Thursday, April 11, 2013

When I Am Weak . . .

Who among us likes being weak? If I asked for a show of hands – and could see them – it’s doubtful I’d find many uplifted palms. We praise and exalt the strong. The ones adept at “pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.” The ones achieving with a “can-do” spirit, that insist, “I’ve got this.” History is filled with noble stories of “self-made” men and women, strong people who weathered adversity, conquered considerable odds and overcame obstacles.

They don’t erect statues to weak people. Bullies prey on the weak, which we know is wrong, but society doesn’t seek out the weak to accord lofty status. More often than not, we offer pity. We try thinking and acting toward them with compassion. But when we’re pursuing candidates for President, corporate leadership or superstar status, “the least of these” need not apply.

Weight machines and free weights
help us to stave off weakness.
So if there’s one thing we fear, it’s weakness. It’s not in vogue – and never has been. But the strange reality is, the nature of the human condition is that weakness is not an option – it’s a certainty.

It’s not often that I get sick, but a couple of weeks ago, I became ill with a virus or some other non-fatal malady. Down for the count for nearly a week. Achy, coughing, feverish, feeling like all my energy had been poured into a bucket and then someone kicked it over.

I spent a lot of time lying down because standing up was too great an effort. Quite a blow of my sense of self-sufficiency. And I felt…weak.

Of course, acute illness is not the only source of weakness. It can be chronic physical disability, or simply the process of wearing down with advanced age.

Recently a friend’s father, a prominent and high-respected member of the medical community, died. During much of his life he was renowned for his surgical skills, and made key contributions to benevolent and philanthropic causes. However, in his last years he suffered from major health issues and his quality of life diminished greatly. Even medical expertise has its limits.

Weakness isn’t limited to the physical body. We feel weak when confronted by any life circumstances outside our control – formidable job or career challenges; serious family problems; overwhelming financial hardships; the sometimes-debilitating stress of everyday life. Times when “I can do this” isn’t the right answer. So what do we do?

There’s the school of thinking that would advise, “Suck it up,” “just deal with it,” or “get over it.” Tough words – and often totally unhelpful.

I’ve discovered weakness isn’t necessarily the liability it’s portrayed to be. Weakness – becoming unquestionably aware of one’s limitations – is humiliating. But it can also be very freeing. We can stop kidding ourselves that we can do it all.

And when we reach that point, we can legitimately ask, “If I can’t do it, who can?”

The Bible, the most candid of mankind’s holy books, speaks much about weakness. And most of its central characters learned to embrace it rather than flee it.

For instance, the apostle Paul, whose life and ministry were anything but easy, made this observation late in his life: “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 gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

King David of Israel, a man of great wealth and power, had also learned through his own struggles where to turn when weakness asserted itself: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Psalm  118:14).

In fact, according to Paul, God seems to delight in using human weakness to manifest His own strength: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength…God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:25-27).

There’s a saying that when you’re flat on your back (physically or figuratively), there’s no place to look but up. Experience has taught me that’s not a bad thing. As Paul observed, “I can do everything through (Christ) who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

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