
Repeat scriptures over your situation that remind you that you are NOT the one in control. Here are two of my favorites:
“Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You are not in the driver's seat- I am. Don't run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self….” (Luke 9:23, MSG)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV)
Not only seek His Word, but seek the guidance of women who have similar stories and are now thriving in their relationship with God. As Levi Lusko said, “When you have a goal, find people who are succeeding at that goal and run hard after a relationship with them.” This changed my life. It never occurred to me that I could fight for my soul by fighting for mentoring relationships.
We were made to help each other in all walks of our faith (1 Thess. 5:14; Hebrews 10:24). Although it seems intimidating, watch out for women in your life who are walking with God well. Pray for God to reveal women to you and step out in boldness — ask them to coffee and take notes.
START A STRUGGLE JOURNAL
This one is out there, I know. But if you really find yourself having a hard time letting God in on your struggles or even remembering to ask God first when you reach an obstacle, this may work for you. Every day sit down and write a few sentences about a struggle you are facing. Then sit for a few minutes and reflect on where you see God in this struggle. End by asking God for advice, peace, or whatever you feel the Spirit is leading you to ask. But be careful, this can quickly turn into a gripe session. That is not what this is intended for. IT IS NOT A COMPLAINING JOURNAL and it should only be a tactic you keep until you actively remember to seek God first when a tough situation arises. Once you have noticed yourself immediately turning to God instead of your own intuition, think about transitioning it into a gratitude or prayer journal.
Prayer, scripture, community, and reflection are integral keys to keep us humble and hopeful. I am a survivor, and so are you. Don't pat yourself on the back — all the glory belongs to the Giver of life, liberty, and the pursuit of trusting Him.
Sarah Nobles is on the Hey Ladybirds! Team and a Biological Scientist at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - yes, you can be a scientist and love Jesus! She lives in Decatur, GA with her husband and son where they love hiking, baking, and a good game of Catan.