These beautiful ladies are beautiful reflections of Christ’s strength to me here, in PNG. Beris raises these two girls and her son, Moses, primarily on her own and is a beautiful friend who has become like family to us.
A HUGE thank you to She is Strong for making clothes that are constant reminders of where we find our strength! Our dear friends were so thrilled to receive these shirts, which I explained to them, could be translated to ‘Em I Strongpela.’ They are truly beautiful, strong, women of God.
What is strength? Where can I find it? How can I sustain it?
Strength is relying on God, not me. Sounds so simple and yet, some days it seems so complex and illusive – like an untapped source of rest just waiting beyond my reach – blocked by my engrained desire to do things on my own.
It is not comparing myself to someone else who seems stronger.
It is not beating myself up at the end of the day because I wasn’t perfect.
It is not something I achieve or attain but something I clothe myself with and, with that analogy, it seems easy.
It is not something I need to create or manufacture but simply put on. Amazing. True. Beautifully simple.
So, why don’t I? Why do I try to do things on my own? Why do I spend unnecessary energy focusing on what others seem to be doing well, rather than asking God what He is asking me to do and then, subsequently asking Him for the strength to do it? Why do I spend so much time in quiet judgement of myself based on my preconceptions of what is required of me, my misled ideas that anyone but me can accomplish these things more swiftly and effortlessly and my deep, deep fear that, even if I do attempt the challenge, that I will somehow come up short. That I will fail.
Why am I not taking strength?
As a parent, a mother, a daughter, a wife and a friend, I want to take strength first. To stop trying to manufacture strength from perfection and to start putting it on instead.
Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength!
To look back on the difficulties of this past year, not with regret for the times I felt weak but with gratitude for the God who is ultimate strength. Gratitude knowing that His mercies are new every morning and that this day and the next day and the day after that are all opportunities to grab strength from Him.
I don’t have to do it on my own and it won’t always be easy.
For I am learning that strength sometimes looks like long suffering and patience. Strength sometimes looks like being misunderstood and yet continuing on in humility. Strength sometimes looks like failing over and over, doubting even the areas in which you thought you had already taken strength and yet trying again. Strength sometimes looks like doing nothing, accomplishing nothing and yet knowing where your identity lies. Strength sometimes looks like sacrifice, almost certainly involves suffering and always requires surrender. After all, isn’t our greatest example of strength also an example of suffering and sacrifice?
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8
Strength is surrender – surrender to the loving offer of your Father who wants to pull you abruptly out of the endless cycle of self-effort, trial, failure and regret and into His loving arms while He clothes you with strength.
Surrender to the One who created you specifically and lovingly for specific and lovely tasks that only you can accomplish and only in His strength.
Tasks that are intended for you. Tasks that are tailored for you and tasks at which you might succeed or perhaps even fail. But, do you know what I have been learning?
I have been learning that, despite my deeply rooted desire to please, to accomplish and to succeed, that success is not synonymous with strength. I am not weak if I fail and I was not created simply for these tasks.
My pride says that I am. My pride says that I can do it on my own, that there is something in me that makes these successes possible. My pride shuts me in a cage with bars created by my intense efforts and locks me in that prison with the fear of failure. My pride makes me a prisoner to circumstance, to ability, to productivity, comparison and insecurity and, I’m learning, that the only key that can unlock my self-imposed prison, is that of humility.
In humility, I can start to look to the true source of strength and, in doing so, to find the ability to view my life from a different, better and more Heavenly perspective. To recognize that I don’t need to be successful to be strong. To acknowledge that my existence and my importance are not dependent upon my accomplishments and to acknowledge that strength is something I must accept, in humility, from the One who created me – not for perfection but for relationship, for love and, through that love, to love others.
Maybe I will love them through a task. Maybe I will love them through my abilities. Maybe I will love them through my talents but, what God wants most is for me to know His love and, from His love to take strength.
To stop trying to be better, do better or perfect my human understanding of who I am supposed to be and, instead, to spend more time with Him. To ask Him to show me how He has made me. To ask Him to direct me in my paths. To ask Him for the courage to step out in faith and to do what only I can do, in the way only I can do it, because I was created uniquely and with a divine intention in mind.
And to do all that in humility, knowing I will fail, knowing I will stumble and knowing, with deep peace, that it’s ok because none of this is about me and that God’s unending grace and forgiveness stemming from His massively beautiful display of strength in sacrifice is the most perfect, wonderful and endless source of strength I will ever find.
The beautiful, freeing reality that I can take strength from Christ every day of my life and never find it to be lacking. The beautiful truth that His love is what makes me unique, that His grace is what gives me time to grow and change and mature and that His strength is what keeps me going, whether I appear to be achieving successes or accumulating failures.
The world defines strength as a good or beneficial quality or attribute of a person. I will define strength by the good and beneficial attributes of my Father and, in that freedom, I will move forward – free from self-condemnation, free from the heavy weight of comparison and free from the burden of perfectionism – free to become whoever God intends me to be in the hopes that my life will point to His strength.
For I am strong, only because I am His. Always.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians
“I protest that I have no choice whether to be the chalice or the basin. Fain would I be whichever the Lord wills so long as He will but use me … So you, my brother, you may be the cup, and I will be the basin; but let the cup be a cup, and the basin a basin, and each one of us just what he is fitted to be. Be yourself, dear brother, for, if you are not yourself, you cannot be anybody else; and so, you see, you must be nobody … Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower, a spoiler of other men’s notes. Say what God has said to you, and say it in your own way; and when it is so said, plead personally for the Lord’s blessing upon it. (Ibid., 73–74)” Charles Spurgeon