Hey everyone! I’ve prayed a lot recently about weakness. Yes, weakness- it’s one of those things that everyone has, but no one wants to talk about. Temptations make us weak; our falls remind us that we are human. And those are two things that modern society tends to wrinkle its nose at. We’re encouraged to cover up our flaws, to hide them from the world’s eyes and to pretend that they simply don’t exist. The world doesn’t want to be reminded that it isn’t perfect (and in truth, it’s far from it). Weakness is linked with death, and we are a society that longs to live forever. Falls point to our humanity, but we all want to be little gods. Weakness, our tendencies towards temptation, our failings- they all remind the world that we are not as picture perfect and godlike as society would like to be. But let’s be honest- it’s not just society that’s at fault here. It’s not just society that is displeased by the fact that we humans are not gods, that we are not perfect. We do not need to turn to the ambiguous figure of ‘society,”the world,’ or ‘culture’ as a scapegoat for why we feel pressured to attain perfection (that is, in an unrealistic way; there’s something to be said of the Christian struggle towards perfection). We shouldn’t be looking for someone else to blame. We shouldn’t be looking around, and pointing out the first person that tells us that we’re not good enough, that we should be perfect, that we shouldn’t fall nearly as often as we actually do. Why? Because, at least in my own experience, the first person that whispers that little lie in my ear is not the world or our culture, even if it’s obsessed with an outrageous vision of beauty or an unrealistic push for perfection. That first little whisper doesn’t come from outside, at least not for me, and I would be inclined to say, not for most of you either. Chances are, that little voice that tells us we’re not good enough, pretty enough, perfect enough, ‘whatever’ enough, doesn’t come from without; it comes from within. Before anyone else is telling us that we need to hide our flaws, that we are weak and useless because we fall so often, because we can’t be perfect, because we are not gods, we tell ourselves these things. Pause for a second and ask yourself, “Is this true for me?” Then pray about your answer. And remember, there’s no reason to lie to yourself, and let me tell you why.
The problem is this: we are feeding ourselves a lie that has some truth to it, and it’s that truth that keeps the lie alive and makes it believable. The lie festers and grows and takes over, but only because it just won’t completely die. The lie is like a cancer to our soul; it’s very much alive, and it has manipulated a truth about ourselves into something incredibly ugly, and it has metastasized and has begun to spread. And not just to fill us either, but to push itself into other people’s thoughts as well. Allow me to explain.
Yes, it’s true. We are not perfect. We do fall. We are weak. There’s no use denying these things about ourselves. But the answer is not to ignore these things, or cover them up, like society often encourages us to do. It is perfectly okay to accept these facts about ourselves, but it does not mean that we hide them and pretend as though they do not exist, or that we should embrace them as some inevitable reality that cannot be changed. Yes, this is how things are, but it is not how things always will be. Yes, we are not perfect and we are weak, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for perfection. Our humanity is not something that is supposed to leave us feeling hopeless; it’s something that is meant to give us hope. Yes, man is fallen, but man has also been redeemed. Yes, man is weak, but God makes him strong. And what’s more is that God doesn’t always make us strong by eradicating our weaknesses. Sometimes that’s how it happens. Sometimes God removes temptations from our lives, and life goes on as if those potential pitfalls never existed. St. Therese addressed this reality in her autobiography Story of a Soul. She wrote that in some cases, God chooses to remove an obstacle from a person’s life before they’ve even come across it, and consequently, they move past this place of temptation without even recognizing it as such. In other cases, God leaves that obstacle, and a person might trip and fall as a result. It is at this point, bruised and battered and feeling incredibly weak, that the person reaches up for consolation. They reach out with weak and tired arms, desiring to be embraced by their heavenly Father, cradled to His chest and rocked until the cries quiet and the tears are dried. God provides them with this comfort, and then sets them back on their feet, preparing them to continue on their journey, refreshed and renewed after having spent some time in the arms of their Father. Which scenario is to be preferred?
At first glance, the first option seems infinitely more merciful and compassionate. Why should someone stumble and fall when the possibility of removing the obstacle in the first place was there? I’m sure we’ve all asked this, or a similar question, at least once in our lives. Why must we stumble and fall? Why can’t we just be carried through life? St. Therese provides an answer that our world desperately needs to hear. It echoes what Christ told His apostles in the Gospels when He forgave the sinful woman, when He told the parable of the two debtors. As He affirmed, the one who has been forgiven more, loves more (Luke 7:36-50). St. Therese repeats this sentiment when she writes that the one who has stumbled and fallen, and who has lifted weak arms up to heaven for comfort and compassion, is more aware of the love of the Father than the one who never stumbles. It is much easier to forget the Lord when things are going well. It is much easier to rely on oneself when one does not feel the need to reach out for support. It is much easier to fall prey to pride, the often unacknowledged sin, when you assume that you can stand on your own two feet without help. The person who has fallen and needs helps to stand has no choice but to acknowledge this own weakness, but it is only through this acceptance that a person can be lifted up and come to rest cheek-to-cheek with their heavenly Father. And so, when all is said and done, who is closer to God, the strong man who feels confident in his ability to stand on the ground, or the weak one who has been lifted up by God and brought closer to heaven?
This is, if you haven’t quite caught on to my musings, a reflection on St. Paul’s declaration, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). There is a great deal of strength of heart and soul required to acknowledge one’s weakness. There is also a great deal of strength that Christ offers us whenever we stumble. When we fall, God does not leave us to our own devices, crawling around in the dark, searching for something to help pull ourselves up again. The moment we reach out and acknowledge our own weakness, the moment we reach out our tired arms for support and mercy, God is already moving to embrace us. He is always ready to take us into His arms, and hold us until we are ready to continue on our journey. He wants us to find rest in Him, to find compassion and mercy in His arms. He wants us to cry out to Him for help. We were not meant to make this journey alone, and oftentimes our weakness, our falls, remind us of that. Our falls are opportunities for grace; our weaknesses are opportunities to become strong. Ironic, isn’t it?
But it’s not surprising. Christianity is full of ironies and oxymorons. God became man so that man could become God. God created man perfectly, which included giving them the free will to choose to be imperfect. God had to die so that man could live. So it is that surprising that man should become strong in and through his weakness? I think not.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!