2 Corinthians 12:5-10
I have prayed for strength many, many times in my life. Before difficult conversations. In the midst of painful decisions. Every morning as I contemplate the insurmountable three steps between my bed and my beeping alarm. The one thing I have never asked God for—the one thing I have never heard anyone ask for? Weakness.
So imagine my surprise when, early one morning, as I was starting my usual daily entreaty, I felt the Spirit press a hand over my mouth and whisper, “No, pray instead to receive the gifts of weakness.”
Gifts of weakness?! What on earth are those? I take a bit of Ezekiel-inspired pride in functioning like spiritual Teflon in my service to the Lord (see Ez. 3:8-9). I wasn’t sure what the Spirit meant. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
But as I’ve meditated on it lately, I have begun to glimpse the graces, the treasures in the trash I would once have tossed away.
Gift: in weakness I get to be still and know God in God’s God-ness. Most of the time, I don’t make space for this. Most of the time, I conceive of my relation to God in metaphors of “friendship” and “partnership” and occasionally “Commander and foot soldier”. Most of the time, I conceive of my life as Christian in terms of taking my cross and following Jesus as he carries his (bigger) one.
But then I fall down, and my cross crushes me. I find I don’t have it in me to take another step. Then Jesus comes by and lifts it off of me and adds my cross to his. And I realize that I will always first and foremost be not the one who dies but the one who is died for. When I cannot climb the cross, it is enough to lie at its foot. I am not the Savior but one of the saved, simply one of the desperate multitudes grace is sufficient for.
Gift: in weakness I get a chance to see the strength and goodness of others. Sometimes, truth be told, I miss it, so preoccupied with cultivating my own. Sometimes I am the un-pruned tree whose greedily grasping branches thrust themselves over others and stifle their growth.
But then my branches are cut back, and I see what I’ve been blind to in all my overreaching: I live in the midst of a forest. There are a thousand varieties of trees all around me, blisteringly bright and laden with fruit I’ve never even tasted. And suddenly it feels like joy to simply tangle my roots in the common ground and sway in a Breeze sweetly scented by others.
Gift: in weakness I get to encounter the greater depths of love. Perhaps I’m not the only one who occasionally wonders what I am loved for. Is it because I’m strong or smart or good or make a mean soufflé? If so, what happens when I fail, when my pedestal falls over and my idol shatters? What happens if I burn the goods and show up to the table empty-handed?
But then the worst happens. All my best gifts come out as dry as an over-cooked turkey. The spotlight hits the pedestal and reveals deep cracks at its base. And yet, lo and behold, people show up and love me anyway. Love turns out to be far less fragile than I thought. Strangely enough (feel me on this one, ladies?), I even feel lovelier for having been loved with my gilded make-up off.
Gift: in weakness I get to taste the true intimacy of mutuality. When Adam was lonely, God made him first a dog, a sheep, a parrot, a mongoose. Yet nothing was solved (Gen. 2:18-20). Real companionship, we discover, cannot thrive where the power is held on one side. Yet how often since have many of us repeated the failed experiment, seeking intimacy while denying its price.
But then God in God’s mercy puts me into a sleep, and brings to my place of weakness a corresponding strength. We are given to each other as equals, both of mortal bone and flesh. No longer can I define myself by my power over the party beneath. Mutual submission, the bidirectional give and take of weakness and strength, is revealed to be the absolute ground of human intimacy.
I could carry on, but perhaps these few reminders might be enough to teach me to pray differently: God, in your mercy, grant me the gifts of weakness that I don’t know to look for—and, even if I did, I would hardly dare ask.by