“Your weakness saves you,” writes Tennessee sage Father Stephen Freeman. 1
If, upon reading his words, you feel as one whose speeding Fiat meets an unseen speed bump, you are in good company. For it is not our natural bent to see weakness as an ally — let alone a saving ally; one so essential that, if we did not have it, there would be absolutely no hope of finding the freedom and joy we long for.
In order for you to fully appreciate the role of weakness in your life, you have to understand the purpose of life itself: it is the place in which you come to know the One who created you. There are many important nuances to such an assertion; some may call life an arena, others a test, others a superstructure for the real thing hidden beneath it. But the essence remains this: your very existence is an extravagant love gift from the One who thought you into being, spoke, and, through the veil of substance and DNA, here you are in His cosmos.
His goal — His hidden agenda, if you will — is a gentle, subtle, endless series of epiphanies communicating something that you — and you only — can fully perceive: communications reserved for you by name. And each one, each of these moments both great and small, is saturated with this revelation that changes our clay-bound life into a meeting place with Him: “This is how much I love you. Come, walk with me, for all that I am is yours, even as all that you are is mine.”
It will take the coming ages to explore that invitation. Our frail, short, earthly life is the starting place, where all is by faith, and little, if any of it, is by sight. For the Lord desires to know if we are in this for friendship with Him, or in this for something else. The Lord desires friends.
But in the same way that sin gets in the way of the purpose of life, so does strength. The difference between sin and strength is great, but the dynamic equivalent of both is potentially the same, differing only in degrees. For, as with sin, strength tends to divert our attention from the purpose of life. Strength does not have to distract; it does not have to divert; but it often does. And it is precisely because of these tendencies that your Creator permits a wide and seasonal spectrum of weaknesses to continually affect you.
Now let us be quite clear about what kind of weakness we are not talking about. We are not referring to moral weakness. Without the lifelong combat to turn away from wrong and lay hold of what’s actually good, you cannot see your Creator. (The old fashioned words for this combat are “repentance,” “confession,” and even that much-mismanaged term, “holiness.”)
Nor by “weakness” are we talking about an aversion to courage. And we are certainly not approving of a dilution of the truth as a palliative to pain when we employ the word. No, what we are talking about is undesired limitations on our capacity, capability, and comprehension — limitations that often seem unfortunate, regrettable, or inconvenient. Limitations which may even, perhaps, put to the test our understanding of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and justice.
Weakness is a vital ally, therefore, because it can bend a life back to the secret of His presence, the only wellspring that does not bait and switch in the end.
Now, as people, we are not islands. The notion of mastering our lives through radical autonomy wars against the purpose of life, and those who espouse such a way often do not take seriously the very things they preach, as their interdependent fellowship with like minded faultfinders reveals. And let us not think that one has within himself sufficient power to navigate his spiritual journey alone — or virtually alone, feeding on podcasts and videos more than the three dimensions and atmosphere-changing aroma of a present, fellow seeker. Even monks and hermits live in communities.
As people, each has a gift, a personhood, a way that, for all of its similarities to others, nevertheless is as unique and irreproducible as the fingerprint and the retina of the individual. The Lord, therefore, has arranged your life purpose to continually come across and encounter others whose lives contain the hidden heavenly food you need for your journey and vice versa.
Weakness (if we let it) always bends us back to that place of meeting others and discovering in them the grace that we need. Weakness (if we let it) always bends us back to communing with the Creator. Weakness shatters the illusion that I can trust in myself with all of my heart. Like a liberated Prince Rillian in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, weakness breaks the spell binding me to depend only on my own understanding as I dredge a lane through life that imagines myself as the center, rather than the true story I was born into, the story where the Creator (and His self-giving love for me) is at the center.
Here is an example. This week the winds in the Arabian Gulf picked up, for it was no small summer storm that swept down upon the gulf countries, though where we lived, the rain visited for only a few precious minutes before the sun burned through again. The wind remained; it buffeted a certain umbrella-like canopy I had established in my courtyard to prevent the Arabian sun from scorching unto death the many potted plants abiding there.
“What shall I do?” I asked myself. “If I remove the canopy, the sun will scorch the plants. But if I leave the canopy, the desert winds may destroy it. I know what I will do. I will make the canopy stronger. I will anchor one corner of it with twine to a large, heavy pot full of a weeping fig tree (ficus benjamina).”
I did so. But when the desert wind reached its peak, it lifted the canopy, which in turn yanked up the twine, which in turn destabilized the large pot and sent it shattering. My attempt at becoming strong produced weakness. 2
In the weakness of having a shattered pot, I was now compelled to find another one. II gave the shards to a Persian truck driver named Abraham cleaning up the construction site across the street. Karen and I searched a nearby emirate and found a superior replacement for the lost pot by way of a man named Moses from Chittagong, Bangladesh. As a result, we are friendly acquaintances. He also owns the best nearby garden shop we have found so far.
Do you see how weakness worked? If the pot had not shattered, I would know neither Abraham nor Moses. But now I do. When Abraham returns to the construction site, we can drink tea together. And Karen and I are welcome among the family and friends of the Bangladeshis to whom Moses belongs. And my entire garden courtyard will benefit from his garden shop. Weakness bent me toward encounter, friendship, and flourishing. But I had to let weakness have its way first.
Will you let weakness have its way?
© Kurt Mähler
Read Part 2 of “Your Weakness Saves You.”
- For the original quote, see Fr. Freeman’s blogpost, on his website, Glory to God for All Things.
- For another true account involving pottery and weakness, see Kurt’s essay, “Weakness Waters the Garden.”