Open to the Spirit
Today’s word: Weakness
1) Yesterday I picked my mother up at the retirement home where she now lives and went with her to a medical appointment. She decided not to bring her walker, and instead held my arm for steadiness. During the short drive she asked me to remind her twice where we were going.
Just two years ago she pushed my wheelchair while I recovered from a broken leg. She called to see how I was doing and brought me cups of coffee. Sometimes it is my turn for weakness, and sometimes it is yours.
Our scriptures tell us that weakness is strength, and I am still trying to figure that out. I do know that weakness shared can be a gift. The tenderness that is invoked when we care for someone in their vulnerability can soften our hearts for love and cure us of our warring madness. Old enmities no longer matter. We are all weak, at least sometimes, and we all need the tenderness of others, at least at the end.
Usually, until we must, until we break a leg or don’t remember where we are going, we try to hide our weakness. Almost any one of us, given the choice, would choose independence, strength, and self-control. Maybe we can practice sharing a bit of that weakness now. Maybe we can remember that all of us have weakness and start practicing more tenderness now. Maybe, like Jesus or Saint Paul, we can embrace our weakness and let ourselves be transformed.
2) I don’t like to feel weak. Yet it must be a common enough state for me because my most frequent prayer of petition is for courage and strength.
Weakness makes me feel that I have failed. It can happen on a physical level, an intellectual level or a moral level. Somehow I have not measured up to expectations. Weakness indicates I need help and I don’t like to ask. Weakness indicates I am vulnerable, imperfect and prone to get hurt. Weakness means I am prone to hurt others as well. But here's the thing: my weakness has the ability to hurt others only in as much as I try to keep it hidden and only in as much as I allow others to think I am somehow more perfect than I truly am. When I don’t run away from my weakness and my vulnerability, I allow others to see the true me: an imperfect human. There is a kind of liberation in that admission! To live with this truth is to live with integrity, no matter how weak I feel.
As I come before my Creator in prayer, my request for courage and strength is an admission that I cannot do this alone. I need to draw upon the presence of the Great Spirit that animates all of life. There I find no judgement, only acceptance. The courage and strength comes from outside my ego-centred self and allows me to face the day, come what may. It feels a bit like jumping off a cliff and expecting to be caught. Yet the more I practice, the more confidence I have that the Catcher is always there.
When we turn and face our weakness in the eye, we begin the humble journey of discovering the limits of our humanity and growing into the very best humans we can be. May we all find ourselves on that road before our earthly time runs out.
3) My mother suffered from a rare hereditary disease that affected her joints. This meant her hands were curved inward and her feet often dragged. This never seemed to stop her from any activity. She was a roadrunner on her ATV and worked nonstop. She would stop what she was doing to search for a lost softball in the hedge. Once a friend from college was visiting for the weekend and asked how well she coped with her handicap. I was totally puzzled by the question. “Are you asking about Mom? She's not handicapped.” I replied. My friend looked confused at my response and for the first time I saw her the way others did. I had never noticed her weakness because she never let it stop her from living life to the full.
One book that inspired me early in my ministry was “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen. He described how our scars and weaknesses give us empathy for others, which helps us to listen closely and understand what they are going through. I know that the tough times in my own life have made me better able to minister to others. There are those who are ashamed of weakness. They often hide their struggles, assert that they never make mistakes, and keep people at a distance. I prefer to be more transparent.
Paul the apostle once wrote these words: “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest upon me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I like my Mom's example. Her strength was to live life joyfully, in spite of her weakness.
4) I have a weakness for chocolate, cello concertos, and the colour orange. Ordinary everyday sunrises make me weak in the knees with gratitude and awe. But the weaknesses of my own human nature, the limitations that hold me back from accomplishing all I wish or imagine I could do - those are less easy to claim. Truth be told, I 've wasted far too much good energy trying to cover up or hide them.
Perhaps you read in The Atlantic magazine about an extraordinary art exhibit just closing in a New England gallery somewhere. Visitors were invited to write their weaknesses on post-it notes and attach them to a wall, creating a huge random collage of anonymous admissions. Not so paradoxically, this collective display of human honesty and courage was a huge success.
According to Brené Brown, there is power in being vulnerable enough to claim our weaknesses. It can inspire us to feel protective toward each other, strengthen connections and help us find common ground. Such authenticity reminds us we are not exceptionally flawed or alone. Between good friends who accept and love us it can restore wholeness. Support groups are safe spaces to freely admit shortcomings, struggles, fears or failings. Comparing notes on this most difficult and humbling life journey we can find mutual strength in naming our weaknesses, holding them up to the light.
Recently my faith community held a two-day training session on nonviolent communication (NVC). We shared our most troubling stories of the failed connections we longed to restore and practiced listening without judgment. It filled me with hope. Perhaps this being human could become an art form, if only we could be real with each other.
One word, four voices - now your turn to reflect: How do you deal with weakness in yourself and others?
Rev. Mead Baldwin pastors the Waterville & North Hatley pastoral charge; Rev. Lynn Dillabough is now Rector of St. Paul's in Brockville ON. She continues to write for this column as a dedicated colleague with the Eastern Townships clergy writing team; Rev. Lee Ann Hogle ministers to the Ayer’s Cliff, Magog & Georgeville United Churches; Rev. Carole Martignacco is Consulting Minister to UU Estrie-unitarian Universalists in North Hatley.