Weakness and Strength

Have you ever had one of those awful years were difficulty follows problems follows heartbreak follows stress?

It’s been one of those years.

I think it began in May 2010 when my husband’s father died. At about the same time, I began to separate from my emotionally abusive family. I feel as if my family died as well as EJ’s father, but there was no body, no funeral, and no comforting family and friends to help me grieve. This June, EJ’s niece’s husband was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. We’ve also had to deal with EJ’s health problems, and stress at work, and various appliances that quit working, the roof that was damaged in a storm a few months after we finally got it fixed…well, maybe you get the idea.

We have all been battling stress, weariness, heartbreak, and discouragement. This week, I felt overwhelmed by it all, and ended up spending a day in my pjs crying and drowning my sorrows in a bowl of Bunny Tracks ice cream.

Then I reached out for help.

It’s not easy to share weakness. I think it feels like vomiting–I try to keep it down but there comes a time when it all comes up. It’s messy, ugly, weak, and humiliating. If I must vomit, I prefer to do by myself with no witnesses, and then clean myself up afterwards and appear ok.

There’s always risk in sharing struggles and weaknesses. There’s always some people who think that any sign of weakness or discouragement is an indication that you ARE weak and/or a rotten Christian instead of realizing that you are going through a rough patch and being honest about it. 2. There are other people who give advice that doesn’t apply and may make you feel worse. I think many of these people are genuinely caring, but they just don’t understand the problem. 3. Then there are people who have been crushed by the same sort of problems and heartaches and they deeply understand the pain of it. They are the most encouraging because they KNOW.

I think we are never always one type or another, although we can become more like some types than others. None of us ALWAYS understand EVERY difficulty people go through and sometimes we are clumsy in helping people through things we haven’t gone through. I think type 1 and 4 are similar and type 2 and 3 people are similar. Type 2 and 3 both care.  I remember, years ago a friend went through some difficult times, and I tried to be there for her. I really did care about her, but I didn’t really understand her pain. Then, a few years later, I went through similar difficulties, and she said something to me that I’ve never forgotten: “I always knew you cared, but now I know you understand.” That is the difference between 2 and 3. Both number 2 and 3 people care, but number 3 people understand.

The fourth type of person is the one who always try to be strong, who never shares weaknesses of any sort. They can seem to be very strong, but I think that a person who reveals only constant strength and perfection becomes unapproachable and makes others feel like failures. “THEY have it altogether, THEY are perfect Christians, and I’m a miserable failure,” But people who honestly share weaknesses become approachable. Many times when I have shared my weaknesses, struggles, and failures with others, I have heard them sigh with relief, “Oh, I thought I was the only one who struggled with this!” And other times people have said, “I came to you for help because I know you have struggled with this, and you understand.” I have also felt relief to find people who have experienced sufferings like I have. I like what Larry Crabb wrote in his book, The Safest Place on Earth:

Everything in spiritual community is reversed from the world’s order. It is our weakness, not our competence, that moves others; our sorrows, not our blessings, that break down the barriers of fear and shame that keep us apart; our admitted failures, not our paraded successes, that bind us together in hope. 

I want to pause here and say that when I was younger, I had people depend on my strength, and I tried to be always strong for them, so I know what this is like. God eventually crushed my strength and taught me about being vulnerable. I just want you to know that I understand that it’s never easy sharing weaknesses–it can be terrifying, in fact–and there is always the temptation to hide. These days, I try to share anyway, although sometimes it’s a battle. Often I am surprised by what happens next. For example, I mentioned my discouragement on a Facebook prayer group a couple months ago, and found a new friend who lives on the other side of the country who is going through the same sort of discouragement. We now encourage and pray with each other via telephone every week. I shared my emotional vomiting this week with the prayer group and a few on-line friends. Not everyone understood, but all cared. I felt embarrassed later, but I came right out and TOLD my friends that I was struggling with feeling that I was SUCH an idiot, and that everyone would think I was an emotional MESS. Then several of my friends told me that they are going through the same things, and we are praying for each other now and encouraging each other. I’m still fighting discouragement, but I’m FIGHTING it and not succumbing to it, and I don’t feel so alone.

I have pondered strength and weakness over the years, and here are a few things I have considered:

  • When we are strong, we have the wonderful opportunity to be used by God to give to those who are weaker. I think it’s a blessing to be able to help others.
  • However, no one is strong all the time, and when we are weak, we have the opportunity to learn humility, and to experience God providing for us through others.
  • A person who attempts to be strong all the time can become proud because he is “so much better than those lesser people who are weak.” No one is actually strong all the time, but those who hide their weaknesses become hypocrites. At times “always strong” people also can become resentful, feeling that people take and take and take from without giving anything back. And, in a way, such people attempt to become God–always strong, always “generous,” always the source of benevolence. These people need to remember they are NOT God, and they are not always strong–and they don’t HAVE to be always strong. Ok, so maybe people will struggle if they are not there to prop them up, but maybe then they will transfer their dependence and faith on GOD where it belongs.
  • A person who is content to be weak all the time becomes dependant on others, making them his god. He can develop a “poor me,” “victim,” “the world owes me a living” attitude. These people need to learn to give to others.
  • I think it is a blessing to be used by God to help others. It is a blessing to experience God’s provision through others. If we insist on being strong all the time, we never get to experience being helped by others–and I think we rob others of the experience of being use by God to help us. And if we insist on always being the weak victim, we never experience the blessing of helping others, and of being God’s blessing to them. We need to give and receive, to help and be helped, to experience strength and weakness.

And that is why, when I’m hurting and struggling, I try to let myself be helped, even though it feels ugly, messy, and humiliating, and there is the risk that some won’t understand. Because I’m not strong all the time, and sometimes I need help. I am also not weak all the time, so that I can help you when you are weak. This giving and receiving, sharing of strength and weakness, is what connects us, and makes us friends.

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