Are you traveling the way of weakness?
It's a path many of us do not want to take. Nor willingly choose. Or want to be dragged down.
When I was a kid, I vividly remember reading ads in the back of my comic books that warned me not to be a skinny weakling who got sand kicked in my face at the beach.
This was really important advice for me because I grew up on the beach and there was a lot of sand. The potential for getting sand kicked in my face was very high.
Weakness is not the American Way. You better be strong in the classroom, the courtroom and in the board room or be prepared to eat a lot of sand sandwiches.
To be weak is to be powerless. Unfit. Unqualified. Vulnerable.
You show your cards and you'll get the royal flush. Stand next to the curb of vulnerability and you'll get thrown under the bus.
Weakness is not good. Especially if you're trying out for club soccer, Little League or the NFL.
From our earliest days, none of us aspire to weakness. In elementary school, if you're weak, you get to be a hall monitor or help out in the library. If you're an impish computer geek, the one advantage is that you just might someday become a Silicon Valley billionaire tech oligarch. Someday . . . maybe.
Don't get me wrong. I like strength and plenty of it. I love strong coffee. I want strength in our soldiers. We all want strong fireman to be able to pull us out of a burning car. We want a strength coach to show us how not to hurt ourselves in the gym.
Strength is good, but I'm not talking about physical strength or my abhorrence of weak, tepid coffee.
All that kind of strength is necessary and needed.
The kind of weakness I'm talking about is how you feel when you're going through a really difficult time.
When you've sobbed so much, you've got snot running down your face and you feel emotionally wrung out and strung out from taking life on the head like a rock slide.
Nobody wants to feel THAT kind of weak.
Last week, I wrote a post called Living at the Pace of Grace. In it, I wrote about the difficult time that my wife, my family and I have been going through the past month. It seemed to have really struck a nerve. I threw myself out there and said, "I'm struggling!"
And the response was simply beautiful.
So many kind and compassionate words and prayers.
It's like everyone was saying a collective, "You too?!"
Through phone calls, on my Facebook wall, in personal emails and here in the comment section, so many shared their own stories of seasons of struggle, weakness, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control.
So many of you really related to the idea and importance of slowing down during tough times. To taking a deep breath. Letting go of your expectations. Or need to control. Or of murderous thoughts because you're so angry for the place you find yourself in. Yes, M-U-R-D-E-R.
A kind word or phone call are just a couple of the amazing gifts from God that arrived right on time — little graces throughout the day — when I found myself in a fog of confusion, unable to put two words together in a simple prayer like "Help me."
Living at the pace of grace (though I wish there was another way) is teaching me that the way of weakness is grace. All the grace we need is available right now. In this moment.
Which, I for one...if I'm really honest... is so contradictory to how I live most of my life.
The American Way, for the most part, is about exalting myself.
Be Numero Uno. Be Bullet-Proof. Be Self-Made.
Oh my, I've tried to be self-made and the results are terrible. So bad, it's laughable!
The Apostle Paul offered a completely different perspective on this.
I boast in my weaknesses...
Really? In many American churches today, that comment would not bode well in a job interview, a bible study, or at the donut table after church. Hmm... we thought you'd be further along by now.
I so relate to the Israelites. Long, circuitous routes for 40 years.
Back to Paul. He would certainly not get offered a job on church staff or invited on the elder board or lead a ministry. Though he might get asked to be a parking volunteer?
Listen into Paul's story... his struggle... his puny weakness...
In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given 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's why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I'm weak, then I'm strong.
What a wimp! What a weakling!
Or, as Paul tells his story, is something else at play here?
Is Paul strong because he's willing to admit weakness? That he doesn't have it all together?
I think so. It's crazy I know. Paul delights in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and in difficulties.
Weakness and living with powerlessness makes no sense at all unless we have Jesus' presence and promise that his grace is sufficient for us. His power is made perfect in our weakness. A complete u-turn from the independent-of-God-American-spirit.
You want strength? It's found traveling along the way of weakness.
You want more power during tough times? God's power is made perfect through your weakness. You think you need more power and more strength?
You have enough already... God's grace is sufficient for you. There's more than enough for today. That doesn't mean you'll feel good right away, but His grace will get you through today. I've felt really wobbly quite a few days the past month, but hey, I'm still standing. That's all I need for today.
Along the way of weakness, the good work is that through God's power, we learn perseverance and strength and resilience as we rely on the grace of God.
Sound confusing? I know it is.
The paradox of God's grace in the midst of weakness completely exposes and unravels my insipid self-sufficiency. It's like I'm the guy in the circus who gets shot out of the cannon who thinks he needs no safety-net. I've got this God. No need to ask for help. I can land on my own two feet.
All of this makes absolutely no sense except for one thing: Jesus had a good word for Paul.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Jesus spoke to Paul with gracious, loving words. And I believe in all of our struggles and suffering and weakness and powerlessness, He has gracious, loving words for you and I too.
He may simply repeat himself, "Look what I said right here, 'My grace is sufficient for you.'"
He may offer you a reassuring, "I love you."
Or confidence of His presence, "I'm with you."
Or get really playful, "Let's go paint the color purple."
Or say something delicious, "Let's get a scoop of chocolate ice cream. You and me kid!"
Take a few minutes to get quiet. Be open. Be childlike. A son. A daughter. Ask Jesus.
In my weakness, what do you want to say to my heart?
Jesus has the gracious, loving words to revive your flailing heart. He knows exactly what you need to lean hard into hope and what really makes your heart come alive.
If nothing came, give it time. Cultivate listening to Jesus. Be on the lookout for what he might say to you later today or tonight before you go to bed. It may come through a friend. Something you read or watch. A still small Voice. Simply giving your heart space to be quiet for a moment is a really good thing for your heart and soul.
Don't be too hard on yourself or Him.
As I like to tell others, "Give yourself a lot of grace and space."
Jesu knows exactly what a busted-up heart is all about. He's ready to wipe the tears from your eyes.
And the sand.
You're not a weakling for hurting. You're a human with a beating heart.
Weakness really is the path to wholeness.
And you're stronger than you think you are.
His power is made perfect in your weakness.
If that's not a gift of grace along the way of weakness, I don't know what is.