What is Strength?
Strength. It’s something we all value. Weakness is hard for us to tolerate in ourselves and in others.
I think I’ve misheard the young woman sitting across from me as she tells me I’m incredibly strong. This coming from a woman who has been CEO of an organization, founded another project and stood her ground as a conscientious objector in the Israel-Palestine conflict. And she doesn’t really know anything about me.
Me? Strong? I’ve had a few people tell me this lately and each time it baffles me.
I sit there thinking that if only she knew, she would for sure not be saying that. If only she knew that only a short time ago, I had months that shipwrecked me in so many ways with their numerous pressures, as if the world were shifting under my feet, an insecure and unstable place. And, even more, if only she knew how insecure and, at times, unwise I’ve been in the process!
I figure it’s best not to tell her all of that, so I smile and say that it’s not really true, that she has done so much more. But it is her response that floors me: Only those who have known weakness and failure can truly be strong.
Was she reading my thoughts? I just try to smile politely in response and say my goodbyes.
However, I go home with her statement going through my mind.
But isn’t it so true? How easy it is to hide our weaknesses and to refuse to tolerate those who are weak or enduring tough times or who have tried and failed. Weakness, failure…We can patronize those in whom we see such traits without entering that place with them. Yet, only the truly strong can tolerate weakness since they have been there. A strong person can see the potential in someone when they don’t see it in themselves because they know what it is to make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak.
Strength that’s never been tested is simply a façade, a superficial veneer of easy successes and good presentation.
Maybe this is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the poor in spirit, (Matthew 5) and why Paul writes that divine power is found in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I have learned that there is strength to be found if I choose to cultivate it,
On the many days where I find myself drained and at my wit’s end, frequently tackling the daily routine alone with two kids, rising with them at 6 am until finally dropping into my own bed, wondering all the while if I am even doing a half decent job
Where I judge myself or am judged by others and have found myself lacking
When I fail, either in myself or others, and wonder if it’s even worth the effort
When the future seems dim and it’s hard to embrace hope
When standing for justice and peace puts me at odds with the majority of people around me, making it hard to relate to so many and it seems easier to simply be silent
When family feels like one more place I need protection from and not the source of refuge it is designed to be
- Finally, where, as a woman, too many men have menialised me or caused me pain from my childhood onward
Though difficult, the endurance and wisdom I can choose to gain from these things is invaluable. Even in places where I have been hurt, especially as a woman, I am given the strength to forgive rather than hold on to bitterness and the possibility to understand those who have been pushed aside or marginalized by a patriarchal society.
We are all incredibly weak and incredibly strong. Maybe wisdom is found in embracing and understanding both our strengths and weaknesses and becoming better for it.