Strength, weakness, presence

Thank you for your beautiful comments. You talked about the components so well. Personality. Failure. Life stages. Good strength versus bad strength. God’s strength versus our own. Well said!

Gina also shared some excellent thoughts here.

What is the opposite of strength? You mentioned many words—weakness, brokenness, battle, fear, surrender, helplessness, high-maintenance, infirmity, vulnerability.

Vulnerability is my personal favorite—the one I run from two miles away.

*****

Once upon a time I waited in a bathroom stall [my usual place of retreat in times of mental storm] for the courage to face a difficult situation.

It was a particularly unnerving situation, open to endless variation. It could turn out one way and be super. It could turn out another way and be okay. It could turn out–oh my–nearly infinite ways that would be shameful and embarrassing. And it could turn out one way that would be the most devastating of all.

The whole thing pivoted on the choices of a person I had never seen before, and on my own performance under stress.

I waited and prayed. “Please Lord make me strong. Help me to come to peace. This knot in my stomach must certainly go away before I can do anything… and must be a sign that I am not trusting you. Please make me strong.”

I prayed.

And gradually, as the conflict did not go away, I came to realize that it was impossible for me as a woman to enter such a situation in perfect calm. I was conflicted, and understandably so: a turmoil of secret hopes and fears. And so I began to change my prayer, from “Please make me strong,” to “Please protect my heart. I am a mess. I hope and I fear; I am powerful and vulnerable. Please help me to bring all of me into this situation. Let me be There. I trust that your Spirit will accompany me and cover my nakedness of soul.”

He did.

And I was not strong, but I was there, and I was in Him. The situation was intense. It turned out the one way that was most devastating of all, and He did battle for me as I cried all the way home.

Jesus does not need me to be strong. What do I mean? Through my whole life, there have always been people for whom I had to be strong. A little sister–(I knew that if we both cried at the same time, the world would cave in). A struggling friend—(I promised never to betray her secret). A frightened child—(When she runs to me panicking, she needs a stable Mommy to anchor to). This is not all bad, being strong for other people. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” But Jesus is the one person I never need to be strong for. Sometimes I think I do. When I have neglected Him in prayer I start coming to Him in the comforting and apologetic tone I would use with a family member I’ve temporarily forgotten. Sometimes I try to cover for Him and help solve His problems. That is all nonsense. He is the strong one, and I am a child.

But it begs the question—In how many situations would He carry me in my weakness, if I weren’t so busy Being Strong?

In Christ we have access to all kinds of power heretofore unknown. The power that raised Him from the dead dwells in us. His strength rests on us, empowers us. He carries our weakness in His body. As we go on together, we receive His strength into the very fiber of our beings, so that we are truly stronger than before and can do things we would once have run from. And yet He keeps us on the edge of ourselves. About the time we gain strength in [these] areas, He gently uncovers [several more] in which we are weak and must begin again. He seems to have a special grace for the weak, and each time I feel utterly worthless and undone (Oh Jesus, have I walked with you so long and yet still have so far to go?), He reaches with grace to tell me He sees me. He loves me. He has not given up on me.

You see I am not against being strong. I am against the need to be strong. I am against the careful avoidance of weakness.

Strength is a good word. And like other good words (love, grace, freedom), it’s open to infinite abuse, partly because we are human and like to twist things (undoubtedly by mistake) and partly because it is a word wrapped in paradox. (When I am weak, then am I strong.)

Sometimes when I’m focused on Being Strong—even when I am trying my best to stay “in His strength”—all I am really doing is putting on armor; turning off parts of my heart that do not measure up: my tears, my sensitivities, my desires, my fears.

All set. Chin up. I’m ready to face the situation.

I am starting to believe that true power is all about presence. We are shy of the “power” word, especially for women, but I mean it in a good way—as in “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Influence. Effectiveness.

When I go into a difficult situation determined to be strong, I often end very strong but not at all effective. I’m so busy holding it together that I can’t take hold of anything else–the hearts of the people around me, the lessons He wants me to learn, the gifts He’s offering. Alternately, if I go into a situation with my whole presence, with my fears and my desires and my potential for being hurt (which is all “vulnerable” means, really: I can be badly hurt because I don’t have my armor on)—there, ironically, is where my power as a woman lies.

The opposite of strong does not have to be “weak,” though that is a good word too and often used positively in Scripture (here), but “dependent” (not independent), “needy” (for Him and His people), “small” and “protected.”

While it is true that I grow in grace from strength to strength, it is also true that the more I access the strength of Jesus, the smaller and more dependent I become, a younger and younger child until the day I will be new born in Him, drawing sustenance from no other source. And this too is good.

12 thoughts on “Strength, weakness, presence

  1. I tend to think of, ‘Thy will be done’ as my “mantra”, so to speak, and if it’s not how I want it to be then that’s God pruning me for His will, but now you’ve really got me thinking about strength. I’m at a stage of life where my children are young adults and I know this is a safe place here, but I don’t want to over-share, and I’ll suffice it to say that perhaps their faith is not what I want to see sometimes. I really struggle with is it my job to change them or have I done all I could while they were young and now it’s God’s doing, or have I let Him down in some way? It sounds off-topic but I’m just saying it’s an area where I don’t feel strong and where I do a lot of praying. Sometimes though, I feel like He’s saying, “They’re not your children, they’re my children,” but I think He’s just trying to make me feel better. 🙂

    • I hear what you’re saying, and I think you said it discreetly and graciously. Thank you for the window into your thoughts; they are not off-topic at all. Seems like that stage of mothering will be almost the hardest of all–letting children become adults and make choices of their own. I’m sure you were a good mom. God is the perfect Father and was with your children every step of the way. What He is saying to you is true!

  2. My heart resonated a lot with things that you said.

    I disagree with something though – to be truly vulnerable is not the opposite of strength, it is a point of true strength. The same goes for surrender. And maybe even brokenness.

    When we authentically live our messy lives…or live in terrifying vulnerability…or live in absolute surrender to Jesus, giving up all that we are for all that He is and trusting…

    we are not weak, though we may feel so.

    We are stronger than ever.

    I love the verse, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

    What would it be like if we women really let the masks fall down and trust God enough to live authentically on our spiritual journey?

  3. I found myself nodding as I read this and the comments on your last post. I want my “strong” walls to come down. I want to be real, to be all present, vulnerable as it may be. And the times I’ve been able to do that, God has poured out blessing in a way He can’t when I have my heart all armored up. Thank you for these thought provoking posts! (And I loved your flue story. 🙂 )

  4. Lots of good stuff to mull here. I love the words that you share as the opposite of strong. Needy, small, protected. I wonder how often that my refusal to see my own neediness drives away God’s protection. A scary place to be.
    Gina

  5. This is a subject I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. I’m going to enter this conversation with trepidation, and a lot more questions than answers. I appreciate vulnerability, and have a very hard time relating to someone who is trying to be what they are not. On the other hand, I have become frustrated with the public lauding as “strong” any person who will bare every hidden scar, to the deepest personal detail, to the whole world in general. I realize that could be taken many ways, and in no way do I wish to hurt someone who has been willing to be honest. I love when people are willing to be specific about their struggles, to truthfully admit that there are times when they fail, and expose their weaknesses. I’m talking about what I have come to think of as a sort of nudity of the soul. Is it appropriate, or not? When I think about it in comparison to our bodies, I know that we expose our bodies, at different levels, to different circles, but would certainly never consider parading naked down main street. Are we losing a certain intimacy with the dearest people in our lives when we open up too much too publicly? But than I think about Job, and the psalmist David, and of very intimate poetry and stories that have had amazing impact on my life. Than I wonder, who were they writing to? Were they pouring out their heart to God in something they never realized would be read by the whole world? Is our deepest story better shared when we are no longer here to receive the glory? I’m just not sure. The previous generation talked about not hanging out your dirty laundry for the whole world to see. It seems that our generation has realized that there were some flaws to that theory, and have become more open. Have we fallen into the other side of the ditch? After all, we need to realize that they endured tragedy and disappointment as well, and somehow made it through. How? But then, how will we know, if they will not be vulnerable and tell us? As you can see, I’m going in circles with questions here. I’d love to hear some discussion on whether or not we can come to a balance on this, and how. Sorry this got so long. =-)

    • Yes! One of our church elders talks about “soul modesty.” This is something I too have not come to a really good resting place with. Good questions!

    • If you are the Becca I think you are 🙂 I just wish we could sit and chat about this in a coffee shop somewhere… 🙂

      I don’t pretend to have lots of answers, either, but I do have some opinions… 😉 (what’s new? ha ha)

      I think we can live vulnerably without shouting our entire lives from the rooftops and exposing the deepest part of our souls to everybody. But I think there is a great strength to living authentically – openly – vulnerably…being willing to tell our story, that is most holy and sacred.

      In a lot of ways, it seems to me to actually be in vogue, to have a bunch of secrets and “only be able to share this much”…and I am not saying that is never okay…or good… or right…or the best option…

      but I just wonder, is that the way we should live in community?

      • So I woke up this morning and was like… “What did I write last night?” I was getting interrupted from typing my thoughts and ended them so fast I couldn’t remember… 🙂

        To clarify: when I say that “it seems to me to actually be in vogue, to have a bunch of secrets and “only be able to share this much…” I do think there are times we can only share so much. In a recent relationship struggle I had, there were only two people outside of family who knew about the struggle and I wanted it that way, although this affected my personal life in some deep ways… to protect the integrity of my struggling relationship and the other person’s heart. Everyone and their brother do not NEED to know details…or even that there was tension in the first place. It would accomplish nothing, but possible damage. And THAT I did not want to happen.

        What I do wonder, if we can treat the journey of our own souls too sacredly? I am not saying that definitively, but wondering. I really believe that MY story is not really mine, but God’s…and for myself, usually the driving factor behind not sharing my story is fear. (Not saying there are never valid reasons, and I don’t believe that I need to share every minute detail with every last person.)

        I think there’s a fine line between using wisdom in sharing my soul story and using it as a power point in my personal life. Hopefully that makes sense?

        What does it look like to surrender my soul story to God? To offer it, to tell it (in appropriate forms and settings), to allow it to be used by Him? It looks like I have a lot of questions too. 🙂

        One thing I DO think… and you can correct me if I am wrong… but it doesn’t feel like vulnerability to me when we are controlling what we share through selective means…

        Poor Shari. I feel like I’m writing a blog post on top of hers. I guess I care more about this then I even realized…

        Grace.

  6. Thanks for sharing. It’s easy for me to make affirmative statements concerning your words. It’s much harder for me to live it in an affirming way, as in….to actually live vulnerably. Today.

Add a comment