The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you. – Footprints, Anonymous
Recently I have come to realise a sobering truth in my life. I am, as a human and individual, weak. This last month I have almost been overwhelmed by the undoubtable fact of weakness in many aspects of my life. Each week of September brought to me a new challenge, and each week I saw my own failings, my own shortcomings. September was exciting, filled with opportunities and new possibilities. And yet I cannot deny that amongst all the great experiences my strength was put to the test.
The month started with Forum, a camp organised to prepare Christian Union leaders from over the UK for the year ahead. Each day there were a range of seminars that we could attend along with two ‘big meetings’, one in the morning and one in the evening. The afternoon and evenings were taken up by ‘Forum Fringe’; there were ceilidhs, forest walks, exhibitions and campfires. There was barely a moment spent alone, and as much as I loved this, I was tested in my ability to be constant in my loving and sacrificial kindness to others, to not withdraw, hide away. I had never camped before and so was challenged not to take for granted my own room, my own bed, my own space. Whilst the talks, the experiences, everything I learnt that week greatly outweighed the anxieties I faced, I felt my weakness in the troubles I faced, in the constant need to be social, in the increasing tiredness that would hit me every morning, in my own minuteness against the backdrop of the world.
The next week I spent settling in to my new flat in London. Having spent the summer back in my own home city of York, I was excited to come back to University and yet was struck by what had to change, by what I had left behind. I missed the familiarity, the comfort that I had at home and was faced with compromises at my own lifestyle. I love London and all that it has to offer. I am thankful that the friends I have been given, for my flatmates last year, for the Christian Union, for my church. I was so eager to see everyone and yet had fallen into the traps of my own anxieties. I wondered at who would want to see me, at who would be glad for my coming back, at how much difference it would make that I was back again. I weakened myself by the fact that I placed too much value on what I believed others to think of me, shaping my own image of myself and damaging my own confidence in the process.
And then Fresher’s Week began, and having committed myself to help out in the Christian Union every day, I faced a run of eleven days in which one way or another, we worked to welcome people to our university. I do not mean to state this with pride, though I see pride to be part of the problem. It was the fact that I gave part of every day to helping out with the Christian Union that I saw with more intensity the fact that I am so weak, that my own strength fails so easily. With each day I found myself more tired, less able to be motivated, to be social, welcoming and enthusiastic, less able to passionate, loving and kind, less able to be strong.
And yet, through all of this, something drove me on, through all of this something kept me going. Because again and again, I hit the ground. Although I faced no big, no monumental problem, I saw again and again that I could not do this alone, again and again that I was too weak in so many aspects of every day life. And yet as I hit the ground, as I became overwhelmed and overtaken by my own anxieties, I realised that there was a great freedom in human weakness. In acknowledging that we are not strong enough to hold up even ourselves. We are able to turn to God, to acknowledge his great power, and to rest upon Him, find refuge in Him and know that through trials and suffering, He will carry us.
I think that there is a great problem in Western society when we comes to its views of human strength. Many of us are taught from childhood that, if we wish enough, if we work hard enough, we can do anything. And yet, doesn’t that fall through? Doesn’t our experience show us exactly that life is not that simple. This are so many complications in life, so many fears and struggles to overcome. And even when we achieve one thing, it does not then give us he power to achieve everything. We know, in ourselves, that we are not undeniably strong, and that it is not a case of mastering every fear and every struggle of our lives. The anxieties and troubles that we face do not usually simply pass away. We face too the struggles of pride, temptation and distractions in our lives, we face the struggle of what I believe is sin, and in the face of it, we are weak.
When I became a Christian I truly experienced a newfound sense of liberty. When I relied upon myself for strength I was overwhelmed, again and again, by the fact that my strength failed. By the fact that I could not rely upon myself because I was too anxious, too vulnerable, too shy. When I learnt that God has strength for me, has strength for all, that God has a plan for me and that He will never forsake me, I felt only relief in the fact that my future did not depend upon my own weak self, that I could trust in a far greater and yet personal power.
In the midst of these weeks I read a verse that echoes still in my mind and continues to drive me on…
For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10
Here, Paul expresses, in his letter to the Corinthians, his own experience of weakness. He speaks of his own struggles and again. And yet against it he speaks of God’s grace, of God’s reassurance in times of trouble. ‘My grace is sufficient in you, for my power is perfected in weakness’. It is in weakness that we are driven to look for a greater power, it is in weakness that we must turn to God, to accept our own inability and to rest upon his strength. As the psalmist said:
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. – Psalm 18:2
And so, although my experiences exposed to me again and again, different forms of weakness in my lives, although I face now the anxieties of university work, the stresses of being ill, and the ongoing worry of my circumstances, I am confident. Confident in the fact that I am not alone, that I do not have to face my life with my own failing strength. I learnt that I could rest upon God’s love and kindness, that if I only turn to Him, others would see His love through me. I learnt that in tiredness and physical weakness I could rest upon the unfailing devotion of God, that if I only turn to Him, others would see His strength through me. I learnt that if I turn to Him, He will take away my anxieties and leave me reassured in the fact that I am loved by Him.
Had I not felt my weakness so much in these past weeks I would not, perhaps, have realised in turn, the amazing strength of God. I would not, perhaps have realised quite how much I must rely and rest upon God in my everyday life, in the daily troubles that I face and in the smallest and biggest trial. As Rebecca Manley Pippert says in Out of the Saltshaker and into the World, ‘God can use our difficulties to deepen our faith, strengthen our character and walk with us as we go through hard times’.
And so let me finish with a prayer of sorts, with my written response to that last sermon I heard, a sermon that spoke of our weakness and yet of the grace that we have been freely given, of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is so easy to enter that we need only trust in Jesus, and yet so hard to enter that Jesus was forced to the cross for us. Jesus took on our sin, our anxieties, our weakness, and as he sacrificed himself for us, he gave us his strength…
Because I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this on my own. Because I need you. Every step of the way I need you. I am not strong enough to go this life alone. You took me in Father, you reached out to me, held out your hand, called me home. You took on my pain, my sin, you took on the weight of the world, took on the punishment that we deserved. I was lost, I was alone and you lifted me up, you covered me in your feathers and told me that I was one of your own. I do not deserve your strength and yet here it is, freely given to me.