I’ve been thinking a lot lately about strength and weakness, and what actually makes a person strong or weak. The older I get, the less confident I am that I actually know.
Historically, I would have defined strength based on many of my fictional heroes. Stoic and brave men and women (or elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc.) who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and fight their battles by the strength of their will and their ability to kick ass. I was the kid who was obsessed with sword fighting and battles, imagining myself taking on hordes of pirates or orcs with just my sword and my superhuman ability to take on an army single handedly. I channeled heroes like Aragorn, Peter and Edmund Pevensie, Jack Sparrow, and Luke Skywalker. I’m serious, if the character fought well with a sword (or lightsaber), I was obsessed.
Honestly, if it was socially acceptable, I would probably still go outside on a nice summer day and swing a wooden sword around pretending I was slaying an army of Uruk-Hai.
I’ve always loved adventure stories. I still do. I’m pretty sure I was actually convinced that some day I would be the everyman who gets whisked away into a grand adventure of magic, swordplay, and dark evil. Sometimes I still wish that would happen.
Unfortunately, real life has put a bit of a damper on many of those childhood fantasies. And while those tales of heroism are good, and those heroes admirable, they are an ideal. An exaggeration. Analogies for real life with plenty of applicable content, but with far more magic and epic heroism.
As I have grown into adulthood, I have experienced a rude awakening.
I am not a hero.
Really. That may sound surprising to those who know me, but I assure you, I’m really not.
In all seriousness though, I legitimately thought as a child that I would be what I then considered a strong person. I thought for sure that by my mid twenties I’d have mastered swordplay, saved and married a damsel (not that they need saving. Don’t worry, I’m not nearly as sexist now as I was when I was 6), and been a great leader of men. I did not think I’d be single, unsure of where my life is going, and about as coordinated and capable with weaponry as a drunk Jar-Jar Binks.
It’s been much harder to cope with than it should be.
Over the past few years I have found myself so quickly and easily coming to the end of myself. I can’t handle nearly as much as I think I should. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do not have the wisdom of Gandalf, the ability of Aragorn, the resolve of Frodo, or the bravery of Samwise, and I am completely unsatisfied with that truth. I constantly find myself shocked and disappointed with myself, thinking, “really?! This is what is breaking you right now? This is the end of you?”
I have been feeling unqualified, incapable, and just generally sub-par. How can I speak into my friends’ lives when I feel so unstable? How can I lead when I still have so much growing to do? How can I teach when I still have so much to learn?
While it is completely unhealthy to to let these thoughts make me spiral into self-condemnation and fear/anger/sadness, there is truth to it. A truth that with the right perspective can strengthen.
I was recently talking about this with a good friend of mine. I was telling him about how I felt inadequate to speak into others’ lives because I struggle in the same ways they do and don’t have answers for them. He looked at me and said, “that’s good. If you did, they’d look to you as their savior, and not to Jesus.”
Oh. Yeah… He had a point. I have been trying to be Jesus. Not like Jesus, but a replacement for Jesus. Both in my life and in others’.
Charles Spurgeon in his lecture The Minister’s Fainting Fits says, “As for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust… Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them. It is of need be that we are sometimes in heaviness.”
I am not Jesus. I am called to strive to be like him, but the minute I start trying to be him, I have stopped the progress. I cannot be Christ. I have weaknesses. I am insecure. I am incapable. I can’t fight my battles with a sword. I can’t even fight them with my own mental and spiritual prowess.
But that’s actually a good thing! Our weakness and inability are meant to humble us. Not to humiliate and debilitate us, but to make us recognize our dependence on Christ. He who knew no sin. He who is strong and capable. He who saves us. Our lack of emotional, mental, physical strength makes us depend on Christ for emotional, mental, and physical protection.
Spurgeon goes on to say that, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh.” Our calling is not to prove how capable and amazing we are, but to live and love self sacrificially, looking to and pointing others to Jesus, the perfect founder and perfecter of our faith.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
There’s a reason so many of the great stories have a moment where one of the heroes makes the ultimate sacrifice for his or her friends. It’s because, whether intentionally or not, it reflects the greatest act of heroism in history: Christ’s death on the cross to save us from our sins. Only his story has an even happier ending. He rose from the dead, defeating sin and death so that those who believe may one day be with him forever.
I am not a hero and I am not strong. But true heroism is pointing others to Christ, the hero of heroes, and recognizing my weakness makes me depend more on God, and that is true strength.