Strong Too Long

…Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Recently my daughter shared some advice with me that possibly came from a meme. She said, “Dad, some people don’t cry because they’re weak. They cry because they’ve been strong too long.” When she said it to me, it reminded me of the scripture passage above. In it Paul asks to be delivered from an unidentified weakness. But, he is given the counterintuitive response that power–elsewhere translated strength–is made perfect in weakness.

It is fitting that at 13, she was able to give me this advice as her entry into the world marked my commitment to develop an intimacy with my weakness and vulnerabilities. Becoming her father, and subsequently Mikayah’s, have been two of the most vulnerable moments in my life. Knowing that I had no idea how to be a father to these two newly minted beings was humbling.

When I was younger, vulnerability was not something people owned. In order to make it through some experiences and my time in the military, I learned to be strong–period. It felt like a be strong or die world. And that was even lifted up in the expression of Christianity that I knew the most about. But, when I became a father, I knew that I didn’t want to teach that to my children who were growing in completely different circumstances than I had.

Life had already been trying to teach me that my strength when overdone was also my greatest weakness. But because our society honors people who appear strong, it took a long time for me to even consider such a concept. But other people saw it. One person in particular drew it to my attention without even saying a word. All he did was recommend that I read a book called Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. It is a Japanese epic that tells the tale of a great warrior whose greatest weakness was his strength overdone.

By being strong too long he had cut off all intimacy in his relationships that he could’ve nurtured and grown with. It wasn’t until he could soften that he came to know himself and others more deeply. Because I wanted to know my children, I chose to soften and accept my limitations. I want to guide them. But not so much that they can’t own their experiences. I want to provide structure. But not so much that they become afraid to explore. I want to protect them, but not so much that they don’t learn from their mistakes. There’s so much I’d love to do or be for them, but I am limited. And that’s where we truly meet one another. In that place where I can learn from them as much as they might learn from me. Because as Jesus teaches, coming in humility i.e. vulnerability (often seen as weakness), is the gateway through which we enter the abode of the Divine (Matthew 18:3).

God Who Meets Us in Our Weaknesses,

May the mystery of vulnerability be welcomed by us so that we can know the intimacy of your grace. May we be strong, but not too long, so that we can live fully into the relationships that you’ve given us as a support. By your grace and in the Way of Christ we pray. Amen.

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