Navigating Powerlessness

“Sometimes we become closest to God in the moments where we experience powerlessness and have no other option than to seek the One who has all power.”

In the ordinariness of everyday, we can feel like we have some semblance of control over daily tasks. We are efficient at tackling small problems head on and facing challenges with determination and resolve to work harder and smarter to overcome. Yet, there are those times in life when we are reminded that we really are not in total control of life occurrences. It is during the toughest, most challenging parts of life, that we often experience powerlessness.


Experiences of powerlessness often rock our world. They can range in the details and are often different for each person. Failing to understand the content of a course, experiencing subtle or overt discrimination in class or in work environments, being excluded from privy information due to one’s race, and being publically verbally humiliated are all examples of powerlessness within a graduate school setting. While these experiences range in difference, the commonality among them include the intensity of the feelings evoked. Shame, self-doubt, anger, sadness, guardedness, and impotency can all emerge from experiences of powerlessness. It is so painful, that we often work hard to avoid feeling powerless. By overworking, over-planning, and being overinvolved we assume what feels like control over our lives. This can work for a time, but it is not sustainable over time and it fails miserably when inevitable times of powerlessness occur.

The Process

In the living, breathing, tumultuous moments where the illusion of control fades and the reality of powerlessness materializes, I often turn to God as my ultimate source of power. The process of turning to God for help is truly just that… a process that often takes some time.

While, I cognitively know that God is able to do anything, to provide the answer to any problem, and to show the way out when I’m stuck in a hard place, I do not immediately react out of that mindset. This is what my process typically looks like (a one-sided conversation):

“Oh, well this is hard, but I’ve got this!

This is a little harder than I thought, but if I just cut back here and do more here, then I can emerge victorious.

Ummm… what’s going on God? Why is this happening?

Oh, my goodness, what I am I going to do? I’ve got it, I’ll ask the opinion of a trusted loved one.

Okay, I’ve tried everything and I just cannot do this on my own, this is not going to work out. God, you’re supposed to provide for your daughter, where are you? (translation: The world is going to end, I am overanxious and overcome with worry, God you are supposed to allow me to fix it for myself independently, what happened?)

(Exhaling)… I get it, I am sorry, I try to do this on my own every time, seeking help from everyone but you God. God I need your help and I am listening.

Thank you Lord, for direction and for working it out in a way that only you can. While trusting you is hard, you are faithful each and every time. Because you walked with me through this, I see now that we are even closer.”

Sound familiar?

Spirituality to Navigate Powerlessness

I believe that it takes a few times for some (and many times for me) to live through tough experiences repeatedly before our initial reaction is to first seek God.

Once we learn that lesson, we do not have to feel so alone during experiences of powerlessness. Soon our spirituality becomes the primary tool that we use to navigate powerlessness.

What an appropriate antidote spirituality can be to living through moments without power.

The use of our spirituality, while humbling and at some point drawing us closer to God, allows for our spiritual identity to be enriched. We can see ourselves grow in spiritual maturity when we see that we turn to God and trust Him during those difficult times. The pressure we put on ourselves to fix a humanly unfixable situation can be alleviated because of our faith which is based on prior experiences when God brought us through difficult times. We rely on those memories of overcoming and can then become empowered by the trust and dependency we have on God who does have the power to turn a powerless situation around.

Using Spirituality as a means of Navigation in a Graduate Setting

To go from powerlessness to empowered is a journey that often involves questioning, surrender, and finding your way by using faith. Faith varies for many, but it often involves believing in something meaningful that reassures us and gives us hope. My faith is in God, which is the case for many African American women. Spirituality is an important and viable part of the lives of African American women. Spirituality has also been used by African American female Pastoral Counselors In Training (PCITs) to navigate experiences of powerlessness within their training programs.

One example, was when a student faced the powerless situation of potentially failing a course due to challenges in understanding the content to the satisfaction of the professor and due to not being heard in class. She received feedback that she had done poorly on some assignments and was informed to seriously think about whether the program was the right fit for her. She also experienced her comments or contributions to class discussions to be regularly dismissed and disregarded. She described going from anger at the audacity of the professor who discouraged her from continuing in the program to feeling defeated and powerless. While she was informed about her grades on assignments, she was not given feedback on what she could do differently. With her voice not being heard, she questioned what she could do to rectify the situation.

She ultimately allowed herself to fully feel her feelings and gave herself time to process them in prayer and worship (staples of her spirituality). She sought God’s guidance and surrendered the problem and outcome to God. She found herself receiving encouragement from many sources. She received encouragement from peers who witnessed the professor’s disregard towards her and encouraged her to meet with her professor. She received empowerment from other professors who pointed out both areas of strength and growing edges to help her improve. She also was supported by her church members who pitched in to help tutor her.

Through prayer she decided to meet with her professor, simply to share her experience. To her surprise, when she met with her professor, she received clarification regarding the intent of his feedback and they were able to discuss ways in which she might access more support. She accepted the encouragement and support and did better on her next assignment, even receiving positive and constructive feedback from her professor regarding her work and her academic growth.

A Common Experience

Other African American female PCITS expressed similar situations where they went from powerlessness to hope and empowerment because of their spirituality. With spirituality being such a core part of their integrated identity (spiritual, personal, and professional identities), they summoned their faith as the primary means of traversing those difficult feelings that arise with powerlessness. Their spirituality emboldened them, comforted them, redefined their own sense of power as a double minority (race and gender), and aided in their professional growth.

So, while powerless experiences can be painful to endure, they also can lay the groundwork for spiritual closeness as one draws closer to God, seeking Him first as a source of help and power. Perhaps there is some benefit to those experiences of powerlessness as they aid in the formation of counselors in training and strengthen the spiritual identity of students.

“Sometimes we become closest to God in the moments where we experience powerlessness and have no other option than to seek the One who has all power.”


When have you utilized spirituality to navigate experiences of powerlessness? In your pursuit of your calling, when have you felt powerful, empowered, or powerless? What helped you in those moments?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *