Lean In – not only is it a bestselling book title (no, I haven’t read it), it is a cultural catch phrase.
To lean in is to not give up when things get hard, but push through, knowing good things don’t happen on the easy path.
Or, at least, that’s the definition of the phrase we can all get behind.
On one hand, it is a phrase that reminds us that we shouldn’t disengage, give up, or pull back when life gets tough. We should lean in, because that’s where growth happens.
Instead of shying away, we push forward. Instead of keeping at a distance, we dig in.
These are the postures of leaning in that remind us that growth happens in the mess, in the trial, in the difficulty, and when we disengage we aren’t protecting ourselves or keeping ourselves safe, we’re simply stalling and burying our talent in the ground.
But there’s another sense in which the phrase “lean in” steers us wrong. It has become the mantra of the strong, independent woman, the woman who needs no one and lets nothing stand in her way.
One online summary and review of the book defines the term this way: “Lean in means to grab opportunities without hesitation.“
The world tells us that if we need something or want something, we have to grab it for ourselves. We shouldn’t wait. We shouldn’t be dependent. We should definitely never submit.
We live in a self-empowerment as well as a self-entitlement culture. We make ourselves powerful by acting powerful. We define our rights by grabbing them for ourselves.
And even when we aren’t trying to climb the corporate ladder, we still get sucked into the self-empowerment mindset and mode.
We choose a goal – even a worthwhile goal like getting organized or homeschooling well – and then act like it’s all on us to achieve our goal. Not only that, we work assuming we get to determine what success looks like. Not only that, we work assuming our worth rests upon our self-made outcomes.
When that doesn’t work for us, we throw up our hands and think that it was having goals and working for them that is pointless.
In the name of grace against perfectionism, we give up on trying.
**Works righteousness is a problem, but working hard isn’t. **
We don’t reject works righteousness by not working, but by not working for our own glory and in our own way and with our own settled agenda and desired outcome.
Instead of a posture of leaning in that is self-determined and self-aggrandizing and self-driven, we ought to cultivate a posture of leaning on.
When we lean on Christ, we trust His sovereign rule over this world. We trust God’s providential care not only of ourselves, but of the whole big picture. Thus, we do not carry the burden of the outcome of other people’s souls or of Christ’s victory in the world. We do not work as if everything depended on us. We work, knowing all things – including ourselves – depend on Christ. In Him all things hold together – including us.
When we lean on Christ, we refuse to work as if we are sufficient unto ourselves. We are not complete as is. We are not perfect as is. So we do not work as if we expect ourselves or our work to be complete and perfect. We ask for the grace and courage to be faithful, and we rely on Jesus to bring the results He wishes. We’re content when those results are different than what we imagined. We’re not surprised when we fail, because we know our job is repentance. So we repent and keep going.
When we lean on Christ, we stop trying to do everything ourselves. Leaning on Christ is not only a spiritual act. It is a physical act as well, because it includes living as a small part of a greater community: the body of Christ, the church. No mom is an island. We are created to live in interdependence with other humans. That is more than going to church and having a few friends. It means meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own, and it means allowing others to cover our needs as well. Dependance goes both ways.
Selfish ambition grasps for self-made goals and results. Selfish ambition sometimes seems like the only way to gin up the energy to move forward, but it’s a false hope and a false standard.
Rather, gratitude ought to be the motivating factor in our lives.
Gratitude motivates us to faithfulness, which is not self-seeking or independent. Gratitude is the posture of leaning on the work and accomplishment of Another – not in laziness and complacency, but in God-glorifying delight and diligence to do all He has prepared for us to do.
Related: Gratitude makes you productive.