Liberating Weakness

Have you noticed we live in a world that scorns weakness? Evolution tells us life is about the survival of the fittest. The weak disappear while the strong survive. Our culture tells us that happiness, success, and security are for those who have the strength to raise themselves up out of any hardship. If we have more money, more fame, more stuff, or more power we can conquer anything.  We believe weakness means being abused, used, lonely, and miserable. It means you are out of control. To be useless and powerless means bondage, so liberating weakness becomes the driving force of our actions and reactions.

Kelly Clarkson’s song, “What doesn’t kill you (stronger)” powerfully conveys our fear of weakness and our wish for strength and control.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger
Just me, myself and I
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone

These words show the belief we all have that weakness leads to heartache and pain. When I’m weak I’m at the mercy of others. When I’m strong no one can harm me.  I stand tall. I’m never lonely. I’m liberating weakness, my weakness.

As I write this I’m very mindful that I have lived as if I need to liberate the weakness in my life. As a follower of Jesus I’ve acknowledged that I am helpless to fix my brokenness. I need the gift of His grace to make me whole. Yet on a daily basis I live as if loving and serving Him means I have to personify steady strength.  I run from my weakness. When I can’t run anymore I hide. When I can’t hide anymore I avoid it. And when I can no longer avoid how weak I am I try to cover it up. All the while the strength I long for beckons, yet vanishes like a mirage in the desert. Rather than bringing freedom, pursuing strength has left me in bondage.

It shouldn’t surprise me that the Bible has a lot to say about strength and weakness. Its message blows my preconceived ideas of strength right out of the water.  Listen to the words of Paul.

But he (God) 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.[1]

Rather than attempting to liberate my weaknesses I’ve found liberation IN them. Freedom comes not from pursuing strength but from pursuing the One who is strong. The more I acknowledge my utter helplessness and look to Christ, the more His power rests upon me. This is the power of liberating weakness.

The world tells me to grow stronger,

Be more independent every day.

But I find that I grow weaker.

Or more like it, I become more aware

Of the weakness that’s always been there.

Yet the weaker I become

The more of Your strength I find.

When I’m lost in the dark,

Your beauty shines.

The less I can handle, the more I see

Your grace really is sufficient for me.

[1] 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)


The Terror of Quiet Stillness

One of the joys of life for me these past months has been to go to my favorite little café two or three times a week. There’s something special, or maybe sad, about not having to place my drink order. The women who run the café see me coming and automatically begin preparing my beverage of choice (tall spiced chai latte). I sit down with a book or two, sometimes three, and enjoy a few hours or reading, writing, or reflecting on the latest Facebook updates.

The other day as I was contemplating words of wisdom as posted on Twitter, I noticed a plaque sitting on the shelf across the table from me. It read, “Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”  I had read it before, but its message struck me afresh as I sat there.  I saw it as a message of quiet stillness. Ironically, as I read it, I was facing my open laptop, had a few books to the side, could hear the soft buzz of conversation around me, and was listening to the jazz-like music coming from the café’s radio. Why am I, why are we, afraid to sit and think? I wonder if the fear for many of us isn’t in sitting and thinking but in the quietness that will inevitably go with the stillness.

There’s something terrifying about quiet stillness. I’m afraid of it because I’m afraid of what I’ll hear when there’s no noise to drown out a whisper. When the world around me grows still and becomes quiet, the whispers in my head increase to a shout. I’m bombarded with anxiety, feelings of failure, guilt, and regret. My brokenness and inability to live well seem to mock my feeble attempts to find meaning and purpose. So I keep myself busy. I fill my time with noise. Some of the noise is good and worth listening to.  But all too often its white noise that subtly grates on my nerves and leaves me feeling hollow. Where can a girl find relief?

I have discovered that the relief I long for lies in the quiet stillness I fear. Yes, when I am quiet I am attacked by the noise of my brokenness and disappointments. Yet in the quiet I am also met by the One who fills the silence with the peace of His presence. When I sit quietly and think I discover that God has much to say that I need and long to hear. His voice does not fill me with empty white noise. His words bring life, healing, and refreshment to my soul. The words of Jesus are like cold water to my parched nerves, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”[1] As He quiets me with His love and I learn to trust the truth of His voice, I find strength.[2] I have discovered that quiet stillness is a place of deep intimacy with the God who has redeemed my brokenness. And so, I’m not afraid to sit awhile and think.

[1] Mark 6:31

[2] Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah. 30:15

Where Were You?

“Where were you?” It is a common question. Parents in fear ask it to their child who wanders off. Spouses ask it when the one they love comes home late with no good explanation. The question is anxiously pondered when communication with a friend is suddenly cut off. It’s a question that often acknowledges unmet expectations. More than simple curiosity, it communicates doubt and mistrust, an admission that a loved one’s behavior is out of character. Is this person who I thought they were?

The Apostle John records a moment in history when Jesus heard the question, “Where were you?”[1] Jesus had three intimate friends in Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. One day Lazarus became deathly ill. It is easy to imagine the fear and anxiety Martha and Mary experienced. The life of their beloved brother was draining away before their eyes. Their hope of security in a male dominated culture was threatening to disappear. What could they do? In their need they turned to Jesus, the one who loved them and whom they loved. “Lord, the one you love is sick.” With confidence and expectancy they sent their message to Jesus. They were full of hope that he would come and fix their brother. He was the Christ, the Healer, and their friend. Of course he would come!

But Jesus didn’t come. Lazarus continued to grow worse until, to the sisters’ shocking grief, he died. Why had Jesus abandoned them in their greatest time of need? He claimed to love them. Yet he ignored their cry for help in their most desperate hour. They longed for his presence and words of comfort. Instead, they his absence and the deafening silence of death.

What would the sisters have thought if they could have seen into the mind of Jesus, perceiving his motives and intentions? John informs us that Jesus was fully aware of all that was taking place. He purposefully delayed going to see Lazarus. He stated that “This illness does not lead to death,” yet Lazarus died! He knew the suffering of sickness and the pain of death Lazarus was facing. He knew the grief of loss, fear of the unknown, and agony of perceived abandonment his friends were experiencing. And still he waited. What kind of love waits like this? What kind of friendship hears about the suffering of loved ones and does not run to offer healing and comfort?

Days after Lazarus had been laid to rest, Jesus arrived to see the sisters. Martha, with all the agony of a broken heart that comes from deep love ran to him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Where were you?!

Most of us have asked this question in the pain of sudden abandonment by a trusted friend. You are afraid of the answer, but love will not let you remain silent. And so you ask, “Where were you?” For Martha, when hope seemed buried with her brother, she chose to cling in faith to the Jesus she knew. “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She chose to trust in the love of Jesus even when His love seemed absent.

To this grieving woman’s trust Jesus gave one of his greatest promises. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Then to the joyful wonder of Martha and Mary the Resurrection and the Life restored the life of Lazarus. The illness did not lead to death. Jesus had been their loving and faithful friend through the valley of the shadow of suffering.

Just a short time later Jesus went to the cross. In agony he cried, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” He died with the crushing weight of the world’s sin resting on his shoulders. Yet, like Lazarus, the story did not end in death. The Resurrection and the Life rose again and lives! He lives and he offers life to all who turn to him and believe.

The love of Jesus sees beyond the momentary afflictions of the present to the greatest good of the future. His love does not end in death but in life. Will you trust him to bring life tomorrow out of death today? Though he tarry, will you wait for him? The Resurrection and the Life has promised that “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” The question Jesus asked Martha nearly two thousand years ago is the question he asks us today, “Do you believe this?”

[1] John 11