Open to the Spirit

To­day’s word: Weak­ness

Sherbrooke Record - - LOCAL NEWS - By Revs Mead Bald­win, W. Lynn Dil­l­abough, Lee Ann Hogle, and Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco

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.

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