Strength is a quality we admire in people. Perseverance in the face of adversity. You know, that of a good movie plot. We don’t admire the people who walk away from a challenge or the people who manipulate others into being strong for them. We admire the soldiers, tramping tirelessly through life’s troubles.
But I think there is such a thing as being too strong.
There is a Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul wrote this book about how joyful and thankful he was that more and more people were learning about Christ. Paul wrote this book while sitting in a Roman prison. It kind of makes your jaw drop, right? “Paul was in prison, writing about how happy he was?” That is strength. Being able to see the bigger picture, and not sweating the small stuff. That is Christ working through Paul to bring him peace.
We are not all Pauls. We each have our own individual prisons that we sit in, and are we always joyful? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not, and I pray for strength every day.
But this is my thought: I think that a person can be too strong.
I think that a person living in a prison can become so dependent on their strength, that it becomes pride. They have been strong for this long, so they certainly can’t back down now. And maybe that works for the soldiers overseas who are just trying to get through one more battle. But I pity the soul who stays in the prison to be strong for the sake of being strong.
Take the abused wife. The first time she got hit, or screamed at, she took it. She told herself it wouldn’t happen again. She said, “I’m a strong woman. I can take any of the crap he dishes out.” And after time, as the verbal abuse and beatings become more frequent, she stays because…she has always stayed. “I’m a strong woman. I handled it the first time, I can certainly handle it now.” She won’t let herself just get out of the relationship because it would mean admitting defeat. She becomes a martyr, in the least holy sense of the word.
Then there is the mother, weighed down by her children and household responsibilities. She really doesn’t want to hear another, “My turn! My turn!” and she certainly doesn’t feel like folding the laundry. But she straightens up, puts on a brave face, and she does it. She does it all day, every single day, and it doesn’t matter that she is behind on everything, because she is doing it herself, without help. This mother has the stubborn strength of a woman way over her head but trying to prove she can swim like Michael Phelps. She doesn’t hire a maid, or a cook, or a babysitter. She suffers nobly for the sake of being “a housewife”.
We also have the struggling student. A junior in college, she is trying to balance her increasing workload, her raving social life, her look-good-on-a-resume extracurriculars, catching up with Mom on the phone a couple of times a week, etc. She desperately wants a Saturday morning to sleep in, and has eyed the new bestseller enviously. She has often caught herself thinking, “If only I weren’t so busy…” Thoughts like that are pushed out almost immediately. What could she possibly give up? She lives a life of the staples of college. Not doing her homework isn’t an option, and she certainly can’t dump her boyfriend. She needs the filled-out resume for graduation, and Mom would be pretty choked if she didn’t call. So she manages it all, like a drunk clown juggling flaming chainsaws, but she gets closer and closer to completely losing her mind. She “makes time” for everything for the sake of being a well-rounded college student.
What is wrong with us? Why don’t we know when to give up, especially when it’s best for us? Nobody would dare call the abused wife a failure for leaving her husband. Why can’t we all decide which flaming chainsaw we’re going to drop, so we can ensure the other seven stay airborne?
I’m dropping some chainsaws. I had a surgery last month that was preceded by some nasty sickness, and followed by a painful recovery. I went back to school with noble ambitions of catching up on all of my courses, as well as starting to clean my house again and take more responsibility for the care of my children. And now, because of my pride and desire to be a strong survivor, I am drowning. I am dropping two of my courses (yes, this late in the semester) because I know I will fail them. As much as this takes some stress off my plate, I’m not thrilled. I will just have to take these courses again sometime in the next couple of years. But that’s the sacrifice I have to make at this time in my life, in the conditions that surround me.
I encourage you to examine your chainsaws. Which ones do you want to keep in the air? You’re not any stronger for juggling six than for juggling four. Maybe a little more awe-inspiring, but bear in mind that your audience is all the more worried about your safety.