Most of us hate feeling powerless; and, indeed, it is not very good for us – especially for extended periods of time. It can lead to depression, anxiety, outbursts of anger, alienation from others, physical symptoms; and, in its trauma form, it can lead to the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD (e.g. nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and loss of concentration or memory to name a few).
Sometimes powerlessness comes from circumstances we have little or no control over. Other times it comes from the consequences of our actions. The latter can be even more frustrating because we may say, “I could have done something different“. We ruminate and replay the situation over and over. This can be helpful if we can process it into lessons learned, insight, awareness about others or ourselves, and character growth.
It is interesting to note that sometimes powerlessness can be very powerful. When Jesus surrenders to the cross, His powerlessness redeems the whole world. This is also illustrated in the fictional Star Wars movie where Obe Wan allows himself to be slain by Darth Vader only to come back as a ghost to aid Luke in fighting the Empire. The Apostle Paul talks about his powerlessness as an affliction he has and how it helps him grow and be empowered. Joseph’s powerlessness in the Old Testament is the seed for his rise to power in the house of Pharaoh. Despite his brother’s plot against him, he is faithful, and God sends him before his family to redeem them in their day of need. After they realize that the brother they sold into slavery is now in power over them, the brothers hear him say “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good“.
Dealing with powerlessness is a tricky matter sometimes.
First, we must realize that powerlessness in not necessarily hopelessness.
Powerlessness may just mean you are not in control right now.
Second, it is important to admit our powerlessness to God and others.
This can get us out of the way, allowing God to work in areas where we do not have the ability or opportunity to change things. Telling others about our powerlessness can be a request for help; and, as a part of that, can provide a place for us to get emotional support, accountability, and structure.
Third, deal with powerlessness by processing it.
Write down what you are feeling and thinking; what you believe about yourself and the situation; what you may have done to contribute to the situation; and what others may have contributed rather than what is purely circumstantial. Try to avoid “All or Nothing” thinking. The “All Is Lost” mentality is not very helpful. Slowing things down and evaluating the situation is usually better in both the short and long run. Nehemiah puts this into action when he feels powerless at first to deal with greedy nobles who are loan sharking their fellow Hebrews right back into slavery. He slows down his anger and brings the nobles to task.
Fourth, after the initial shock wears off, try seeing where the processing leads you.
What does it tell you about the situation, yourself, others involved, your motives, your priorities, the lessons learned, and how you can grow from it.
Overall, powerlessness is not something to be desired; but it is, essentially, unavoidable in life. How we deal with it and use it to grow and move closer to God and others is the key.