One of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with was coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the things that are our greatest strengths can lead to our greatest weaknesses. In other words, there is such a thing as being so strong that you don’t even sense your own weaknesses. There are actually situations when being “strong” is just not the appropriate response. Just ask Mike Tyson. As I get older and look back on my relationships I find that there were definitely times when that was the case for me. So as I go about trying to achieve a catharsis by writing this blog, I hope it benefits you in some way.
First off, I grew up in a situation where I had to be mentally strong. I don’t really like getting into these stories, but I don’t know any other way to make my point, so here we go. I had to be strong because I grew up in a world that told me that I was supposed to follow a certain script for who I was going to be. That in and of itself is not a unique circumstance. We all have that situation where we come into the world and when we get here there’s this group of people that have some idea of who we’re “supposed to be”–some box that makes other people comfortable even if its a negative for us. My box was young, black male from single parent household equals jail or dead. Fortunately, I had a strong mother who did everything she could to expose my brothers and I to a world that was larger than our neighborhood and the script. I also had some strong elders who tried to remind us that we could be great.
Alternatively, we and–when I say we I mean other young black males in my situation–had a lot of other influences that were competing for our minds. The short story to this is that for a lot of us, our self esteem got all messed up and we thought we were unworthy of love and more than a few of us heard that we would turn out “just like our dads” which obviously was not a compliment. But that probably isn’t anything you haven’t heard or don’t know already. I’m not going to get into it. Just use your imagination. We all know that it hurts when people say harmful things to us, so just imagine that a society is in on it. At any rate, my way of dealing with it was to not care what society said or thought about me and those who they put in my box–or any box for that matter. And if anyone who I cared about cared about what other people thought, then I would ignore their comments too.
I basically felt like I was not interested in hearing anyone tell me who I was unless it was that I was a child of God. I heard enough negative stuff and I felt like if God really loved us so much that we were given Christ (John 3:16,17), then the least I could do was accept the gift. So I taught myself not to want anything else beyond my basic needs and to see anything more as a bonus from God. And lastly, since I had pretty much accepted that I was not going to make it to age 18, I decided not to fear death. All I wanted to do was get to know God. I even taught myself to not be concerned about heaven or hell. The way I saw it, it seemed every relationship that I witnessed people in was based on what they got out of it. I didn’t want to be in a relationship with God for what I got or what I was going to get. I just wanted to be in one relationship that was not about all of that.
Being that way got me through many tough spots and for the most part it kept my self esteem intact for a long time. I was determined that I was not going to let anything make me feel like I was less than anyone else. And believe me, I have been tested in so many directions. I was so confident in my identity that I wouldn’t even defend myself if people accused me of things I knew was not true. I had no tolerance for what I considered emotional weakness if it was solely based on what others thought about me or others. If I was in a relationship with someone and they told me so and so said such and such about me, I would just say “that’s there problem” or “well if you care so much about what so and so thinks go be with them.”
This isn’t to say that I had no compassion or sensitivity. I just hated the idea of living up to anyone’s expectations or explaining myself mainly because I had disciplined myself enough that I wasn’t even motivated by most of the “carrots” society dangles in people’s faces to control them. I refused to be anyone’s slave and honestly, I felt like all attachments made you a slave and basically I felt like people who felt otherwise were deceived. Again, I didn’t think that people shouldn’t have anything, I just thought they shouldn’t be attached.
I stayed like this into my twenties until I had a personal loss that really wounded me. Before that, I didn’t even know I could feel that type of loss. If I knew better, I would have just cried and sought out a counselor or a pastor or something. But instead of just letting myself be wounded, I chose to stay strong and to shake it off–not realizing that this hit was actually a blow to the foundation of my being. Slowly, but surely, all the negative things that had been said about me for just being a black male started creeping in. I didn’t become those lies, but I finally accepted that I lived in a world where people believed them and that, for many people, their experience of me did not matter. Finally I felt how toxic it must have felt to my compatriots to have the world telling them who they are, growing up with very few male role models except for sports stars and entertainers, and being constantly warned not to be like their fathers. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t just learning this. It just didn’t start hurting until I was older and tired.
Since that heartbreak, I have been trying to make sense out of my life. I guess it often takes things like heartache to make you wonder what the real meaning in life is. I know it’s not just about getting what you can get and then dying. So, I still stand on the foundation that I am a child of God. I believe that we all are. But somehow we have forgotten this. We all have a story of how we forgot. What I just shared was basically mine, without getting into the particulars. What happened to me was that I was so confident in the strength that I thought was mine that I wouldn’t even let myself go through the healthy process of hurting and grieving. I didn’t want to be weak. I forgot that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Fortunately I learned it before I kicked the bucket.
I wish I could say that I was completely healed from that wound, but I have come to terms with the idea that God can take my dysfunction and turn it into my function. Now I get to rock a thorn in the flesh like Paul. I just have to accept it. I don’t necessarily think that everyone has to have that thorn, but I don’t think I would know how to be in this world without one. It is basically a reminder that being a human can be hard and that if you think you get it all, then you are liable to get sideswiped. So the next time you feel like you just might be overdoing the need to be strong, remember as someone once put it, “Our greatest weaknesses are our strength over done”.