This is an edited version of a blog that was originally written during a hard season. It is something I return to from time-to-time and seems relevant as I journey through another difficult season. I pray that it will be a blessing to you.
When my wife was nine months pregnant, strangers would approach to say a kind word or strike up a conversation about her pregnant belly. Some brave souls would even ask to touch it. Following my knee surgery, I had a similar experience with my leg. Strangers would approach me with a kind word or stories of their own experience. A man once approached me at a restaurant and asked, “How many is this?” –meaning, how many knee surgeries had I had. He volunteered that he had nine surgeries, was now facing knee replacement surgery, before offering encouragement as he shuffled off.
Like my wife’s pregnant belly, my knee was obvious. It was an inescapable point of interest I could not hide. My typical modus operandi, however, has always been to hide my weakness—to not draw attention to myself. But everywhere I went, I drew attention. My weakness was on display. Every step counted. Everything took twice as long to do and just as many trips, if not more. My left leg hurt because it was compensating for my immobilized right leg. My wrists hurt from holding myself up on my crutches. Wet floors scared me. Car rides were uncomfortable. I needed a stool to shower. I was weak and I could not hide it.
In May of that year, David Powlison wrote the challenge to the graduates of Westminster Seminary. It is a message that rattles around in my head from time to time (You can read it here on the June 3 post). He concluded his message by writing, “My deepest hope for you is that in both your personal life and your ministry to others, you would be unafraid to be publicly weak as the doorway to the strength of God Himself.” He pointed to Pope John Paul II and to King David who both allowed others to see them in their weakness. He ultimately pointed to Christ who was fearless “of public weakness in…life and words.” Our professor wrote, “When we think about how the image of Christ is expressed in our lives, the Beatitudes show us how the right kind of weakness, a fundamental sense of neediness, then leads directly to the right kind of strength, a strength grounded and founded in need.” This dynamic between weakness and strength in Jesus finds its ultimate expression in the cross where he cast “Himself on his Father’s mercy and power” to be raised in strength.
In that season, the Lord was giving me new eyes to see myself. My weakness was not actually a weakness but a strength. It provided the space to know and be known by others. At that time, I was teaching ESL to refugees. Each day countless students would ask, “Teacher, you okay?” or “How are you feeling, teacher?” as they point to my leg. Many of the students I knew only by face as we passed in the halls. And, yet they expressed concern for me by daily inquiring about my knee. One former student even brought me a gift and consistently, in a grandfatherly way, encouraged me to stretch and cover my knee to keep it warm. Out of my weakness, I was gaining a greater voice. My knee revealed that my students and I were more alike than different. I was weak, vulnerable, and I, too, needed help.
I find myself in a new season of weakness. The temptation remains to run and hide—cover my faults. And in some ways, it would be easier this time since my weakness is not as visible as before. But I am reminded of the invitation afforded by my weakness of being known and cared for by others and the opportunity to know others. Each of these moments are reminders that I am loved. And the tangible expressions of love that I experience in relationship with others are merely tastes of the love our Father has for us, who moved towards us, calls us by name, and promises to be with us when the flame threatens to consume and the waters to overwhelm [cf. Is. 43.1-3]. What is more, our weakness is an invitation to trust and speak to God out of our weakness: “Trust in him at all times, O people, pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62.8).