Updated: Feb 23
When I heard it, I didn’t know whether I should jump up and down because now I had terminology for it, or hold my head in despair because I recognized it in myself and in so many women I have known and worked with over the years - “Learned Helplessness”.
I heard it listening to “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown (Click Book Image to Buy). In his book, he tells of an experiment where some subjects adopted “learned helplessness” after having been through a lot of pain in the past, which on repeatedly trying to relieve and failing, concluded that that pain would always be their reality, and even when they were given an opportunity to escape the pain, unlike those that had never felt the pain, or others that had felt the pain but, whose efforts to escape it worked, the ones that repeatedly failed, chose to remain in it, even if this time there was really a way out. They had “learned helplessness”.
This reminds me of how much the Israelites resisted God’s efforts through Moses, to take them out of Egypt (and Egypt out of them) so that they could enjoy the abundant life of the promised land (Exodus 3-20).
Over and over again, they saw themselves as helpless to overcome the challenges that came their way in pursuit of God's promise, and instead felt they were “grasshoppers” against “giants” (Numbers 13:33), and were better off being treated inhumanely under the cruel rule of the Pharaoh of Egypt (Numbers 14:20-23), than to agree with God that they were “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (Deuteronomy 14:2, 1 Peter 2:9) and with God on their side, they were “able to go up at once to defeat their enemies (Numbers 14:6-9).
As you read this, you can probably think of that friend that seems utterly lost in a past pain that’s still keeping them shackled in the present. I can too. How I have prayed a d tried to help them over the years but they will find every reason why they can’t get past their circumstances, why “this is their lot.”
What about us though? It may not be in every area of life, but when truth be told, most of us have some areas in our lives where we choose to remain stagnant, where we feel it will take “divine intervention, often meaning “someone else’s help”, to get us up (and we already know we will fight them off with every theory why we can’t be healed/delivered/happy/successful/forgiving/giving/powerful/impactful).
We too are suffering from "learned helplessness".
We don’t even expect God to move for us in that area. We may not even bring it up as a prayer point anymore. That is an area we just manage. It is our “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:6-8).
What if I were to tell you that there is a way out, that God does want to set you free to see lasting results in that area, and that He has already sent someone for you? What if I told you that the person God has sent for your freedom is you?
In Joshua 1, God made it clear that He had already made a way but, unless Joshua followed it, God's hands were tied as to how much of His goodness they would experience in their lives. After Moses died, God charged Joshua to take matters for his and his people’s success into his own hands:
“Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses.
No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.””Joshua 1:3, 5-6, 8-9 NKJV
God made a way, God gave instructions but, it was for Joshua and the children of Israel to apply them, if they [themselves] were to "make [their] way prosperous" (Joshua 1:8b).
The Israelites had "learned helplessness" and chose to use their power to play the victim and remain small and insignificant. Their unbelief and constant whining and complaining that they would die en route to the promised land is exactly what they got - they wandered around the wilderness for 40 years until every last one of those adults died. But, God spared two men of faith, Joshua, and Caleb, to lead the next generation to the promised land (Numbers 14:21-24).
Think about it: Joshua and Caleb went through the same experiences as all the other Israelites but, they chose to believe God. They chose to believe that just as God had said, He had already given them the power to make their way prosperous (Joshua 1:8, Deuteronomy 8:18).
This is the same attitude David had when as a teenager, he was able to fight and defeat the giant trained soldier, Goliath. Despite his young age, small size, and 'lack of relevant experience' many of us would cite, David knew (and constantly said) that with God on his side, He could defeat anything (1 Samuel 17:45-51).
Even after possessing much land, later in the book of Joshua, we see God challenging Joshua, saying, he had accomplished much yet, there was still much more land God had in store for Joshua and His people that they had not taken possession of yet (Joshua 13:1).
P31 Womanaire, what have you lost all hope for that you sense God is reviving His hope in you? Where have you settled for less simply because you are “okay” that God is impressing on you to go after more?
After decades of struggling, the Lord revealed to me that there is always a way, I just need strategy. Specifically, I need knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of what needs to be done, then the strength and courage to step out boldly to do what I know needs to be done (James 1:5-8, 21-25).
God made the ultimate way for us to have victory in this life and the next, and that is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:9-23). Whether or not we access and enjoy all that God has in store for us, is 100% up to each one of us (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
What will you choose, Sis? Hold on to "Learned Helplessness" or open up to the abundant life Jesus died and rose again to make available to you?
The choice is 100% yours. There is always a way, you just need strategy.
We are 14 days away from the P31 Womanaire International Women’s Day Conference.
This year’s theme is “Reclaim Your Power”.
We have invited two women that are fervent about seeking God’s knowledge, understanding, and wisdom for their personal and professional lives, and are applying what God has revealed to them to see ever-increasing peace, partnerships, and prosperity in God.
They will share their strategies on how they have overcome fears and past defeats and invite you on candid live conversations about how you can do the same.
Click the link below for your Early Bird Discount to #ReclaimYourPower Conference on March 7th, 2021:
We look forward to connecting and continuing candid conversation about what we can do to receive God’s beat for and through our lives.