By Josh Reinders
For a long time I have struggled with where my value comes from. I see what the definition of strength and success are in the world around me and I’ve gone looking for those things in my own life; my athletic ability, a girlfriend, my intelligence, my friendships, my successes in work. I have allowed all these things to define me and to define strength and success in my life. But when those things don’t measure up to those around me and when I find failure and weakness in my life, my self-worth and the confidence in who I am shaken. I begin to think I am not enough. Yet I am fearful of sharing this. I fear looking weak. Of not being strong or successful. On one hand, I do my best to look like I am successful and strong on the outside. On the inside, I begin to fall deeper and deeper into the idea that my strength is defined by my success.
We live in a culture that glorifies strength and success. From a young age we’re told that the things we do in our lives become the very things that we are defined by. Through grade school, we are judged by our grades. Those grades determine the schools we go to, and those determine the jobs we get. The jobs we get determine the money we make, and our success in those jobs leads to accomplishments we put down on paper and use to get other jobs—all in the pursuit of being more successful and accumulating more and more things we can show to the world around us. We’re told to use every strength we have to get ahead.
Social media is built on this concept of taking the successes and highlights of our lives and broadcasting it to everyone that are connected to us. Increasingly so, the world at large tells us that our strengths and successes come to define who we are. Society tells us that the things we should be showing those around us, are the things that make us strong. But there’s a dark side to this way of thinking. It begins to tell us that we aren’t enough the way we are.
We start to tie our accomplishments to our value as human beings. We begin to view our strength as the thing that makes us important or whole. We begin to post only our highlights of life on social media, and soon those highlights become the expectation of the norm. Our weakness is not desired, nor often accepted. If we can’t offer our best, our value to those around us is diminished. It begins to breed impossible standards, no matter how talented we are. We can never be good enough, never have enough success or strength. So we begin to sweep our weakness under the rug. We begin to hide it.
Yet the bible paints an entirely different picture about this idea of weakness and strength. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks about being given a constant thorn in his flesh to keep him from being proud. He talks about turning to the Lord and begging the Lord, three separate times, to have the thorn removed. He doesn’t boast about his strength, rather he begins to boast about that struggle (just a note, the Bible doesn’t give us details as to what this is),
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What Paul is describing here goes so against the grain of culture, it’s not even funny. In contrast to society, it is an utterly radical concept. He’s talking about taking the things in our lives that are weaknesses, and broadcasting and highlighting them. What’s more is that he says it is those very things that we don’t want to show to the world around us that Christ actually uses to give us strength. This strength is not a worldly strength, but one that comes from our reliance on Christ.
In Psalms 139:13-16, David writes,
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
And in Zephaniah 3:17 it says,
For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty saviour.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Paul knows that we can be secure in our weakness because we know God loves us. God created us with clear intent and care, and knew every day of our lives before we were even born; the successes and the failures. Even knowing all of this He chooses to delight and rejoice over us. That is an incredible picture of how the Creator of the universe sees us.
So what if we as a Church are called to create a community where we don’t need to hide our weaknesses. In contrast to the expectations of the world around us, when we encounter failure and when we are weak, we can actually exist in Christian community knowing that it isn’t those successes or failures that define us. Rather God’s love for us does. That idea is incredibly freeing. It allows us to no longer need to worry about our own success, or to compare our success to the success of others. No matter what I do, whether I succeed wildly or fail miserably, whether I’m more or less athletic or creative than the next person, whether or not I get a high paying job, my value isn’t in the things I do. Rather it’s in God’s love for me. And in sharing that, I can know that I am not alone in this world in feeling like I am weak. I am not alone in my struggles.
We are all weak. But we are also all deeply loved by the Creator. The radical concept of the Church is that we can put aside the fear of admitting weakness to one another because we can be secure in knowing that we are loved by our Creator. My strength is defined in Christ and Christ alone. And when we begin to boast in our weakness, it points us and others to Christ and his deep unfailing love for us.
I am weak. But I am also enough. In an almost contradictory way, the more I learn to share that in the community I have in my Church, the more I realize that it is true. I am enough in my weakness. And so are you.