It had been a particularly difficult day at school. I had spent the day fighting to keep the attention of 60 plus, thirteen to eighteen year old masked students who chattered endlessly and looked for every excuse to be distracted. And this day, keeping their attention seemed to be the impossible task. I stood at the front of the class waiting for the bell to ring, and it hit me all at once, the feelings of exasperation, overwhelm, and failure broke from beneath the surface. As I sent the last class out at the end of the day, the tears threatened to fall. Only three lingered a moment, a hesitation, and then the question:
“Are you okay, miss?” one of my students asked. A simple question that often makes us confront unpleasant truths. There was no use in pretending. “No, not really,” I said as the tears began to escape and fall. He gave me a hug, “Miss, you’re doing a really good job.”
One of the other students who was standing there said, “It’s okay, miss, don’t worry. We are like this with all the teachers, and I know sometimes we can be a lot, but we are very glad that you are our teacher.”
I never thought I would find myself crying in front of students in my classroom. I thought I would be strong enough to forgo such instances. But, God does not call the equipped; he equips the called.
Growing up I used to think I was strong. I used to believe that I could hold every burden and shoulder every difficulty. I thought that I could manage every task, responsibility, stressor, and expectation if I decided I was strong enough. But as the responsibilities grew, I realized my breaking point was closer than I thought. I realized that I was in fact weak. I was painfully weak, and perhaps the strength I thought I had was a fleeting illusion.
2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
Recently in my 12th grade class we read a few of the Screwtape Letters. You may be familiar with C.S. Lewis’s satirical story of a head demon uncle sending letters full of clever advice on tempting humans to his inexperienced nephew.
In one of his letters, he explains the purpose of virtue and how it can be twisted to take a person away from God. Virtue, simply put, is created to transform our animalistic self love into godly selfless love. It is the practice of focusing less on ourselves and focusing first and foremost on God and His creation. Virtue brings us closer to the holiness God desires of us. But virtue can be twisted to make an individual think more about himself and less about God. And I think weakness works in a very similar way.
For a long time I was upset with myself for my weakness. It was a point of shame for me. I thought: If I am a Christian and pursuing the kingdom, why do I feel so weak? As a Christian shouldn’t I be able to “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Where is this truth for me? I would be upset with myself for not being able to handle life. And I thought to myself, if God has called me to these places, why do I not feel equipped to handle these burdens? Why did my weakness seem so great? What was wrong with me?
God gives us these moments of weakness to turn us from ourselves and turn us to Him. And instead of using my weakness as a blessing to grow in my understanding of God’s goodness and His mercy, it became the thorn in my side. All I could think about was me. During these moments, the Enemy would come in and feed me lies about who I was and I would believe them. All I would think about was my inability, my inadequacy, and my failure. I would let the enemy distract me from the true power of weakness.
Weakness is in fact a blessing. God wants us to know we are weak. Your weakness does not make you a failure. The inability to continue on your own is not a sign of a deficiency or a defect in who you are. It shows that you are a living breathing human being and that God is calling you to rely on Him because we can’t do this life on our own. Oftentimes, instead of letting these moments of weakness draw us to God, we let these moments of weakness tear us down, isolate us from others, and draw our focus even deeper into ourselves. As Christians, it is His mercy to us that we can come face to face with our weakness and see it as a strength.
After my moment of weakness in the classroom, after the tears in front of my students, I thought that this was a mark of failure. I felt the lies racing through my mind, but this time I didn’t let them define me. I am weak, and I can proclaim that proudly. I can throw down the facade of strength and accept my weakness boldly. I don’t have to pretend to be “strong” because I serve a God whose strength is so much bigger than my weakness. I serve a God who, in my weakness, fills in the gaps and carries me when I no longer have the strength to stand.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10