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.

Learning about grace

Confession: Idiocy is one of my infirmities.

in·fir·mi·ty

noun, plural in·fir·mi·ties

a physical weakness or ailment, lack of strength, a moral weakness or failing.

I often ask Jesus to forgive my sin, but where to go with my stupidity? I know He will pardon my transgressions, but I’m always suspicious He’ll let me hang for my folly.

People suffer from my mistakes! even when I commit them in innocence. And I suffer! My life can be forever changed by the thoughtless choices of 15 minutes.

…surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…

I know God is in charge, but what if I messed up His plan by doing something really Dumb?

If you identify at all with what I am saying, read over that last question a few times out loud, not like a parrot, but slowly, with different inflections. Now.

…who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree: by whose stripes ye were healed…

By the time you get to the seventh repetition, you will hear yourself, and start laughing or crying. If God is in charge, how can there be a but…? I am simply not that big.

…himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses…

Can it be that redemption of Jesus is for idiots as well as sinners? I cannot be wise any more than I can be good.

…of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption…

Today (like yesterday) (and the day before) I must place my faith in a God who carried to the cross all my weakness, a God large enough to wrap the foolishness of millennia into one perfect plan.

 “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.