His Strength In My Weakness (What God is Trying to Teach Me Deep, Deep Down)
Years ago when I was first dealing with coming out of my bad relationship, I looked back over the situation with a variety of emotions; initially it was a lot of sadness, followed by anger towards my ex that I finally let myself feel and work through, but I also had a lot of remorse and shame. Both in ways that I had hurt him and ways that I had allowed him to hurt me. I’m not taking on all the blame, I promise, a whole bunch of that was on him; but I remember thinking about how the relationship had progressed so quickly, and how I had allowed myself to be persuaded to do things I didn’t want to do/wasn’t ready to do. I would say “this is my conviction” and he, over and over, would eventually wear me down that my conviction was stupid, or well-intentioned but not realistic, or that his viewpoint was better, or that our relationship needed this.
EXAMPLE: I didn’t want to have any PDA in front of my traveling teammates, and he was like “but they expect it”. (Stupidest reasoning ever, by the way.) There was a moment when he tried to kiss me good night in front of someone else on our team and I turned my head so he just kissed me on the cheek; later he told me that the other guy who saw it had asked if I was upset with my BF. I mean, seriously, who cares what the other guy thinks? BF could’ve just told him that I didn’t want to kiss in front of other people! But instead he used that as a reason to say “if we don’t kiss in public, they will think we’re going through a bad time in our relationship”. And thus I let him convince me that it was okay to have PDA.
Looking back on these types of things, I remember thinking, “How did I let him convince me away from things I felt so strongly about, when I knew I was right and that he was wrong? I should have stood my ground and said THIS: (insert what I should have said)!”
And as I ran these scenes over and over in my head, I was so disappointed with myself for not being a stronger person. I was angry that I had so easily been persuaded by scorn and ridicule to give up things I had held fast to for years. Why was I such a “wimp” when it came to standing up for my convictions and my boundaries? Why had I behaved so weakly?
And during the healing process, I prayed that God would make me a stronger person, so that if I ever had a relationship in the future, I would stand up for myself and not get sucked into that kind of confusion again. I wanted God to make me better at confronting and seeing red flags and being sure in who I was and who He called me to be.
MY SPIRITUAL DROUGHT
And then, gradually, I began 7 years of what I called my “spiritual drought”. 7 years of feeling numb towards God, of feeling distant and frustrated spiritually. 7 years of feeling like I could barely hear God’s voice. 7 years of failing week after week, month after month, to spend time with God and to pray, and 7 years of not knowing how to fix it. During this time, I stepped down from helping with youth Sunday school because I was bad at praying for and contacting my girls throughout the week and I felt it affecting my ministry. During these years, my sister and I started hosting a Life Group in our house, a Life Group that is still meeting despite years of people coming and going, and it is one of my favorite parts of the week and has held my best times of fellowship and connection with Christians; I shared my struggles with this group over the years, and as we prayed and sought God together I gave thanks for at least the 1 time a week when I would for sure be reading Scripture and praying, even if I could not do it on my own time.
Now I do have several stories during this time of how I saw God using situations in my life and rescuing me from stressful circumstances. But that’s not what I want to focus on.
Because the one thing that I didn’t see happen during these 7 years was me, as a person, getting stronger. I was living the independent, single life as a working woman who could travel and host parties in my house and have adult friendships. I had a lot of wonderful things happen to me during this time of spiritual drought. But what I really wanted was to see myself thrive spiritually. I wanted to be close to God and make the most out of having this time as a single woman to do good things, to be focused on who God wanted me to be. And try as I might, pray as I might, I could not make myself be better at it. Whether it’s been from laziness, busyness, forgetfulness, exhaustion, whatever… aside from my weekly Life Group, I’ve had a really hard time doing ministry. I’ve had a really hard time opening up my Bible and reading. I’ve had a really hard time sitting down to pray. I couldn’t get myself to be a better Christian. And again and again I was frustrated and exhausted from this constant struggle, that I was wasting these years away not being as good as I should be, and that no matter how much I tried and prayed for God to fix me and make me strong and give me the energy to do all the good things a Christian oughta do, I couldn’t make myself be better.
As I think back on several revelations I’ve had with God in the past 2 years, I am marveling at the connection between what He’s been teaching me and what I’d been wanting from Him.
You see, the thing I’ve always prayed for all my life is that God would change me. Not into a chicken (thank you Larry the Cucumber) but into a better person. There are all these Scriptures about God using us and working through us and making us new and more like Him, and I just really, really wanna see that. But it’s the thing I’ve always doubted the most. Not because I don’t think He can change me, but as I look at myself, I just never feel like He does. I’m the same old spiritual dweeb, a girl who means well and is sweet but is also kind of just… there. An “eh” sort of Christian, not meant to achieve anything big. One time a girl on my team said that a host had told her that “the other girls on your team are ketchup, and she’s hot sauce”. It hurt when I heard that, but as I worked through it, I decided that I was okay with being a background kind of Christian; sure, God didn’t make me to be flashy or exhorting, but maybe he made me to be a quiet encourager or a supportive friend. If I am the “ketchup”… reliable, not that exciting but still needed, in the background… I want to do that well. I would love to be a prayer warrior who uses my time to pray over people in need. I would love to have God give me words to say to someone and see how God uses that.
But I have long since given up the idea that God will “put His words in my mouth”. He doesn’t use me like that. He doesn’t step into my body and work my legs to help me run the race of life faster. He doesn’t wake me up early in the morning with energy to read my Bible and pray long prayers for the Church. He doesn’t suddenly give me power and strength that I’m crying for and use me to work a miracle so that I can say “That was all God working through me!” I thought that was what “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness” means! Doesn’t it imply that, when I can’t do it, that God is supposed to kind of spiritually hypnotize me and get it done? (This is just a metaphor, not actual theology I believe.) But that has never happened to me.
And after a revelation that God gave me several years back connected with what God showed me at the Glory conference this summer, suddenly I feel like I get it. “My power is perfected in weakness” doesn’t mean that I will get supernatural power from God to do great things. Instead of making me strong, God has made me weak. He has shown me ME at my weakest, at my lowest level in various ways. Unable to fix myself, unable to change, unable to “be better”. And somehow, He says it’s okay.
Not because He doesn’t want me to be strong and to change and to grow, but because I don’t need to be strong in order for Him to love me. I don’t need to be responsible for making myself better. God doesn’t love me only for what He can use me for. God loves me BECAUSE HE LOVES ME. He loves the way He created me, because He created me in His beautiful image. He adores my ramblings, He delights in my sweetness, He understands why I’m indecisive and feel the need to use a million disclaimers so that I’m not misunderstood. He likes watching me read while walking around outside and belting showtunes when I’m washing dishes. He loves me when I psych myself up to talk to someone and then chicken out at the last minute. He loves me when I’m grumping early in the morning and telling my car to shut up and yelling “stupid phone”. He loves me when I am stuck and hopeless and have no idea where to go. He DOESN’T say “I will only love you if you promise to read my Bible for 5 minutes every day”. He DOESN’T say “every day that goes by that you don’t talk to me, I will take one step further away from you”.
Jesus’ blood was shed for me, and it has already purified me and made me righteous, made me Holy in God’s eyes. I CANNOT earn His favor by being a better Christian. I CANNOT lose His love by failing to be a better Christian. Jesus talks to me and walks with me, and He has shown me how weak I am in my own strength. My strength is not enough; my strength is, in fact, quite wimpy. But God doesn’t demand more from me because His strength is enough. His strength can carry me through the hard times, not just because it will make help me be a better person, but because my relationship with Him has not changed according to Him.
THE “CHURCH CULTURE GUILT” VOICE WE’VE CREATED
As Evangelicals, we all know that works doesn’t earn salvation, but we do spend a lot of time teaching in our culture about the works that help us to live righteously; ways we can be better and do the Christian things we’re supposed to do. Faith without works is dead, after all. And DISCLAIMER: I fully believe in living righteously and following how God calls us to live via accountability, conviction, and understanding what Scripture says. It’s very important to talk about what this means in our lives.
But, I feel like this can create a voice in our heads which is supposed to be the Holy Spirit but is sometimes just ourselves. This voice that tells us we are ALWAYS supposed to be doing something more; we need to pray more, serve more, study Scripture more, give more.. it’s never enough! This voice is very strong in my head, its embedded in me, and it keeps warning me that if I quiet it, that I will be giving myself a license to sin. Deep down, this voice says “sure, your works don’t affect your salvation, but it DOES affect your relationship with God; it affects your worth”.
And I feel like God is trying to remove this voice in my head; I feel like He’s trying to shush my Church Culture Guilt and help me to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit better, because they are not the same. And He’s doing that not by giving me license to do whatever I feel like, but by ASSURING me that following this voice, or failing this voice, will not change one iota about how much He cares for me. He is teaching me to surrender my very deep voice of personal righteousness, give up my ability to gain brownie points with God, by knowing that even if I sink as low as possible, that He hasn’t left me. When I go to the depths of the sea and all the way to Sheol, God is there with me.
As I prayed for strength to help me to be better, God showed me how weak my human self is. It doesn’t mean that my works don’t count for anything, but it assures me that my works aren’t required to keep being held by God.
Remember earlier when I said:
“I prayed that God would make me a stronger person, so that… (I could) be sure in who I was and who He called me to be.”
He HAS made me sure in who I am, but not through making me stronger, but by revealing who He is in my weakness!
He has assured me, deep in my soul, that no matter how long I am in my weakened state, He will sustain me. This world may fall apart, my circumstances may change, I may do terrible things and make rotten decisions and have a lot of regret. But God has been trying to teach me how deep, how wide, how everlasting His love is. Which means that no one, not even my wimpy, weak, dweeby self, can truly push God away with my actions. He’s here to stay, and He has my back. And resting in His promise is more than enough.