Weakness is hidden in our culture. It conjures up negative images. Chronic, and mental illness can feel like a curse, leaving us drained and tired of feeling weak.
The first time I heard the word weak used in a disapproving way was in reference to my mom when I was 13 or 14. Dad had called my older brother and me into the kitchen for a “talk,” which we can all remember usually meant bad news – either one of us was in trouble or someone had died! This time, however, dad told us he was taking mom to a local mental health hospital because he didn’t know ‘what else to do with her.’
Weak is a 4-Letter Word
During my lifetime, Mom had had many occasions of sickness when she couldn’t get out of bed, but when she was up and at it, Mom was a tiger. Mom ruled with an iron fist; nobody messed with Mom! Consequently, my young teen mind was shocked. I remember clearly saying to him, “But Dad, she’s so strong!” My 16 year-old brother scoffed at me as my dad said with a tone of weariness and disgust, “Dodie, your mom is weak…and she needs help.”
Note to self: Weakness is bad.
No Room For The Weak
Mental illness was a shameful, embarrassing thing in my parent’s generation. To a degree, despite all the publicity and “awareness,” people battling mental illness today continue to be treated as less-than, dismissed, and weak. Sadly, even in the church, Christians seldom disclose their struggle with mental illness or chronic illness, for that matter. As author and life coach Amy Simpson stated:
Some have actually shared their pain or their ongoing battle with a loved one’s illness. And now people keep their distance. No one asks, “How are you doing?” because they’re afraid to hear the answer. Maybe they experience the biting dismissal of trite sayings or admonitions to “just have more faith” or “pray harder.”
Why speak up when they are accused of being weak in faith? But, aren’t we admonished to be “strong in the Lord and the strength of His might?” (Ephesians 6:10, NAS). ‘Victory in Jesus,’ and all that? I could fill volumes with the sermons and songs I’ve heard concerning us having strength in the Lord. And I understand the need for encouragement to persevere in the dark hours – heck, even daily; believe me, I do.
However, what are we to do with our weakness, especially if we can’t share it with our fellow believers?
All of my older teen years and adult life I have hated, loathed weakness in me. Of course, unconsciously, weakness reminded me of my mother, her addictions and the way she manipulated us with her “illnesses.” Weakness ‘hooked’ me, as a therapist would say. I fought and raged against it, kicked back, pushed away from it. And my resistance was worse after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, when my own body worked against me. I felt betrayed!
But what am I to make of Hebrews 4:15-16?
Jesus Was Weak, Too?!
…Because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin. Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.
Hebrews 4:15-16, CEB
Right, right, Jesus was weak for a while, but He was God…
NO. No ‘buts.’
Brennan Manning implored that Christians “enter into the seriousness of this revelation, of the conjunction between priesthood [of the believer] and weakness…” in Souvenirs of Solitude.
How paradoxical this mystery is: The strength of the priesthood lies precisely in and through the weakness of our humanity. Why? For two reasons, I think. Weakness relates us profoundly to the people we serve; it allows us to feel with them the human condition, the human struggle and darkness and anguish that call out for salvation. Further, weakness relates us profoundly and apostolically to God because it provides the arena in which His power can move and reveal itself; His power is made manifest in weakness.
Weakness Invites God’s Strength
So, truly the question is: do I want His power manifested in me in order to serve others with humility? Or do I simply want my own paltry efforts, which continually frustrate and fail me? I can trade my feeble efforts in for the awesome power of God by surrendering my weaknesses to Him and trust Him to use them for His glory. It seems like an easy choice, but some days the old mental tapes and pride wage a mighty battle.
I wonder, sometimes, how long Paul pleaded with God to remove his ‘thorn in the flesh’. We are told he asked three times, but how long between each request? Was Paul as stubborn as I am? In light of eternity, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Paul heard and obeyed the answer from God:
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NKJV
I admit, I’m still learning to take pleasure in infirmities, reproaches and needs. At least I’m not kicking and screaming as much…and I’m thanking my Father more for this strange paradox of weakness leading to strength…
His strength perfected in weakness…may it be so, Lord Jesus.