What is Strength?
This has been a tough week for some of my friends and some of my patients. Christmas is here, a time of celebration and hope, but a lot of people are struggling. They are losing their hope. I can see how this happens: our broken world seems to be falling apart even more than usual. When everything around you looks broken, a reasonable conclusion might be to look within to solve problems. But when we can't find the strength or the tools to fix the broken world, it can further break us.
This week, I watched a friend tell another friend that she needs to be strong right now. This directive came mere moments after she learned her mother was being admitted to the hospital with a new diagnosis of lymphoma. I nodded along, as this is how the adage goes, but inside this advice felt wrong. After further contemplation, I let this friend know that I think being strong in this situation is stupid. She doesn't need to be strong, she needs to be fully HER. She needs to grieve this diagnosis, be angry at the unjustness of something terrible happening to somebody wonderful, somebody who loves her and who she loves in return. I told her strength doesn't mean not crying, it means being able to feel this completely. How do you go to Jesus if you are trying to be strong? I think we go to Jesus with our weakness, our fear, our anger, our hurt and we let Him know that we don't have strength right now, we need to borrow His.
There is too much of this trying to be strong myth that we are passing on to our kids. I know a teenager who is struggling through depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. She doesn't want therapy and she doesn't want medication because she thinks she should be able to handle this on her own. Says who? Who can handle these crushing burdens on their own? I struggle with little things. These are all big. I am 43 years old and wouldn't know how to handle it on my own. I need my village. I need other moms who have kids older than my own to remind me that, with God's grace, my kids will be ok. I need women who pray for me, listen to me, remind me of all the beautiful things in the world. I have people in my life who have known Jesus longer than I have and therefore have a depth of wisdom I am working toward. And I have people in my life who don't believe in God at all but who rescue me with laughter and with love. I can't do this alone and don't know why we are telling people to be strong, as if strength is the thing that makes life easier.
What we need to be telling children from a very young age is that we were created for community. Friends, not strength, are our superpower. We get strength in numbers, strength from combining everybody's talents into one community of powerful, resilient warriors. Our primary relationship is to and with God, but He gifts us with so many other relationships so we can do this messy, broken life TOGETHER. When a 2-year-old falls down and scrapes a knee, we don't tell them to be strong, we hug them, hold them close, tell them we know it hurts but assure them it will get better. When they get older and experience a bully, we should ask them who they have on their side, which friends can they turn to to stand with them. We need to teach them to search out others who need friends so those kids don't have to stand against the bullies alone. We do not need to teach them to be strong FOR each other, we need to teach them to be strong WITH each other. A ragtag bunch of broken, weak people standing together is a lot more powerful than one strong soldier fighting alone.
This is strength. Knowing how to reach out. I have a friend who had surgery a little bit ago and she did something I have never seen anybody do before. She posted on Facebook that she would be unable to cook for a month and her husband was going to be working full time. She would not be able to drive to PT or doctor appointments. She wanted to know who would help. Who could drive her around and who could bring meals? Most of us have been part of meal trains but how many of us have asked for our own? This woman gets it. She understands that it feels awful to watch our friends suffer. We have a yearning to reach out and help each other. We were designed to do it. But with everybody trying to be strong all the time, we don't really get to practice. She gifted us by telling us she would need help and inviting us in to be part of her healing team. What a beautiful gift this was for her children. A chance to show them how many people love and support their family. How many people they can turn to when life is hard.
It is Christmas. We are supposed to be happy, joyful as we celebrate Jesus' birth. It is 2020, a year that has challenged many of us in ways we never thought possible. Jesus came to dwell among us and left behind the Holy Spirit who promises we never have to be alone. Let's make sure our kids get that message this year. They are not alone. Trying to do life alone has never been the goal and is not a sign of strength. Even as we wear masks and stand apart, we must do this all together to help fight the brokenness of the world. And we must share this sense of togetherness, insist to them that we can't and absolutely should not try to do life alone.