Thursday, September 29, 2011

Strong Girl {an essay}

Every morning we lug our three bicycles from the apartment into the elevator, then down the corridor to the glass doors that leave the building. The job of reaching up to press the door release button and then push with a mighty heave against the metal bar that is the door handle has fallen to the youngest, still not quite three, because the rest of us are barreling along with the bikes. Every day her brothers encourage her as they pass her stout little legs holding steady, her back against the glass, “Strong Girl!!” She basks in the glow of the compliment, and sometimes states it herself when they are not around. “Strong Girl!”
I saw a sign the other day, one meant to inspire and be hung on a wall and remind you every day of it’s important truth, “You never know how STRONG you are until being STRONG is the only choice you have.” I wondered about that. What if when you have no other choice but to be strong, you aren’t strong enough? What if you lose control, or give up, or let someone down, or don’t make it through, or break apart? Maybe then you find out you aren’t very strong at all...and then what? But the sign sounded nice, for strong people I guess.
If you have been reading around here at all lately, it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn I've been wondering about being a strong person, a strong girl, a strong woman, and what it looks like. Our society lifts up strong women. We tell ourselves via advertisements and movie scenes and magazine articles that women are meant to be strong, can be strong, should be strong, will be strong. We pat each other on the back for our strength when we show it. Ra ra for strong women.
I’ve wondered about being a strong woman, or person in general and what it can and should mean as a Christian who believes in the dignity of humanity, but the fallenness of our situation because of sin. And I don't feel strong lately. I feel like I can’t be the person I want to be, can’t respond to my circumstances how a strong woman would. It’s in these kinds of moments that it's easy to cling to Biblical passages like “my strength is made perfect in weakness,” or “The Lord delights not in the strength of horses nor the strength of man, but He delights in the man who fears him.”
But then there are those days when I DO feel strong. I feel capable and on top of it all. I see my talents and the ways I’ve been gifted and I sort of bask in the fun of being able to do something well.  On those days I wonder if the clay pot thing doesn’t apply to me anymore… what do I do when I don’t feel like a weak failure of a person? Am I just fooling myself pride with or have I now been disqualified from being able to shine forth the glory of my Maker and Savior, because I’m not weak enough?
One of the most unattractive displays of strength is in an arrogant person. Arrogance must be among the great acts of thievery in the world: the proud and haughty wrenching of credit for something you had nothing to do with. Certainly there are all levels of strength in the human experience. Some have great strength of body and physique, some of intelligence, some of emotional stability and fortuity. Yet none of us arrives at these strengths of our own doing. We do not choose our upbringings, our genetic makeup, nay our every life circumstance. Some have much to work with, some have very little. Whatever strength we have, it must certainly have been endowed to us and not created ex nihilo by our own volition. So arrogance is an entirely misplaced and perverted view of oneself and the God who made all things. Adam, arguably the strongest of all men in mind and body and spirit, was of all men most obviously shaped and molded by God alone.  How silly it would have seemed if in his prowess, he had turned to look upon himself and taken even one ounce of credit.
Perhaps that is why, when one looks at strength in a particular personality of flesh and blood humanity, the ones that seem most attractive to us are those who give the credit where credit is due. It is why we marvel at a man like Eric Liddell and gaze with wonder upon a woman like Joni Erickson Tada. One had the strength to with the speed of horses, but he knew it was a gift from God, and in his strength he shone with the glory of his God, and not himself. Joni has so little bodily strength resulting from her quadriplegia that she cannot do one movement on her own. But she credits her strength of spirit to the God who healed her soul and will one day heal her body, and she too shines with the glory of her God, and not herself.
I know that in my weakness of late, I have both marveled at the beauty of being small before a Mighty God who is near to those in need, and cringed in disgust at how humiliating it can be to feel like a wimp of a person who cannot handle what so many others could. But these words keep splitting into my at times weak, at times strong and able soul, “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man: the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” Psalm 147:10-11.
In the 50th Psalm the LORD says, “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills…the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? [as in, do I really need your animal sacrifices??] Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me.” The point is it all belongs to Him, and comes from Him. But to whom do we lift our eyes? To whom do we give the credit? When we are weak… call upon His name. When we are strong… give glory to His name.
Clay pots we all are, shaped and formed and gifted with the breath of life from the Creator who molds and makes all things for whatever purposes he designs. And the clay of a man like David ran just as thick with the strokes of God when he shouted out strength in the Name of the Almighty at a giant as it did when he lay prostrate with his face to the dirt, a man broken by his sin and failure. In both moments he called out to the one who could save him. In both moments his clay was brittle but out of him shone the burning bright glory of his Maker. He was just a clay pot, housing the treasure of the all-surpassing power of God. And that is what God delights in. He made us. We are not gods. But He reins us in and fills us and lifts us up on wings of strength that make us feel the wind of heaven and all his glory goodness in our faces. It’s a beautiful and ponderous mystery, the way our strong God delights in our weakness because it makes him look good, but all the while he is delighting in making us look good with his goodness.
And my strong girl, you are not a strong girl. You are strong because someone made you strong, and you ought to look up and tell Him how thankful you are and how good he is. You ought to offer every bit of that strength right back to him; basking in Him when you bask in your given strength. Yes, strong girl, you are not a strong girl. You are made of clay and sometimes you will break. And when you break you ought to look straight up into the eyes of the One who made you and ask him to carry you, wait on him to heal you, trust in him to do everything you in your useless broken state cannot do. And you can bask in Him when you bask in your weakness. He absolutely loves it, and you will too.

1 comment:

  1. It can drive me crazy knowing "tough" is so relative. Such a title leads me to compare to whomever is around me instead of the massive life-supporting strength of my God. Praying for you sister.