"You're the strongest person I know." "I admire your strength." I would be on a private jet to travel to the Maldives right now if I had a dollar every time I've had this said to me (you better start pitching into my Maldives travel fund if you're going to say this). *insert winky face* Yet, these types of comments make me cringe and sigh in slight frustration every time I hear one as they incorrectly cast me into the seat of strength. Don't get me wrong, I understand that the sentiment is intended as kind and thoughtful and maybe nothing else can be thought of what to say in times of hardship, but it couldn't be further from the truth. "You are so strong." No, my friend, I am not. I am weak. I am so weak that I do not know how to make it through the day on my own strength. It is impossible. My strength on all levels of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual is failing and limited. I cannot go forward on my own accord. Just as a beautiful sunflower cannot grow or survive the hard soil on its own power, it needs the sun's warm rays and fresh rainwater to help it grow. So I also need the Son to grow in my faith and survive life's hard trials.
My physical strength falters after simply taking my morning hot shower to ease pain and all I can wish for is to go back to bed. My mental strength fades when I sit down to do yet another respiratory treatment or hook up my tube feedings for the umpteenth time. My emotional strength slides away when I hear of the need for more testing and treatments or the passing of a fellow CF warrior. My spiritual strength falters when in the midst of pain and I begin to question the God of the universe who hung the stars and knew me in my mother's womb. You are blind to these weaknesses because I have learned how to cry silently in private; only the deepest pains or most passionately rooted topics will ever tend to be heard audibly through my tears. I know how to time a graceful exit from a conversation or room because I know I have just a few minutes before crumbling when I feel pain levels rising and must flee to get pain medication or wait it out. You don't see me hold everything in as I walk quietly to the bathroom at work where all the tears flow out, then I wash my face to make sure no one knows I have been crying from an emotional snap. My anger at myself for once again questioning the God Almighty is veiled behind a stoic face. I've had twenty seven years of practice to learn and know how to press through my health challenges privately while in public, at work, at church, at events, at outings with friends or even if friends visit me in the hospital. I've always aimed to put my best foot forward, even if that only means a stoic face, clean shirt, and braided hair to give appearance of being okay. "Everyone has their bad days; I could never be as strong as you in what you go through" is the rebuttal in response upon hearing that I have had a bad day, am not feeling well, or am struggling mentally. Yet, in my own power, as the woman God created who is full of flaws, brokenness and one who is in dire need of divine power in my life, let me be clear: I am not strong.
I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. ~ Psalm 40:2 (ESV)
The saying, "God never gives you more than you can handle" is the furthest from the truth. I cannot stand this saying; it grates on my nerves like nothing else. My typical response to this is and always will be, "If He never gave me more than I could handle, then why would I need Him as a sure foundation and guide in life? What is the point of faith and trust if I could handle all of life on my own?" If I were strong and able to go through life on my own strength, I would not need Christ. I would fall flat on my face as I try to battle life by my own powers, and flail around with no grounding, strength or hope when life's circumstances tried to destroy me. I would continually turn to other worldly and temporary methods to fight my battles. By God's grace, Jesus redeemed me through His sacrifice on the cross so that I might live and be rescued from the curse of death deserved for my sins. He has shown me His strength in situations that I would not have survived, sustained me in some of the worst struggles and pains in life and given me an unfading hope found in His promises and His mercy. Blessed be the Lord who saved my soul, listens to my cries day and night and makes my steps secure as I daily, desperately try to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith!
"Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." ~ Romans 5:2-5 (ESV)
In Christ's power, I am strong as His strength shines through my brokenness and pushes me forward in endurance and perseverance. Does it make life easy? No. I still get battered, wounded, frustrated, confused, hurt, and exhausted daily. Does it make life possible? Yes. I can continue to battle life's trials because God upholds me, guides my steps, hears my cries, holds my tears, and never forsakes me. There is freedom in casting my cares upon the Lord and knowing that He is listening and cares for all my struggles, big and small. Sometimes I write furiously in my journals to Him about my struggles. Sometimes I pray in audibly frustrated tones, and most times I sit in silence as all I can say is, "Lord, you know my heart and its heavy burdens. Help me!" Then I listen. I cry. I delve deeper into Scripture. I shove my Air Pods into my ears so I can listen to worship music and sing. I struggle beginning my day with time with the Lord as I have multiple treatments, medications, therapies, and various medical care to manage before running out the door to work or doctor's appointments. I aim to spend time with Jesus late each evening when everyone has gone to bed, and I can turn off the world and tune in fully to Him and His word of truth which shatters falsity found in emotional trembling thru turmoil. I pull out my stack of journals and my Bible. Sometimes I spend five minutes studying Scripture and writing in my journals before I head to bed, and other times I can spend an hour or more. Nevertheless, each time spent with Jesus is treasured and leaves the storm in my heart calmed by His word and voice before I do it all over again the next day as the night so disgustingly loves to usher in more storms for me to awaken to. Only by God's proven steadfastness to me, as is outlined multiple times in Psalms, can I remain steadfast in Him. This is not a once and done occurrence, but rather a day-by-day process requiring communication with Christ, submission to His will, and an immense amount of trust in His understanding, not my own. It is only through the testing of my faith that the reward of steadfastness in Christ is gained (James 1:2-3). His steadfastness gives me ability to endure the day's challenges and remain steadfast in Him.
"But He 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." ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
So please, stop telling me how strong I am. Instead, tell me you see Jesus' strength shining through me. That would be much more accurate as it casts due credit to Christ instead of me. If I confirm to others that I am indeed strong, then I am inaccurately propping up my own efforts and abilities, which are extremely limited and can break in a moment, and am inappropriately exalting and glorifying myself. On the other hand, by recognition and confirmation that I am only strong because of the Lord's strength upholding me moment by moment, then I am giving credit where it's due: to our Lord Jesus Christ. All glory be to God for any strength ever observed in my life.
"So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." ~ 1 Peter 1:7 (ESV)