One of the most important joys I have found in my weakness is the joy of knowing that I am not alone. I am not the only one. My weaknesses become all the more paralysing and hidden when I think I’m the only person struggling, that everyone else has it more together than me. It’s harder to be honest without fear of people staring at me as if I’m crazy, or jumping in to sort me out and tell me the right way of thinking and being. I have heroes of weakness who have, in a very real sense, made the world a gift of their weaknesses, who have been upfront and open about the struggles.
There is a slight trend in some of the Christian world to deny the worth of personal story, I’ve heard preachers say don’t talk about yourself too much, I’ve heard bloggers be worried about too much of themselves appearing in their blogs. I think, and I want to be generous here, that comes from a real concern not to encourage people to vomit their life stories to anyone who will listen (I doubt the people who encourage this way of being would ever even get close to this, they probably need to be encouraged to share more of themselves so that people can actually identify with them, but maybe that’s for another time…). There is a danger, as with any public medium that we can share stuff publicly to gain attention, to not have to deal with actual people interacting with us, or just because we want people to notice us. If I’m honest I’m very glad the internet wasn’t all that prominent back when I was a teenager and in my early 20s. I am sure I would have used it in this way.
I think though, there is a world of difference between people vomiting out their life story to anyone and everyone and making the world a gift of your story of weakness. It’s a good thing to be personal and honest with the struggles in your life. Of course we need to make sure we are sharing these first with real flesh and blood people we encounter in the everyday moments of our lives, but it’s a very real help to others to let them see the internal wranglings of our hearts as we wrestle with life and to see how we deal with the reality of the Maker of the Universe in the mix of that.
We are all broken people but most of the time it seems like in the church we live in denial of that. We equate maturity with not struggling rather than with living well in the midst of struggles. We think the best ones of those amongst us are those who have made it through the other side of struggles and now cope with life really well. We don’t allow for the long term in our weakness. Once someone has told us a weakness we expect change and change soon. We fail to recognise the long term patient nature of God who sees the joy and delight in five minutes less worry this week rather than all our worries taken away instantly. We are impatient people. We run out of grace with each other. We forget that bearing with each other is a long term life time call rather than an instant moment.
All of which leads me to delight in those that know this and share their weaknesses in the most helpful way ever. There are many people I love for sharing their weaknesses with the world, it’s always a relief to know people from long ago struggled with depression, despair and unbelief. It’s good to read the Bible and discover the crazy people God uses and works in and through. There are a few more contemporary people I love as well.
I’m going to start with the lovely Adrian Plass who is one of my long term heroes of weakness. He’s not self indulgent although much of his writing is about himself and how he battles to believe and keep walking with God. His struggles have helped me see that it’s ok not to have life all worked out at whatever age we are. Life is simply not a continuum of getting more and more competent at living. Life is messy, we develop new weaknesses as we go along, old stuff comes back to haunt us, new circumstances reveal new ways in which we realise we can’t get through this life in our own strength. Somehow Adrian Plass helps me remember that God is patient and kind with us in our weakness, that he is a reality in the broken mess of my heart and that I don’t have to have everything sorted out.
I like his kind of creed:
Creed- Adrian Plass
I cannot say my creed in words.
How should I spell
despair, excitement, joy and grief?
amazement, anger, certainty and
What was the grammar of those sleepless nights?
Who the subject? What the object? –
of a friend who will not come,
or does not come,
creates his own eccentric special dawn:
A blinding light that does not blind.
Why do I find you in the secret,
wordless places where I hide
from your eternal light?
I hate you.
I love you.
I miss you.
I wish that you would go
and yet I know that long ago
you made a fairy tale for me
About the day when you would take your sword
and battle through the thicket of the things I have become.
Your kiss to life…my Sleeping Beauty
waiting for her Prince to come.
Then I will wake
and look into your eyes
And for the first time
I will not be dumb
and I shall
say my creed
Henri Nouwen is another man whose searingly honest writings have helped me recognise that I’m not alone in my struggles. His battle with the desire for approval from others, with over dependent friendships has helped me time and again. His clear desire through all his struggles to know God deeper and better in the midst of them has reminded me that God isn’t waiting for us to mature beyond our struggles but is right in the midst of them with us. The maturing process doesn’t involve taking these struggles away but teaches us how to live well in the midst of them, how to keep on getting up when we fall down and how to love the people around us through them. He writes things like this which make me very glad I’m not the only one.
“You must believe in the yes that comes back when you ask, ‘Do you love me?’. You must choose this yes even when you do not experience it.
You feel overwhelmed by distractions, fantasies, the disturbing desire to throw yourself into the world of pleasure. But you know already that you will not find there an answer to your deepest question. Nor does the answer lie in rehashing old events, or in guilt or shame. All of that makes you dissipate yourself and leave the rock on which your house is built.
You have to trust the place that is solid, the place where you can say yes to God’s love even when you do not feel it. Right now you feel nothing but emptiness and the lack of strength to choose. But keep saying, ‘God loves me and God’s love is enough’. You have to choose the solid place over and over again and return to it after every failure.”
(Henri Nouwen- The Inner Voice of Love)
More tomorrow on my most recent weakness hero.
Who are your weakness heroes?