People keep telling me how strong I am.
Which is kind of funny, because I feel the opposite of strong most of the time.
I feel weak. Completely and utterly weak. Like a limp, used up dish rag.
And I feel just as disgusting. Hold it out from your body with your fingertips while covering your nose with the other hand kind of disgusting.
Because that kind of weakness is…embarrassing. Humiliating. Horrifying.
It stinks of failure.
And yet they tell me I’m strong.
Oh, the irony!
I feel worn out. Hollow. So exhausted that moving forward takes an effort of the will, and sometimes, it takes every ounce of that will to not run to my bedroom, pull the covers over my head, and do my best effort at a disappearing act.
No one would really notice I was gone anyway, right?
Of course they would, but in that moment I don’t feel that. In that moment, I don’t know it. I certainly don’t believe it.
In these moments I want to quit. Give up. Sayonara suckers! It was nice knowing you!
This is what I feel. But people see strength.
How does that work? How is that possible?
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot. Praying about it. Even reading what other people have to say about it. And I think I finally have an answer.
We have what we think strength is, and we have what we actually recognize strength to be.
We think strength is having it all together. We think it’s facing adversity without flinching. We think it’s the opposite of weakness.
It’s the Superman pose. Head high, face uplifted and sure, hands on hips ready to face anything.
That’s what we think strength is. What it should be. What it should feel like. And when we don’t feel that, we think we are weak.
And weakness, after all, is the opposite of strength. Right?
Or is it?
I certainly don’t face the world with a Superman pose. I don’t face adversity unflinchingly. More like with a whimper and a plea. “Not again, God. Please? Not again?”
I don’t face the world with hands on my hips ready for anything.
I do the opposite. I face my weakness. I embrace it. I face the loss, the betrayal, the grief, the unfairness. With tears flowing down my cheeks and a heart full of agony, I face it.
I don’t run. I don’t hide.
I walk into it. I look it in the eyes of my pain, and through a veil of tears, I acknowledge it. And then I keep walking. One step at a time, until I get to the other side.
I’m broken. I’m vulnerable. But I keep walking.
And that is what people recognize as strength.
I face the demons that live within me. The doubts. The insecurities. Not with an upraised fist, but with a quivering chin and eyes that won’t stop leaking. I face the lies and call them what they are. Lies.
Even though they don’t feel like lies. Not then.
They feel like truth.
And on and on it goes.
Again and again.
Over and over.
Until, finally, the lies start to look like what they really are: Ugly, nasty, foul bits of garbage. The rankest poison. Something to be fought and disposed of, not accepted and embraced.
And my mouth stops trembling. And my tears dry up. Finally I can meet the lies in the eye and know that they are lies.
Lies. Not truth. LIES.
And it is this we recognize as strength. It is this that, in our deepest places, we know strength to be.
Not having it all together. Not the absence of fear.
Not a fake smile and a photoshopped life.
Strength is embracing the mess. Not hiding from the brokenness. Not running away from the pain.
Strength is being brave enough to face our demons and being brave enough to share that battle with others.
Wait…back up…what? You didn’t mention that earlier. Share it? Can I skip that part? What if I face the lies and face the pain, but I keep it quiet, locked away inside of me so no one else has to know? You know, my own private battle. No one needs to see my weakness. It doesn’t have to be shared to be won.
Nope. Sorry, but that’s not how it works.
Strength requires vulnerability. It requires honesty. It demands that we admit our weakness.
Because the truth is, we all feel empty and hollowed out sometimes. We all feel broken and unloved. Betrayed and used. And when we see someone who has faced it, our soul recognizes that as strength.
That is the final step of the strong. To brave the judgement of small minded people. To share our humanity. To admit the loneliness. The devastation. The insecurity and the fear. To lay it bare and let the world know that they are not alone.
So am I strong? You can’t hear it, but I can’t help but snort, a dry, humorless laugh at even the thought of that. My gut reaction is still a resounding no to that one. I do not feel strong.
But maybe it isn’t about what I feel. Maybe truth has little to do with feelings. Maybe, sometimes, truth is even the enemy of emotion.
Maybe what I feel and what is are two different things entirely.
The Bible says something about His strength being manifest in our weakness…when I am weak, He is strong.
In the face of my weakness, I have his strength.
And that makes me brave.
And maybe bravery is the same thing as strength. So maybe I am strong after all…
Be brave enough to face the pain. To acknowledge the lies. To stop running. Stop hiding. Stop pretending.
Turn your face toward truth.
That is strength undefeatable.