Summary: We live in a culture that glorifies strength, but God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. What does this mean for us in the church?
Strength In Weakness
New Year’s 2009
Wildwind Community Church
December 27, 2008
Question for you: can you think of a single area of your life where you would like for people to see you as weak? I know – me neither. I mean, I’ve never had a problem letting people know I’m not perfect (big surprise, right? – we always think others don’t know!), but vulnerability has its limits. I don’t want to be weak, and in those areas where I am weak, I definitely don’t want others to know I’m weak! But as I look back on 2008 I realize it will be defined as one of the hardest years of my life – a year where I have maybe grown more than in any other year – a year defined, for me, by weakness – by inability to be the person I wanted to be – by inability to manage my image and be in control and keep the lid on – by vulnerability that came not out of some glamorous desire to set an example for anybody but from getting to a place where weakness was all I had left. In 2008 the usual techniques that I depended on to uphold my image of myself as strong and independent and the go-to answer man just stopped working. I don’t know how else to say it. I wrote a song years ago with a lyric that I never really understood until this past year – “I finally came to the end of myself, and found myself in the middle of nowhere.” I wrote this in the sense of coming to a place where all your tricks and tools for staying put together don’t work anymore. You come to the end of you, and you realize you’re out there in the open – vulnerable before God and maybe a few of your closest friends and/or your spouse. You can’t keep from looking weak anymore because you realize that you really are weak and you either have to face up to it or else live falsely for the rest of your life.
I mean, talk about finding, facing, and following the truth. Dang! It hasn’t been easy. It began last summer when I was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. Eventually the week I dreaded came up where I had to preach on Matthew chapter 6 where Jesus tells us not to worry about anything. That was a decisive week for me because I had to confront the issue of whether I would stand up here and talk to you about your fears and worries, and how God has everything in control, without mentioning my own lifelong inability to deal with fear. I could stand here and preach the truth to you and ask you to face it, or I could face the truth about my own struggle with fear and decide to deal with it. This was a tough decision for me. I have lived with shame all of my life because of fear. I mean, here’s the teacher and spiritual leader and counselor who others come to for help, and yet with all of my faith and all of my experience and all that I know about how to help other people, I have not been able to help myself. How shameful, right? How embarrassing. How WEAK!
At first I thought I could gloss it over. God knows I’ve done that before. I could talk about specific things I’ve been afraid of at specific times and make it look like it has been a manageable thing – something that has annoyed me, but not something that has controlled me. When something annoys you you’re still in control. When something controls you – well, you’re weak. Right? So maybe I could limit the fears I talk about to just the ones I’ve successfully dealt with, or just the ones that seem rational and aren’t embarrassing. Then I could keep being the spiritual leader who is so bold and vulnerable and admits his flaws to other people (and gets credit for it), not the weak, fearful person who is a mess because of this area of his life that is crippling – where I have been unable to be the person I aspire to be – the person I preach to you that you can be and should be.
Most of you probably don’t know what a huge moment that was for me, when I decided to tell you that I was preaching to you about the area of my greatest weakness. It was very much like the time a few years back when my MS got so bad that I couldn’t hide it anymore, and I couldn’t manage it and make everybody feel okay and comfortable about it, and I limped into church with my cane, and my wife and girls helping me stand up. Now this thing everybody knows is there is suddenly real, and it’s in your face, and it’s ugly and uncomfortable and awkward, and it’s time to deal with it or else stay at home out of sight where I’ll be more comfortable and everyone else can be comfortable, but it’s not real. And you’re sitting there tonight and you’re listening to this, and you’ve got that area in your life – that area that’s embarrassing, even shameful. That area that you feel you desperately need to manage – to minimize – to keep from making other people feel awkward and uncomfortable – to keep from being embarrassed or ashamed – that gaping sore that no one can really make better anytime soon, and that’s an inconvenience to have to deal with but it’s there just the same. Maybe it’s what Parker Palmer calls a secret hidden in plain sight – it’s a part of you that’s ugly and humiliating, and that you conveniently try to keep everyone else from seeing, and maybe that you try not to see yourself. Is it time? Is it possible that the last weekend of 2008 might be the last weekend that you are stuffing that thing, trying not to deal with it, telling yourself it’s normal and everybody’s dealing with something? See the night I preached to you about worry and fear and anxiety, and told you about the ridiculous things I’ve been afraid of, and talked about the pain and the embarrassment of it all – that was a night I decided not to live in falsehood. And I didn’t know that night how deep the rabbit hole was going to go.