You sense it. I sense it. We all sense it. It's that pressure from society that tells us we have to be strong. It's that pressure from society that tells us we have to have it all together, that tells us we have to look our best, be our best, outperform everyone else, and just generally be awesome in every possible way.
And if society isn't telling us to be strong, then we're telling ourselves that we have to be strong. We believe we have to be the best parent, the best spouse, the best friend, the best worker, the best whatever, and there is absolutely no room for error.
And if for some reason we can't be this perfectly strong person, we buckle down and give into depression, despair, and guilt. We trick ourselves into believing we live in a world made up of people who have it all together, and if we can't have it all together, too, then we're failures. We either stop trying and succumb to mediocrity--or worse, or we put on a bold face, try harder, and proclaim to the world that we are STRONG.
Sometimes these proclamations don't come in words. Sometimes we proclaim our strength by putting on our best clothes and make up, trying to look the part that we're playing. Sometimes we proclaim it by doing things to attract attention. Sometimes we proclaim it by trying to make others look weaker than us. Sometimes we proclaim it by attacking anything that threatens our facades of strength, or anything that even suggests that we're not like all those imaginary people who have it all together.
It's not fun being weak. It means we can't save ourselves. It means that we have to rely on others--when it often so much more pleasant to be the person upon which others rely. It means we have to face the ugliness in the mirror as being our own. It means that we are broken, and it means that we can't do a blasted thing to fix our own brokenness.
When we reach that place of brokenness, it's often easier to pretend it isn't there. It's often easier to proclaim, however it is we proclaim it, that WE ARE NOT WEAK; WE ARE STRONG. It's comforting to hear ourselves proclaim this, but after a while, our own voice sounds pretty unconvincing. There's no truth to it.
We aren't strong. We are weak.
Paul was a pretty awesome guy. He spoke eloquently; he was a good leader. He knew what he believed and knew how to speak and write about it. He was a Law-abiding Jew, one who had studied the Law and upheld it, one who had been through much persecution and prevailed. Yet, Paul knew that he was weak, and he did not run away from it.
"...there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (emphasis mine)
I think sometimes we'd like to rewrite what Paul said there. I think we'd like to say, "...I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me, and immediately He did. He said to me, "Because you belong to Me, I'm going to give you strength so you can be strong and never have to deal with weakness again." Therefore, I will boast that I am STRONG, because power rests on me. That is why, for my own sake, I delight in being strong. For I. AM. STRONG."
Sounds great...but that's not what Paul said.
I've been spared from a lot of hardship that other people have had to face, but I've suffered some rejection in my life. I've been rejected, and that rejection has become part of my identity. When I look in the mirror, part of what I see is named "Rejected." It would be comfortable to deny this part of myself, but I won't deny it, and I don't believe Christ denies it.
"Rejected" isn't the only name I have, nor is it the most important name I have. The most important name I have is "Beloved Child of God." When I look in the mirror, that identity overwhelms everything else that I see. It's just that when God claimed me as His child, He didn't remove the rejection. He doesn't deny what I've been through or the pain it has caused me. He hasn't fixed that broken part of me and made it all shiny and new so that everyone who sees me sees something perfect and strong.
See, one of the things that I find the most confusing about God is that He doesn't love us in spite of our weakness. He just loves us. He loves us as we are. He doesn't give us His strength and just banish all the pain of our past, present, and future. He gives us His strength daily to live for Him within the contexts of our weaknesses. I can be "Rejected" and "Beloved" all at the same time, just as Paul could be "Weak" and "Strong" at the same time.
"Rejected" isn't my only name, my only weakness. I'm far too easily discouraged. I'm overly sensitive. I have no tact. I don't speak well--especially not in situations where I'm uncomfortable. I have a short fuse. I get emotional too easily. I freak out when I don't know what's expected of me or if I don't know how to behave. I have no gumption. I use the word awesome too much. I make poor decisions and let people walk all over me. I AM WEAK.
God is using me--not in spite of all these things. He's working through them, using me as I am, using even my weaknesses for His glory. I have no gumption, and I'm easily discouraged, but I still believe that I'm going to get my writing published someday. When I do, I won't be able to praise myself for my talent or myself for the process of getting published. I'm weak, but I serve a God who uses the weak and foolish to shame the strong and wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). That's my only hope, yet that is a great hope.
I believe that God can and does receive glory through all of the things that He's allowed me to walk through, both the good and the bad. If I were perfect, if I'd never been hurt, if I was able to do everything right and never mess up, if I just had a holy dose of strength that never allowed me to be exposed to weakness or pain again, then I would think that I have no need for Christ's daily provision. And I don't think Christ would be glorified in a pious people continually walking in perfect strength. Rather, I think Christ is more glorified through a group of needy individuals who reach and strive daily for Him and His grace.
I'm not strong. I am weak. And I can boast about that, not because there's anything amazing about me--but because my God is amazing. He redeems my weaknesses and gives me strength in the midst of them.
I'd like to share a video by a guy named Jason Gray. Jason Gray is a pretty cool guy, from what I've seen and heard. He's got so much better guitar skills than I'll ever have, and he's got an amazing voice. At least, he's got an amazing voice when he sings. Jason Gray has a speech impediment. He stutters uncontrollably while he's speaking, but the impediment does not affect his singing at all. In a world that shuns weakness and embraces strength, it might be easier for Jason Gray to keep the talking to a minimum and just sing. But he does speak about his stuttering--he stutters about his stuttering. He proclaims his weakness, boasts in His weakness, knowing that God can use his example to encourage others and to give Himself glory. And God is using Jason Gray, not because he is strong, but because he's a weak person who can only be strong in Christ.
...and he has a really awesome purple plaid shirt. I also have an awesome purple plaid shirt. I think everyone should have an awesome plaid purple shirt...
So what are your weaknesses? What are some ways that God has worked through your weaknesses to reveal His perfect power?